Everything in life unfolds as a result of our engagement with – and participation in – the world as we know it.
This is derived out of listening. (Or not.)
We listen as someone yells at us. We hear our flight’s been cancelled. We get the news that our aunt has passed away. We take in the doctor as he gives us our test results. We react to the information. We respond to the event. We reply to the news.
Our worlds open and close, collide and expand, transform and fall apart all through listening.
When Kenny Leon won the Tony Award this year as best director of a play he said, “Why we have the greatest cast is because they listen to each other. They listen to each other.”
So it raises the question – why is something that should be a given treated more the exception rather than the norm? So much so that when you see it, it stands out?
A few years ago I read a piece in the New York Times where the reviewer talked about how the cast of a play was listening to each other in such a way that it felt as if the actors were making up the lines as they went along. It felt unrehearsed. Not acted. In the moment.
Stop the presses!
Consequently, the work stood out as something spectacularly real, visceral and alive; i.e., the exception.
But listening is often almost given a back seat in the effort to lay out acting ideas and concepts in a theoretical way.
Listening is not a concept. It’s a regenerative and restorative act. It’s life affirming. It’s simple, but it’s not simplistic. And simple does not mean easy.
Academy Award nominee, Robert Duvall was interviewed on NPR saying, “Talking and listening…to do that is the beginning and end of acting for me and it’s not as easy as it looks…Everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re just yourself up there.’ And I say, try it. Try it! It’s not that easy.”
It’s actually very complicated because listening is the way in and we don’t want to go in, because going in makes us feel things we don’t want to feel. It alters us and takes us down paths not easily navigated. But when we bring that messy exploration to storytelling it’s very, very powerful.
Listening is receiving and giving, it’s reacting, it’s reciprocity, it’s connection, it’s allowing, it’s surrender, it’s discovery and it’s empowering.
But it’s also more than just the ear. It’s our entire body engaged in the moment and having a response. It’s instinct and impulse and intuition and spontaneity. It’s physical-ness and behavior and how we choose to live. And the way you choose to listen is what makes you different than anyone else.
So it calls forth your being. And that’s transcendental. Which is what acting wants to be anyway.
The Chicago Sun Times review of student, Shailene Woodley‘s performance in The Fault In Our Stars says, “Every line of dialogue she says in this film sounds as if we’re eavesdropping on a real life. There’s no evidence of capital letters ACTING.”
That’s listening. And that’s what it does for you. And that’s something we can all learn to do more of each moment.