As a high school actor I was initiated into the fundamentals of method acting. Later in life, that experience was put to the test when I myself began teaching high school and was unexpectedly asked to direct student theater. The method actor asks the classic question, “What’s my motivation?” The director of method acting takes pains to encourage exercises in emotional intelligence, body-mind awareness, improvisation and character exploration. Only later, once the actors are finding their voices, tapping their emotional core, working as an ensemble, and embracing the full expressive range of their bodies does the director get down to work on stagecraft: who will move where and when, how lighting and costuming and props will augment and frame the actors, communicate themes, and offer a creative vision. Without that preparatory inner work, a high school play can be a cruel form of torture for an audience. A young, inexperienced or insensitive actor will seek to convey mature adult emotions by aiming to use his voice and body to manufacture a dramatic or impactful impression upon his audience. The effort almost always falls flat because the actor hasn’t done the work of engaging that emotion — or its nearest analogue — in his own life, letting the words and actions flow from that hidden spring. On the other hand, the most gratifying and miraculous moments in a high school play are those in which we glimpse a young actor’s unselfconscious humanity: the embodied expression of her personhood taking shape behind and beneath the memorized lines and tentative gestures. Here and there, true feeling flashes forth and art takes flesh before our eyes. She has become the character because she is becoming herself. This is the fruit of the actor’s inner work.
When I was younger, the analogy Jesus uses about wine and wineskins was lost on me. This ‘loss in translation’ could have been because I was not at the age where I could drink and had no concept of the intoxicating effects of wine. Or perhaps because I grew up Baptist and any drinking of alcohol was viewed with suspicion. I had an idea of what was meant by feasting with the bridegroom and understood the concept of un-shrunk fabric, but what was this concept about new and old wineskins?
The disciples of John came to [Jesus], saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”15And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. 16No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. 17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17