by Erik Liberman, 1994 YoungArts Winner in Theater
While doing a reading not long ago, I noticed that four of the six actors in the cast were texting while their fellow actors were working.
During recent rehearsals for a play, I observed actors bringing their cell phones onstage, texting while it wasn’t their time to talk - or while the director was speaking with someone else.
It was at this rehearsal that I recalled being a student of Ann Reinking’s, who told us: “When the director speaks, nobody speaks.” She meant this not only as a courtesy, but because at least half of what we learned was from watching her work with other actors. Were cell phones as prevalent then as they are today, I’m certain she would have included them in her disclaimer.
Every night, audiences come to the theatre and decide whether they are going to return: to spend a portion of their paycheck and share a living experience with the actors onstage - or watch television for free in the comfort of their own home. Unlike TV or film, where the actors cannot see or hear you, the theatre is a medium of live exchange, where the frequency of the company entrains - and hopefully transforms - the audience. As we all know, done right, it can be a life-changing experience.
It would seem like a given, then, that the power of an acting company lies in its ability to breathe together, share eye contact, and relate in the spoken as well as unspoken realms - practices of presence which are slowly being eroded by our dependence on texting, Tweeting and Facebooking our experiences before actually having them. In his new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, author Nicolas Carr argues that the constant use of our handheld devices alters the neuroplasticity of our brain, increasing our capacity to multitask, but depleting our ability to sustain focus and interpret the world with more than just a passing glance. What a paradox: the very technology designed to bring us closer together dulls our capacity to drop into the present moment, deepen our listening, and sense what is really going on around us - an actor’s most essential tools.
When younger actors ask for advice, my answer is the same: Take off your sunglasses, turn off your iPod and cellphone, take a deep breath, and look around you at the world we live in. Observe the other people with whom you share this place - they are a part of you, and someday you will play them. Does what you see disturb you? Change it - with the undeniable power of your presence as focused through the lens of your art. Above all, when you show up for work, arrive - every bit of you - and perhaps you’ll draw from the audience that very same presence our art - our world - needs now, more than ever, to survive.
Broadway, TV and film actor Erik Liberman just received a Connecticut Critics Circle Award for his performance as "The Baker" in Mark Lamos' 25th Anniversary production of Into the Woods at Westport Country Playhouse. Recently, his choreography for Mabou Mines Dollhouse completed its award-winning, eight year world tour, he workshopped Paper Dolls for director Mark Brokaw at the Public Theater, co-starred in the music video Sunshine, for Parisian singer/songwriter Clara Ponty and appeared in a cameo on the hit web-series, Submissions Only. This summer, he will be studying with Master Clown Teacher Philippe Gaulier in Paris, thanks to generous support from The Kurt Weill Foundation and YoungArts. Visit www.erikliberman.org for more information.