The Theater Enthusiast’s "Method" Participation
The Stanislavsky school of Method Acting applies to the audience as well as the players. When sitting in a theater absorbing the dialogue, character interaction and visual display of staging and sets, each audience member processes elements of the experience objectively first, and then subjectively. Just as Method actors learn to delve within their past experiences in life — to gain understanding of each moment’s combined layers of sensory stimulation with their emotional, psychological, physical and even extra-sensory impact — so do theater goers.
While sitting in a theater audience becoming engrossed in the world of drama unfolding before us, our degree of involvement is a progression through our own sensory layers. At first, we feel somewhat separated from the stage, as spectators to its form and activity. Then, gradually, we move closer, beginning to “zoom in” and focus on each theatrical element. We examine them closely — the multi-hued montage of stage sets, costumes, dialogue, movement and lighting design. And before we know it, something of this stage world clicks in sync with a part of our own life experience, and we make an instantaneous dynamic connection, becoming a notable element of the moment’s universal theater.
When the production is truly captivating and enthralling — when we nearly invade the bodies of the actors, feeling no space between audience and stage, as though we have actually merged with its vibrant drama, quantum physics is at its optimum. At this point we are, in fact, as one with play and player. Our presence and level of input reach the stage as its elements reach out to us. Just as the actors, script, and all components of the production have had a profound effect on us, so have we, as audience members, affected the production.
If the performance includes music, our affinities with its various elements are often realized immediately. For, music has been declared many times to be the most universal means of communication. A few notes of a familiar melody, or a tune somewhat similar, can bring instantaneous flash-backs to events and locations in experiences now past. People and places otherwise distant in our memories spring forward to inhabit our present thoughts. At times these vivid memories take over, dominating our mindset even as we leave the theater. More often, however, they enrich the overall theatrical event, bringing us closer to the performance and to a keener understanding and appreciation of it. Many people agree that the truest essence of any memory can be brought most completely to the present by music.
Olfaction also causes quick recall. Our sense of smell can transport us — perhaps the most swiftly of all sensory perceptions — to a place the most distant in our memory corners. An extremely remote mental image from many years ago can be catapulted to the front row of our thoughts without warning — a flash of mental lightning in a clear, cloud-free mind sky. When dialogue involves smells, scents and aromas, old memories dart to front stage center in our thoughts.
Occasionally our imaginations will take charge, replacing the actors we view on stage with images of people we know or characters housed within our memory banks. It may be that a particular stage action or phrase of dialogue will trigger the spontaneous appearance of this image before us — a passive, foggy photo brought to startling real-time life by association. When this happens, we are often surprised, elated — or perhaps dismayed — depending on how we view this memory person off-stage. Regardless of our first reaction, this upstart character invader or impostor will usually enrich and enhance our perceptions and comprehension of the real actor’s character portrayal. Even a memory miscast can shed light on current-time dramatic truths.