Charisma has a lot to do with two factors:
1. Being utterly present – receptive and vulnerable to the environment (particularly to be electro-statically alive to the other beings sharing the stage) AND
2. Our ability to be at home with un-comfortability.
In life, we often find ourselves in a place of duress or upset, outside a place of comfort and so we flex and fix, squirm and self-soothe, so that we can get back as quickly as possible to a place of comfort, a place of stasis. That is how we operate as human beings, as mammals, as biochemical systems. It’s a physiological imperative to find our way back to stasis. Look at the repetition exercise. We often go through a sequence where we start with, “You look uncomfortable”… “You seem on edge”, or “I hate this! I feel stupid”…“I feel self-conscious”…etc., etc. Then as it goes along one person will say, “You seem calm now” or “You are comfortable now” or “I am comfortable now.” This will feel like a triumph to you and your partner. We feel better! Phew! We feel more like it is supposed to be – comfortable! It feels like there is some relief.
Now there’s nothing at all wrong with being comfortable. As I said, it is absolutely a profound instinct deep within our organic, animal selves to achieve stasis at any cost. When we are up there, exposed, as we are, just two chairs – the audience, and us – it is a scary thing, an anxiety-inducing situation. The very natural human impulse is to strive for comfortability, for stasis. And, yes, it is indeed a true impulse and we certainly don’t want to deny our impulse. But perhaps there is a space where we might learn to live as actors. It is a space of non-stasis. A place of un-comfortability, of upset, un-fulfillment, anger, longing; NOT being satisfied. A place of wanting, desire, despair, or grief. Where things are out of balance, in flux, out of kilter.
In truth, there are times when we are doing repetition when we say, “I feel good with you…you make me comfortable,” but there is actually still an underlying upset that we don’t really want to acknowledge, a sadness we are trying to avoid. It may be that by just saying “I feel more comfortable” we are perhaps unconsciously trying to will it (feeling calm) to happen. To convince ourselves we are now un-ruffled. We grab for it by iterating the soothing words, “I feel much more calm now,” though in truth, there is something very un-calm underneath. The question is, “Can we as actors allow/train/encourage/coax/nudge ourselves to become ‘at home’ with un-comfortability?”
Because, obviously, 99.99% of the time, we are portraying characters in situations that are decidedly in states of duress. Sure, they probably are striving to relieve, to get back to, or find, some kind of calm or peace, but it is compelling to watch this struggle out of the duress. That is what moves us, how our character wrestles with the turmoil within.
I don’t say be comfortable with un-comfortability. That just takes us right back to the stasis. But can we tolerate this condition; breathe and accept, live in this state of non-stasis, without trying desperately to get away from it and get back to calm, to composure? It is not the normal way for a human, for any animal to operate. We strive for the calm for the comfortable. But we are not civilians. If, through the repetition exercise, we can be at home with the uncomfortable; still have relaxation (importantly different than being comfortable), but be willing to inhabit this place of unrest, of ruffled waters, then we find it easier to truly inhabit the play, the scene, the character when we are on stage or on set. We find ourselves far more willing to be fully and truthfully inside this wild chaos of un-fulfilled, un-happy, un-satisfied NON-stasis. Our nerves are charged, electrified, hungry, searching – and I would say our work – but really our very presence is hugely enhanced. We are far more unpredictable, far more compelling, far more – not to sound trite – far more charismatic. And this repetition business can be very useful to play with that particular edge.
Check out James’s class The Audition Lab