Last week’s Republican National Convention was the Grand Ol’ Party’s opportunity to present its vision of America, discount Barack Obama and make voters all over the country fall in love with Mitt Romney. And the crowning jewel of the convention was to be a surprise appearance by Clint Eastwood leading into the Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney’s self-defining, home run address to the nation. What resulted was an amazing lesson for actors. The contrast between Clint’s “presentation” and Mitt’s speech provides profound insight into the nature of preparation, discovery in each moment and how they must be woven together.
Clint Eastwood stood at the podium in front of millions of people around the country and had a seemingly impromptu discussion with an empty chair that he imagined to be occupied by President Obama. He rambled. He mumbled. He talked to the audience, then to the chair. It lacked cohesion and indeed comprehension. It was awkward, exciting, funny and sad all because he was existing moment to moment on stage. We had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. Which might have been wonderful. But unfortunately for him- and the party- nothing with any particular point did happen. While I imagine that he must have had some thoughts in his head about what he might do on stage (“I guess I’ll talk to the chair”), he clearly didn’t know where it was going to go. He didn’t have a clear point or know what he wanted from the audience. The performance lacked a strong preparation. For the most part he was dealing with the moments and certainly being authentic. But the moments weren’t rooted in a strong and interesting preparation so they were left to float in the air, directionless, until they met their inevitable demise. In front of millions of people. Clearly Clint hasn’t auditioned in a tick because any actor who goes out regularly knows that if you go into an audition without a strong preparation (having made the material and the world of your play personal and specific, knowing what you want, etc) you’ll awkwardly flop around on stage like Clint did. He was all about the moments without any preparation.
The precise opposite was true of Mitt Romney. The political, financial and emotional stakes being as high as they are right now, the campaign and the candidate did everything they could to totally and utterly control every aspect of Mitt’s speech and the reaction it would illicit in the audience. Every line, every smile, every feeling was carefully choreographed with surgical precision in order to give us the impression that Mitt is everything they want us to think he is. That he has a heart. That he cares about the middle class, women and Latinos. That he has the ability to fix the economy and get America where we all want it to be. His speech was saturated with preparation. But no moments. Mitt Romney’s speech didn’t move anyone because there was no room for the authenticity that comes when you’re allowing yourself to be truthfully affected by what you are saying in the moment, discovering how you feel about it as you’re saying it. And because they tried to control our reaction rather than have Mitt share a sliver of his emotional truth with us and allow us to feel what Mitt was feeling, we might have even felt manipulated. Mitt didn’t need to weep, but he did need to speak like a human being. And he didn’t. Human beings who we deem to be authentic aren’t that prepared. People with things to hide, who have an intense fear of a particular consequence and who don’t want you to know what they’re like when they’re not on guard, saturate everything they say with preparation. Every line. Every word. It doesn’t inspire trust. He needed to allow the moments to happen and rely less on preparation. He needed to let go. Mitt Romney may be what this country needs to get the economy going- you can decide that for yourself- but he does have a problem appearing inauthentic because he doesn’t trust the moments.
Both Clint and Mitt should have taken a page from the other’s play book. Only the weaving together of preparation and the moments make for a compelling, authentic performance that moves people to action. Being prepared while also allowing for discovery in the moment- these seemingly conflicting notions- will take your work to the next level.
At certain times during your performance your preparation informs your actions and at other times during a performance the moments take over. It is a fluid dance back and forth that is the stuff of real, human interaction. Without the moments you won’t move anyone. Without the preparation, you’ll be pointless and weird.
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