AN INSTRUMENTAL STANCE TOWARD FEELING
The stage actor makes the finding and expressing of feeling his main professional task. In Stanislavski’s analogy, he seeks it with the dedication of a prospector for precious metal. He comes to see feeling as the object of painstaking internal mining, and when he finds it, he processes it like gold. In the context of the theater, this use of feeling is considered exciting and honorable. But what happens when deep and surface acting become part of a day’s work, part of what we sell to an employer in return for a day’s wage? What happens when our feelings are processed like raw ore?
In the Recurrent Training class for experienced flight attendants at Delta Airlines, I observed borrowings from all types of acting. These can be seen in the ways students answered when the instructor asked how they tried to stop feeling angry and resentful at passengers:
If I pretend I’m feeling really up, sometimes I actually get into it. The passenger responds to me as though I were friendly, and then more of me responds back [surface acting].
Sometimes I purposely take some deep breaths. I try to relax my neck muscles [deep acting with the body],
I may just talk to myself: “Watch it. Don’t let him get to you. Don’t let him get to you. Don’t let him get to you.” And I’ll talk to my partner and she’ll say the same thing to me. After a while, the anger goes away [deep acting, self-prompting],
I try to remember that if he’s drinking too much, he’s probably scared of flying. I think to myself, “he’s like a little child.” Really, that’s what he is. And when I see him that way, I don’t get mad that he’s yelling at me. He’s like a child yelling at me then, [deep acting, Method acting].
Surface and deep acting in a commercial setting, unlike acting in a dramatic, private, or therapeutic context, make one’s face and one’s feelings take on the properties of a resource. But it is not a resource to be used for the purposes of art, as in drama, or for the purposes of self-discovery, as in therapy, or for the pursuit of fulfillment, as in everyday life. It is a resource to be used to make money. Outside of Stanislavski’s parlor, out there in the American marketplace, the actor may wake up to find himself actually operated upon.