Polina Klimovitskaya, master teacher and theater director, has for years been beset by requests that she write about acting. Having started studying with her in January of 2004 and joined her Terra Incognita Theater in 2005, I have been the recipient of a rare kind of apprenticeship. Among my duties has been penning the majority of the company's written necessities over the years -- and sitting for many hours with Polina discussing and transcribing her teachings.
To me, the things most essential to Polina in acting cannot be captured in a fixed form and remain alive -- she touches the un-petrified, the living at the heart of acting. It is the very fact of the impossibility of articulating some of her central ideas that holds their power. So, how to write them?
I think Polina believes in the centrality of the constant change of existence, of the continuity of the life process, of the continual morphing of "truth," and to fix in recorded language some of what is most central in her knowledge is the act of making the statement untrue. Indeed, something Polina says to a person in a moment is for that person in that moment – and for the next person or the next moment may fail completely -- and prove complete anathema to what is needed. Like performance itself, it is ephemeral.
I don't mean for this to sound like magic or religion -- it's not. Polina's aversion to writing is practical and, for me, allows her understanding of acting to remain alive and limitless, complex and vibrant -- just like acting -- and living -- itself. Over-defining certain things -- getting stuck too long in one idea, one emotion, one plane -- can cut the possibility for fluidity and transformation -- for life -- on stage. An essence inspires; a suggestion transforms us, but we must in the instant of receiving let it go, or we’re stuck, fixed, flattened by the boundaries of a too-solid idea, often turning ourselves into a series of still images rather than alive beings. Not knowing -- or not allowing yourself to think you know, even when you might -- that's a good place.
What follows are some transcriptions of comments Polina has made in some of her recent classes. She did not prepare these comments but spoke them in response to a student's work or question. So, I encourage you to consider these not as declarations but as hints, not as objects themselves but as glimmers of reflection that may give you some spark. There is no recipe.
Jeremy Goren. April 13, 2014.
DON’T GIVE A FUCK
Nobody cares if I'm this or that. One just works and does. You cannot allow yourself -- this is toughest thing in the world -- to think, Poor me, I cannot do it. Don’t give a fuck. Do it badly, but do it. What is it you want? That people feel pity for you? No, I don’t have pity for you or for myself. Work. You see; you go; something starts to happen; and, then... you give up.
In Russian we have this word; I do not know how you say it in English. It is kind of like coquette -- "I am better than another." No. We are exactly what we do. You start to draw me in, and then you cut it. Don’t care about yourself if you want to be an actor. Don’t care. It’s impossible. There is no such thing as self. Don’t care. If you go and you think, I cannot sing, then nothing; but, if you start to think, I’m a bad girl today; I cannot sing; I’m a bad girl; stay away -- I cannot sing. So, what? I am singing. You just go.
ENGAGING THE WHOLE BEING
It is not about movement. It is about engaging the whole being in that moving process, that thinking, moving process. So, when we work with internal resistance, right, that if I reach toward you and the other side of me is reaching away from you, right, something in me happens and opens. And I don’t need to put the meaning in it, but meaning is expressing itself. So I think, strangely enough, that this internal, opposite movement, this continued working with the internal resistance, when it really happens, makes every movement into a result of an internal event. It is an internal event and must hit upon some very primal centers in our psyche. It probably deals with the continuous tensions of coming into this world between life and death.
This is what is dramatic. "Dramatic" is when there is this tension, this thread, this struggle, this need: As I want to come toward you -- why, I don’t know -- and I’m moving forward, and what is happening to me when I realize it and suddenly I come and Why? Where? There is something. So, I don’t need to put meaning into things. I only have to open myself. Meaning will work through me. There is something very profound in that. And we can move in ways that look like we're going in opposite directions, but it's only muscles. If the core is not engaged, then it will be only pointing limbs in different directions. But it is not moving limbs in different directions. It is that bow-and-arrow inside of us, at the very core level: I hold the bow, and the arrow -- my text, my performance, my emotions -- will fly on its own. I just need to allow to hold well and be patient with the bow-and-arrow. You know, the arrow will fly on its own when it is ready. [She roars.] Just allow the tension to exist, because the tension will always have to resolve itself. It can only hold for so long. Let’s move on.
LIFE PRINCIPLES AND ART
I am talking about how the principles of life are unescapable. Principles, art, this art from the best of the ancient to Leonardo or artists like Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, their art is timeless because it hit upon life principles. If we go too far from them we die; we collapse. That is a possibility. This is why I am putting all my life so you guys have life and future -- because we human beings are always between life and death. There were plenty of civilizations that collapsed. Plenty of civilizations that disappeared. We can disappear as well, but hopefully what we can do is try to stay alive.
And, maybe I am an optimist. You know, I had two nicknames when I was a child. Jeremy is laughing because I am always criticizing everything and am so negative about modernity, but it is not my nature. You know what my two nicknames were when I was a kid? In Russia everybody gets a nickname. Well, here too probably, right? And I had two nicknames, very very insulting. One was Idealist and the other was Optimist. And kids despised me for it. They would say, “Oh, this idealist; oh, this optimist,” and I tried to act like the opposite of it, but I could never hold up. But these were my two names -- Idealist and Optimist. So, I do hope, optimistically, that life is stronger and survives. I don’t know exactly, but I think when we go too far in one direction, there is a pull in the other direction. Right? And, what can I tell you, if I know that something is good and everyone goes that direction, I will go the direction I think is good. God help me. I don't know. But, you are not going to go in the right direction if you think it’s wrong just because the crowd goes there, right? If the crowd jumps out of the window, will you do it? No. But that is basically what we have now -- mass suicide. That’s what it going on. It’s a mass suicide. So, anybody who does not want to die, hold onto your truth.