In The Reenchantment of the World, Morris Berman offers a particularly useful word for talking about the ideal working relationship between actor and setting: participation. Berman explains it in ecological terms: (1) Participation is the kind of relationship that breaks down the customary separation between us and environment. We and the nonhuman components of the space become connected and interdependent. (2) The environment is transformed from a group of objects to be acted upon into something with the capacity to act upon us in return. (3) In a participatory relationship, we enter into a give-and-take with the environment that increases the variety, depth and intensity of our reactions to it
As a general rule, your aim onstage is to achieve and maintain as much participation with the setting as possible. This means you must allow the space to act upon you– that is, to shape your internal life as well as your physical movement. Instead of merely standing in, on, or in front of a setting, you must connect with it almost as though it were another actor always offering you something to respond to.
This is a tremendous characterization of the challenge facing an actor embarking on a rehearsal process: somehow the space of the rehearsal room, consisting of other people, places and things, have to become the imaginary world of the script. Gronbeck-Tedesco offers an excellent series of exercises to enable this process. At Mother of Invention, we think of this process as having two major parts:
PARTICULARIZATION: Particularization is the process of becoming clear about who and what, exactly, make up the world of the scene. This means developing a heightened awareness of the senorial features of the people, places and things that make up the world of the scene. There is a way in which this heightened awareness provides for a certain kind of relaxation in the actor: our guard can come down once we have “taken in” an element of our envirnment sensorially. Think of the way that a dog, upon meeting a stranger, needs to acquaint himself with the stranger by sniffing him. Once the dog has sniffed the stranger, the threatening character of the unfamiliar person may have dissipated, and the dog is free to pay attention to something else. The people, places and things that comprise our scene environment work on us in a similar way: when we have not “sniffed out” the entity in question, that entity is mysterious foreign object to our neuromuscular system: it is something that may trip us up or otherwise endanger us. By particularizing the person, place, or thing in question, we disarm it, we “tame” it, to use the phrase of Antoine de St.-Exupery’s The Little Prince. At that point, we are free to “play” with it, or to enter into what Gronbeck-Tedesco calls a “participatory” relationship with it. And indeed, the first set of exercises for promoting a participatory relationship according to Gronbeck-Tedesco is “Specific, Detailed Perception”
INVESTMENT: Once we have a sense of exactly what the elements of the imaginary world are that we are attempting to engage, we need to have these people, places and things take on an importance for us appropriate for the Who-am-I or character we are playing. They need to matter to us in the way that they would for the character. Our major tool for that we use for that is what Uta Hagen calls “Transference” in her book A Challenge for the Actor. With transference, we try to find a person, place or thing from our own experience to try to use as a way of articulating the character’s relationship to some element of their world. It’s one thing to identify another character as your confidant, another thing to identify a confidant from your own life and use that relationship as a way of understanding the importance of that other person for the characters.
The work of particularization and investment, which together we refer to as personalization, is the work of making the imaginary context for the character known and familiar, so that it can be trusted, so that our creativity can be fed by that world and that that world can begin to elicit surprising, organic responses from us, responses that issue from the instinctual, as opposed to from the cerebral, realm.