The HERO challenge

The new sessions of The Acting Class began on Sunday morning, with the first of the six Archetypes we will be exploring – one per class.

What is an Archetype? Well, first let me acknowledge that everyone who works with some principle involving Archetypes will do it differently. I begin with John Wright’s Masks of the Archetypes approach, and then play with it my way.

You will do it differently. That is because Archetypes are just ways of being human, ways of recognizing certain ‘types’ of people, ways of recognizing certain aspects of our own ways of being. There is no such thing, in the world, which can be identified as being an actual Archetype, and there is no such person who can, either. You can be a hero, huntress, child, fool etc, but that just means you are manifesting qualities which are recognizable from our mutual idea of what we understand as Hero, Huntress, Child or Fool. These are ‘types’ which occur in the folk tales and songs of cultures throughout the world.

Batman is a hero, just as Hercules, Sigurd, Beowolf, Calamity Jane, and Cathy Freeman are all heroes, real or imagined. Actors are heroes (NOTE to our American colleagues, here in OZ we are non-gender specific with the word ‘actor’).

A hero is an individual who behaves heroically, or does something heroic, and thus we call him a hero, or her (more usually) a heroine. The Archetype, Hero, has become manifest in them, and we recognize the qualities of Hero, and so we call them heroes. Note where I capitalize, and where I don’t.

So, having spent some time on Sunday exploring the physical experience of embodying Hero-like movement qualities, I have challenged the class to practice the exercise, to spend as much time in the coming week in Hero body as they possibly can.

This morning, I went out for a morning walk, before the heat settled in. As I headed down through the streets of Milton, along Park Road to Coronation Drive and back up Cribb Road, I challenged myself to move into Hero movement qualities, feeling the power in my legs, finding myself looking up and out as I walked (instead of my customary watching the ground). My shoulders dropped back, my chin tucked in and I noticed the impulse for propulsion forward in space now very definitely came from my centre of gravity, which was slightly higher than usual, somewhere round the solar plexus region.

It felt pretty good, I can tell you!  Then it lapsed, and I had to focus to regain the sense of equilibrium, it drifted, I brought it back – and then I realised just how much this way of working is analogous to Fitzmaurice tremoring. Just as the tremor is the body’s response to being placed in an impossible dilemma – the muscles begin to shake, and the breath flows in and out at its own pace – so trying to embody an Archetype is an impossible situation, brain and imagination struggle to make sense of the task of achieving an impossible goal, the body responds as best it can and then the magic happens…

The moment you feel LIKE a hero, it seems as if you’ve lost it. Here you are, all Heroic, and yet you’re being asked to do something absolutely ridiculous like hop on one foot, or remember and speak lines. You feel insecure, the only thing you are sure of is that you are ‘wrong’. In fact, you are absolutely on track, because what you feel is what your particular Hero is feeling, i.e. ridiculous. But you want to be Heroic, and sensible, and so you feel embarrassed, even a sense of failure. WOW!!! How cool is that? A hero who is embarrassed, who feels like a failure?

Your task, now, is to keep working to become more and more familiar with the physical movement qualities, to practise BEING in those qualities (just as you would practise speaking in a new language, or a new accent, if you want to become really skilful with it). I’m sitting here at my desk, realising that I am slouching, so I’ve now drawn up my spine, acknowledged my handsomely ridged brow, strong nose and firm mouth, my furrowed cheeks and my cleft chin, and Boy, am I going to defeat a few evil armies before bedtime?

Of course I shall.


27 August 2009 at 4:57 AM

Dear Ms. Bloom,

Just a short note to let you know what a pleasure it was (and a relief) to read your posting on my blog shakespeareplace re: “Translating Shakespeare”. Thank you for your comments; they are much appreciated. I’ll respond to them at length later when I have more time.

In terms of archetypal characters, Shakespeare’s renderings fit the bill in spades. In her book “Speaking Shakespeare”, Patsy Rodenburg (one of MY Heroes) cites the inability to actually “become someone else”, other than one’s boring self, as one of the major hurdles actors need to negotiate in order to do Shakespeare successfully.

I’m also very excited re: your take on the visceral nature of Words. I often tell acting students to ‘chew on them’ in order to get the most out of the ‘digestion’ process.

It is, as you say, All Linked together.
Thanks again for your interest and response.

Cheers, JM (aka “willshill” on WordPress)

27 August 2009 at 10:00 AM

Thanks so much JM! (We have another JM in The Acting Class, great call).

I had the great pleasure of participating in a workshop with Patsy Rodenburg in NY a couple of weeks ago, at the VASTA conference, and to observe her working with an actor. She is – as one of my colleagues put it – the Queen of Text, absolutely inspiring.

Shakespeare’s characters are, as you observe, readily recognizable from the Archetypal qualities they exhibit, or perhaps I should say, with which they are invested? Anyway, playing with Archetypal qualities is a cool way of getting ‘inside their skins’ in such a way that you can recognize, and acknowledge that it is actually YOU, your ‘self’ which is being expressed, communicated – a most invigorating experience.

Enjoy the meal!

8 September 2009 at 9:38 AM

Hello again. Just to let you know:
I wrote a follow-up post topic on my blog at re: your comments on “Translating Shakespeare” . The post is entitled, Wisdom From “Down-Under”. Not that I feel I have to say it, but this topic is so important. I’ll keep hammering at it as long as I have the voice to do it. Again, my sincere thanks for stopping by.
Cheers, JM

8 September 2009 at 1:32 PM

Thanks so much, JM. I LOVE this discussion, you keep hammering away and I will drop by with spare nails whenever I can. May your voice last as long as there are words to speak and then some…

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Open Slather

22 August 2009