"A Herculean Task" - An Interview with Christian Peterson
Although only mentioned once, Serendipity sits at the centre of Christians thoughts when discussing the trajectory of his acting life. I thought this was a very interesting view, especially considering the clear intention he has applied to much of his work and decisions as an actor. So I decided to dig a little deeper into this idea to get a better understanding of what it is and the reality surrounding it.
What I came back with was the unshakable feeling that Christian’s (and I’m sure other peoples) view that they “got lucky” at various points in their life and career was in truth all of their own making. And that this “luck” was actually a result of hard work and perseverance.
What follows below is a breakdown of the central themes and ideas Chriatian raised in our chat that I feel fall outside the realms of luck and will help you be a better actor. If after reading it you’d like to read a deeper dive into the topic of serendipity and luck feel free to click this link to get my thoughts.
Understanding the greats
Christian is a firm believer in learning from the greats. He puts a real emphasis on how he was impacted by Michael Chekov, but also the fact that there are so many practitioners out there with valid and interesting ideas you would be silly not to study them a little. This isn’t to say you need to find the one teacher that will shape your style. His process sees him embrace all possible techniques, experimenting with them and holding onto what works for him. Whether that be a whole model or individual parts.
Christians first thought on auditions is to try and not make them a big thing. To try not to be overwhelmed by the experience. He notes that he's well aware of how easy that is to say and potentially difficult to replicate in practice. However he does offer some ideas on how this “Herculean Task” might be achieved.
Put in the work - Prepare hard for auditions. Study the text. Learn your monologues and get comfortable with the performance of the piece.
Relax - Don’t fear the room and don’t fear the outcome.
Be inspired by the resistance - Your brain is going to be sending your body all manner of signals as the audition approaches and when you’re in the room. Embrace this resistance and learn to let your body tell your brain it's ok.
Find focus in the madness - It is a mad thing you're planning to do, I know that, he knows that and they know that. The situation can get overwhelming and cloud your judgement. Look to find a way to focus or refocus. It could be a thought or a visual cue that draws you back to your centre. Whatever it is, make sure you put it in place (metaphorically not physically) before entering the room, so you can use it if needed.
Speak your truth - Whatever happens in the room make sure you’re speaking your truth. Over and above your performance, try and make sure you have found a personal truth in the character and you’re able to present that at the most basic level.
Do it how you feel it not how you feel they want to see it - Make choices and stick to them. Be bold and don’t default to a cliche. But don’t forget to be flexible when it's needed.
When considering character Christian looks to discover what he finds personally engaging about the character he’s playing.
From there he begins to dissect them. He looks at who they are and why they are there. The deeper he goes the more he feels the inner connection between himself and the role. Then when he begins work in rehearsals he knows he's starting from a place of understanding. Any decisions will be shaped by the will of the character, in conjunction with his own thoughts and those of his director and fellow actors.
Christian is a big advocate of making sure the rehearsal space is a safe space to try things. Once you have a clear and shared understanding within the space, you can begin to work on ideas together.
Much like with auditions, Christian believes in ensuring you are flexible in rehearsals. Use your imagination to try new ideas and challenge fellow actors to come along with you. You need to be doing and trying new things all the time. Some will be successful and others will fail. It is in the trying that you make your discoveries. Ultimately as long as it connects with you and moves you forward, try it. And although sometimes you feel like it's a struggle, that struggle is what's important because it means you're pushing through barriers.
Don’t be too worried about the outcomes. You are part of a team all pulling in the same direction. Allowing yourself to stress at any point can be very damaging, so watch out for it and make sure you discuss concerns or issues before they overtake you.
Christians very simple methodology for the shows can be expressed in three stages:
Say what the words mean. Say them from your heart. Bring yourself out in the words, the meaning, the story and the intention.
You don’t need to “peacock” as an actor (outside of what your character does). You don’t have to fill the space the whole time you’re on stage.
Let it breath
Michael Chekhov -
Beginners text on kindle https://www.amazon.co.uk/Actor-Technique-Acting-Michael-Chekov-ebook/dp/B06Y4DMWS4/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1638265895&sr=1-4
Alexander Technique - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Technique