Famed actor and theatrical craftsman Michael Chekhov believed that the creation of art was intrinsically linked with the inherent beauty of infinite human possibility. I knew from my first exposure to his brilliant acting technique that I had found something meaningful in my journey as an artist. What I did not know, however, was that I had found something life-changing.
The technique, despite being riddled with seemingly indecipherable psychophysical intellectual jargon, is elegantly simple at its core. Drop into any Chekhov-centered acting class, and you will hear two words echo through the rehearsal space: Imagination; Concentration. Chekhov teaches us that to be artists, we must believe that we already are artists. This mindset- that to accomplish, one must view themselves as having already succeeded- has changed my perception of myself as a creative individual, a student, and an ambitious young woman. I go so far as to credit this viewpoint as being the very reason I am able to graciously represent my community as a titleholder today.
In his manifesto To the Actor, Chekhov writes that four elements must be at the center of any artistic endeavor. He refers to them as the proverbial “Four Brothers” (a play-on the plays of his famous uncle, Anton Chekhov). They include: a feeling of ease, a feeling of form, a feeling of entirety, and a feeling of beauty. These feelings must be radiated from within, and if one element is lacking, the entire creation (“creation” here meaning anything from a single movement of the human body to an entire symphony orchestra concert) will not succeed. Though they sound initially complicated, they are beautifully practical. Ease allows us to move and radiate lightness, peace, and grace from within. Entirety allows us to remember that whatever our endeavor, we are always working toward a larger goal. Form keeps us focused and concentrating on our next move and. Finally, Beauty (often translated to “joy”), reminds us that with all we do, we must feel a warmth and a happiness in our work. It is the presence of these four elements in all of my work, artistic or otherwise, that has truly helped me gain new insight on my abilities in my art as well as my day-to-day life.
So yes, armed with my yoga mat and well-loved copy of To the Actor, each week I delve into hours of Chekhovian study. I transform my body into a human speaker to produce “sloth-like sounds;” I “move and seethe” through a sharp and angular invisible plane; I take “sacred naps” as I allow myself to relate my five senses to my immediate surroundings; and I even cross an imaginary threshold into a sensory realm that Chekhov calls “the Higher Ego.” These odd terms and goofy-sounding exercises may seem to the outsider merely a reflection of the stereotypical “flighty artist,” but, upon closer look, are all executed with purpose and with meaning. At the very heart of Chekhov, he invites us to radiate. From within the heart and soul of ourselves, we emit light, beauty, joy and the very best of who we are. That concept, whether it be applied to a working actor, a titleholder, a student, or a career professional, makes Chekhov universally beautiful. I end by inviting each and every one of my sister titleholders to practice radiating in all they do, for we are blessed with the ability to shine inside and out. Chekhov believed that we ourselves are art, and, as he famously said, “there is no art without joy.”