Notes on Zen and the Actor

By David Feldshuh

Zen is a tactic designed to allow one to achieve a heightened experience in the now (Feldshuh, 79).

Zen is used in karate, archery, and aikido to increase participation in the current moment to its maximum capacity (Feldshuh, 80).

To do zazen is to sit cross-legged and upright, allowing blood to flow to and from the brain, and completely cease self-observation. Falling asleep in this position means that you are no longer doing zazen, as your mind has begun to think thoughts once more (Feldshuh, 81-82).

It is argued that Zen methodology proposes that, “I think, therefore I am not” (Feldshuh, 82).

Zen is used as a tool to express creativity. According to Zen theory, the Zen mind is the optimal condition for creative functioning (Feldshuh, 83).

“To regain spontaneity the Zen artist must again create after long years of study from a region beyond conscious awareness, and, equally important, he must study to forget study and himself” (Feldshuh, 84).

According to several studies, the study of Zen improves empathetic capability and can cause the appearance of new and original images in the minds of artists (Feldshuh, 84).

This Zen approach to creativity provides material to fill in the gaps between classical actor training (Feldshuh, 85).

Adding the Zen approach to the training methods of actors would provide the inner preparation necessary to properly perform (Feldshuh, 85).

This is the case because current actor training does not have a method for forgetting the rehearsal and just performing, which Zen can provide (Feldshuh, 86). This effect is describe as “when fear of failure suddenly vanishes to be replaced by an infusion of creative ease and resiliency” (Feldshuh, 86).

As anecdotal evidence, actors have recalled “giving up” on performances, after which their performance had more creativity and originality than ever (Feldshuh, 87).

The idea of Zen in performance is to “know without knowing” (Feldshuh, 87-88).

In the study of Zen, children are the perfect example of the type of non-thinking that is required for spontaneity (Feldshuh, 88).

“The performing artist must be capable of risking all of himself. He must be willing and able to dissolve himself into the process of acting; to surrender; to “die” each moment and be born fully each moment (Feldshuh, 89).

Feldshuh, David. “Zen and the Actor.” The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 20, no. 1, 1976, pp. 79–89. JSTOR, Accessed 15 Dec. 2020.

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