The Size of an Actor
By Om Rupani.
I practice BDSM. I teach workshops in BDSM. I’m also a writer and director. I have long felt that the journey of Dominance & Submission has much to offer and contribute to the acting craft. I have always encouraged my actors to explore this realm, to seek insights and opportunity in it for personal expansion and for their craft.
In this essay I want to explore how d/s exploration can contribute to the Size of an actor.
Stella Adler, The Art Of Acting:
Nowadays a lot of what passes for acting is nothing more than finding yourself in some character. That doesn’t interest me. Of course you have to bring your own experience to bear on the characters you play, but you have to realize right from the outset that Hamlet was not “a guy like you.”
The theater I grew up in was a place where actors did not want to play themselves, as so many actors want to do today. They didn’t want just to play characters different from themselves either. They wanted to play characters bigger than themselves.
In our theater the actors often don’t raise themselves to the level of the characters. They bring the great characters down to their level. I’m afraid we live in a world that celebrates smallness. Am I exaggerating? Yes. Are there exceptions? Of course. Many exceptions? No.
There was a time when to play Oedipus you had to be an important actor. Until thirty or forty years ago to play any major role, whether it was Hamlet or Willy Loman, you had to have size. Writ this down: You have to develop size. That is what we are here to work on.
When you approach a big writer you must live up to what is big in him. You must take the measure of the writer’s size, and find that stature and dimension in yourself. I come back to the word size. Acting has to dow with size. It’s the hame of the game.
How to develop this SIZE that Stella spoke of so passionately? What is this Size? It’s actually quite difficult to define it. It is nowhere to be found on the surface of the actor. It has nothing to do with the imposing presence of his body. It is not about the allure of good looks. It is not about presenting oneself loudly or extravagantly. And yet, we all can feel this SIZE just about instantly in an actor, in a performance.
Sometimes when we encounter this SIZE in an actor who is also blessed with other attributes, we may mis-assign Size to these other attributes. One immediately feels Size in the presence of Denzel Washington or Russel Crowe. But are we responding to their good looks? Their sex appeal? Where is this radiance of Size emitting from?
Size is not charm or beauty or loudness. It is something else entirely. To try to isolate it from the other gifts of an actor, study the great artist, Ben Kingsley!
Gandhi. Sexy Beast. Schindler’s List. So many others!
It isn’t his large or imposing physicality; the man is rather petite. It’s not that he just takes on loud and big and heroic characters. It’s not good looks or charm or any of that. But Mr. Kingsley embodies this quality of Size that Stella talks about to a degree matched by few others.
There is in fact a perception of VOLUME in this Size. We feel something big in the depths of the artist. We feel that their inner space is tremendously large. That their character occupies a very rich inner world, is capable of great emotion and experience. There is an inner, invisible vessel inside all of us, inside of all actors. The size of this vessel tells us what is possible in our encounter with this actor—what range of behavior, what range of sensitivity, what volume of feeling, what capacity for action.
So how can this inner vessel be nurtured and fed and grown? And how can playing in the realm of Dominance & Submission possibly contribute to this growth?
D/s play looks like many things on the surface level. It can be very distracting visually. It is filled with props and toys and outfits and lots of action being done from one person to another. All of that is well and good. All of that is what people who have never examined D/s from within think that this is all that there is to it. Unfortunately, most depiction of D/s play in our films and TV programs haven’t managed to go deeper than this surface level of shiny props either.
What D/s play is, beyond all the distracting and shiny props, is an exploration of our ARCHETYPES. First and foremost, the invitation in this realm is to go deeper into those archetypes that you possess, but have not given permission to really come out and live and express themselves. D/s exploration is about giving permission to the Dom archetype that you may have felt lingering in you for a long time. Or the Submissive archetype. Or the Servant archetype. Or the Trickster archetype.
I believe this is the inner muscle, the inner caliber that D/s play can help an actor in developing his or her Size: Go deeper into your own inner archetypes. FULLY OCCUPY who you are. Occupy your own Shadow Archetype. Occupy your Taboo Archetypes. Give greater permission and greater volume to every aspect of your own psyche and soul first.
Both with actors and with newbies entering the D/s realm, I often get an image of their inner state as a ‘crumpled state’. Imagine there was a life-size paper cut-out of you. And someone took that paper cut-out and crumpled and crimped it all up and shoved that crimped self inside of you. This crimped-up inner state is the OPPOSITE of Size. It is what we feel in a shallow and amateurish performance—even if the lines are delivered without mistakes.
D/s play can become a master school for uncriming our own archetypes. It will show you how to occupy your own space inwardly. It will pump volume into the expression of your repressed archetype. And once this volume is generated, it is available for you to employ in your acting craft.
Of course to create volume where right now there is a contracted and deflated state requires a good measure of courage. This not just an add-on skill. It is very much an invitation for a very rich inner journey. It is an invitation for something transformative to happen to you.
Every actor feels the metaphor of ‘Being a Vessel’. When you are in your zone, in your flow, in your inspiration, that’s what your craft feels like—like who YOU are has become a vessel, and that vessel is the right kind of vessel for your character to come in and occupy—to speak through you, to act through you, to reach out to the audience and stir them up.
How large is your Vessel? This was Stella’s challenge! Is your vessel truly large enough to play Blanche? Or Lear? Or Lady Macbeth? How will you prepare your vessel so that these great souls may come occupy you during your performance?
Going deeper into your own archetypes is one true way. Occupy your own house first! Go deeper into your archetypes and do what you must in order to give them greater room and greater expression.
This can be a tremendous contribution to your journey as an artist and as an actor. And mind you, this is just ONE contribution that D/s play can make to the acting craft. There are many others! In another essay, I will explore how exploring Dominance & Submission can truly show you the heart and soul of a real and believable VILLAIN! That is another very large category of exploration. I tell the actors I converse with: If you learn to do a good job playing a bad guy, you’ll never be out of work. Villains are a gravely misunderstood art from.