Like any artist, the actor is required to create with what is unseen in the physical world. We don’t see the symbolic world but it is there all the time. In order to connect to this symbolic world we have to move outside of reason and logic towards something more elusive, something larger, something intangible. The Actor who accesses characters from the archetypal realm will create something universal that every human being watching will be able to relate to.
Archetypes are energy patterns stored deep in our psyches. Carl Gustav Jung described archetypes as repeating patterns of thought and action that re-appear time and again across people, countries and continents. This means that no matter what culture, race or country any of us come from, each of us is connected to all people through the “Collective Unconscious”. Therefore an actor has access to any character and can learn to channel any character if she/he is open enough. This is done by creating a link between the sub-conscious mind and the conscious mind of the actor, getting out of the way of the energy belonging to a particular archetype and letting it move through the body.
Common archetypes to the actor are the Artist, the Non-Conformist or the Rebel, the Magical Child, and the Inner Critic (which we will discuss below). We find archetypes in our dreams, in ancient myths and fairy tales and in stored images in our fantasies and imaginations. We can recognize archetypes in image and emotion.
Archetypes can also get in the way of the work as well as help the work. Take the “shadow” archetype of the Inner Critic as a common saboteur of the actor. Most of the mind interference an actor experiences is as a result of constant directions, criticisms and commentary about “me”. Some common themes for the inner critic are: it constricts your ability to be creative; it stops you from taking risks because it makes you fear failure; it compares you unfavourably to others and makes you feel “less than”; it is constantly warning you not to look foolish; it is terrified of being shamed and so monitors all your behaviour to avoid this; it causes you to suffer from low self-esteem, and possibly depression, because it tells you that you are not good enough. A key to relaxing the mind and the inner critic is simply recognizing that it is anxious about a vulnerable archetype underneath it surfacing and causing you pain. When you experience an inner critic attack, try grounding and centring yourself into the present moment by coming back to your five senses; what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Knowing ourselves and what archetypes are operating in our psyches goes a long way in empowering the actor to remain present and open in the work.
Working with archetypes brings universal truth and therefore depth and soul to the work. If an actor wants a universal connection to their work, he/she must learn to dis-identify from aspects of their personal personality parts making room for identification with universal archetypes.
I would like to acknowledge among others who have influenced me, Eric Morris, for making me aware of sub-personalities. Many of my ideas on Archetypes come from Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell as well as several years of training based on Hal and Sidra Stones work on Sub-personalities as well as Richard Schwartz’ work on Internal Family Systems.
All characters exist inside of you. You are enough! Believe in that…
Cindy is Chair of the Toronto Association of Acting Studios (TAAS) and a member of ACTRA and Theatre Ontario