17th May 2021
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Actors: Listen up to Good Advice!

By Martin Frenette

“I’m a physical actor and everything that I’ve lived so far is and has been a direct consequence of this artistic identity” answers Rénald Laurin when asked to summarize 45 years spent on stage. A twinkle appears in his eyes as he rests his chin in the palm of his right hand, one that seems to grow brighter whenever the topics of travel, art, human connections, or capturing all three with his camera lens come up.

The Canadian actor who refers to his two suitcases and carry-on as his place of residency also says that being an actor is about playing the partitions that are handed out. Actors must be as open as possible, both physically and emotionally, in order to play them truthfully and to their full potential. By opening themselves to the people behind such partitions, writers and directors for instance, one can not only understand a character’s beating heart but also how it resonates inside their very own.

“Even if acting is about projecting and reaching out, it really is an internal process. It always starts from within. One first finds where a part can bring them and then opens up to share it with the world.”

Almost in the same breath and with his gaze seemingly lost in the night sky, Mr. Laurin underlines that an actor must accept and embrace the unknown to go beyond the words and their apparent meaning. Making quick decisions or rushing through a creative process goes against the very nature of creation. It ain’t about what sounds nor feels more pertinent according to the man who describes Cuba as the home where his heart is.

In Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, Laurin plays the show’s main character who relies solely on pantomime and physical theatre skills to narrate a story. A lead without any lines nor boundaries who, therefore, can speak any and every language in some ways.

“And that really is where the essence and beauty of physical theatre lie: in its universality. The fact that there are no political, cultural, or religious limits to it. If words can be obstacles at times, one’s physicality can share a lot with an audience who perceives the intention behind a movement and the respiration that comes with it. If cleverly-chosen and well-performed, movements often have more depth than words.”

Based on this statement and a tangible desire to communicate emotions with movement over words, it should come as no surprise that Kurios is the company’s third production which the 63-year old has been involved in nor that he co-founded a circus-theatre company in his early acting years.

Being most often called in for what was seen as “physical parts” in an industry that did not appear to see him in any other role, this actor chose to embrace his cast-type instead of fighting it and spent 14 years at his company’s reins. Looking back at the whole casting and audition process with a more mature and experienced eye, he now sees how it can both feed and demoralize an actor.

“It ain’t only about fitting in nor getting the part. Being able to walk out of an audition feeling like you succeeded in communicating what was asked is far more important. Enjoy the moment and the experience that each audition brings your way. Who cares how old or young you might look? Who cares what the casting calls for? In order to try it all and experiment as much as possible, an actor should believe in their cast-type, but not make every choice around it. Regardless of the outcome, you at least got to be seen. The rest is out of your hands!”

This last piece of advice is one of the many that have been shared with the many students who have trained in clown and physical theatre with him, notably at Montreal’s National Circus School.

According to this creation junkie, creation is bound to be different and surprise artists each and every time. It forces them to adapt themselves on several levels, to re-think, look back, and try again with some adjustments or more confidence. It is by going towards the unknown, working with different colleagues, and in new spaces that an actor keeps on learning, keeps on growing.

“It is by risking it more than once, not being afraid to leave its comfort zone and look like a fool that actors gain the experience and knowledge that allow them to know if and how they can play a part.”

Changing his chin from his right to his left palm, Mr. Laurin reminds actors that each story and every character demand that one dives deep in research mode, regardless of the experience and knowledge gained over the years. Such research and curiosity would be an actor’s best tools when reprising a role as he did on Kurios himself.

To truly own a character and make it his or hers, rather than offer an exact replica of its previous incarnation, every artist must follow their instincts.

That is also how plenty of room for creation can be found in a role reprising context. By going back to the character’s dramaturgy, on how it was created, and reflecting on The Chercheur’s actions and decisions, he manages to give the character his own take while staying true to the original.

When asked about what most actors want to know, the secret to longevity, that twinkle in his eye gains in brightness and, almost in a burst of laughter, he simply answers “Curiosity! Read, read, read… READ! Anything and everything! Attend shows, watch movies, read some more, and look for art under all its forms wherever life leads you. Do whatever it takes to preserve and nourish that simple joy of acting, this push that initially brought you on stage and this little kick to go out there and give your very best. Four decades into my career, I still feel this pleasure of entering a new world each time I step on stage.”

Going back to the initial question that started it all, the one on his identity, the impassioned man adds that an actor is someone who wants, needs to see and experience more to find his place. Someone driven by a desire, a need to find its true identity. An individual who wants to reveal themselves to the world, even if behind a mask!

Also by Martin Frenette:

“I Love Piano”: An Artist’s Passion Lived Offstage

Advice for Performers: Read Your Contract!

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