Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, a Professor of Psychology, has conducted research into what makes people happy - a notoriously difficult field for a man with a notoriously difficult-to-pronounce name.
Csikszentmihalyi (Chick-Sent-Me-High - it’s easier than it looks) discovered that people were most happy when they were in a state that he called Flow. Flow is a state of involvement in which a person is entirely immersed with a feeling of energised focus. We might refer to it as being In the Zone or On the Ball or let’s add one more, the feeling that we ascribe to being In Character.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, there are 7 criteria that an individual needs to be in Flow.
ONE: Completely involved in what they are doing.
TWO: A sense of being outside of everyday reality.
THREE: A clear idea of what needs to be done.
FOUR: Knowledge that the Task is achievable.
FIVE: Absence of anxiety, beyond ego.
SIX: Thoroughly present in the moment.
SEVEN: Intrinsically motivated by the activity.
These criteria chime directly with the optimum conditions for the feeling of being In Character. When these 7 criteria are met, the actor is doing their best work. But they were never In Character, the character isn’t real, the actor is real and they were in Flow.
Here’s what Csikszentmihalyi has to say on being in Flow:
“Loss of self-consciousness does not involve loss of self, and certainly not a loss of consciousness, but rather, only a loss of consciousness of the self. What slips below the threshold of awareness is the concept of self, the information we use to represent to ourselves who we are. And being able to forget temporarily who we are seems to be very enjoyable. When not preoccupied with our selves, we actually have a chance to self-transcendence, to a feeling that the boundaries of our being have been pushed forwards.
This feeling is not just a fancy of the imagination, but it is based on a concrete experience of close interaction with some Other, an interaction that produces a rare sense of unity with these usually foreign entities.”
The professor is describing the actor being in the moment of mindful absorption, which is simply mistaken for the feeling of being in character.
However, preparation for Flow requires that there is no anxiety present and since the actor is woefully prepared for their work by the techniques of the Character Myth taught at the Lucky Rabbit’s Foot School of Acting, then this state of Flow is rarely reached.
Michael had worked himself up to such a state of anxiety that Flow could not be achieved. How ironic; the anxiety caused by the fruitless search for character prevents the actor from feeling like they are in character.
The solution is to give up on character altogether, and look for the answers somewhere else.