The First Steps To The Substitution Technique Choosing The Right Substitute

The first step to mastering the Substitution technique is creating an imaginary person through the use of your five senses. When I say imaginary, I don't mean someone who doesn't exist, like a child that has an imaginary friend, someone that they have made up completely and who doesn't exist in reality. I mean a person who you know well and who you create in front of you with the use of your imagination and your senses.

As with any sense memory, the choice of what, or in this case whom, to work on is essential. The person that you choose to create should be someone with whom you have a relationship of substance. The best people are the ones from your primal relationships, primal meaning the first people with whom you come in contact in your life, that is, people from your family structure—father, mother, sister, brother, etc.—the people who make up your household. These relationships are loaded emotionally and filled with needs and desires that were left unmet. This can make for good acting material, because you have needs that need to be fulfilled.

Sometimes, the relationships may be so loaded that to try and create these people through sense memory would only serve to infantilize you. If the relationship is too emotionally charged, it can render you powerless and unable to act. Therefore, the choice of that person should be avoided at this time.

If you allow your subconscious to make the choice for you, it will usually choose the right person for whatever you are working on at the moment. If you aren't working on anything specific, then use the character and the monologue you used in chapter 3 as a starting point. Here are some guidelines for choosing the right person to work on for a Substitute:

Make the choice after doing the Mental Relaxation exercises for |

at least twenty minutes. O

Let your memory wander through your past, and focus on the g people who have been part of your family and friends. g c

Think of the people you have cared about, those who have made § a big impression on you (positive or negative) and those you have t? loved. ¿s

• The relationship should be from at least seven years ago (the general sense memory rule), although you may still know the person now. They could be deceased, although be advised that you create a potentially extremely charged situation when you do this.

• The right person to choose is the first person to figure prominently in your mind.

Sense memory choices should not be belabored. You shouldn't sit around and decide on a substitution choice the way you might decide what you are going to wear to a party. The choice should be clear to you, because it is usually the first person you think of. This is always the choice that will take you from the present moment to where you want to go. It is called intuition, and actors can always intuit the best choice for the moment if they are relaxed and concentrated and have the courage to leave themselves alone.


Once you have chosen your substitute, you can begin working on the exercise. This exercise must be preceded by a long and thorough Mental Relaxation period if it is to be effectual. You will be creating an imaginary "object" that is another living human being with whom you have a complex relationship, so you need to be very relaxed in order to chart this very rich and volatile territory.

1 Place two chairs opposite one another, and sit in one of them. In your mind, place your substitute person in the other chair.

2 Keep the relaxation process going, making sure that you get plenty of air when you breathe. Make sounds, and use the Inner Monologue. Stay in the chair, and stay in the moment. Be very aware of rising tension and its release.

3 Begin to create the substitute by using your five senses. Start with vision—sight. Most people will immediately try to see the face of the person, but this may not be the easiest route to establishing imaginary reality. Although you might think you are most familiar with the face—certainly you recognize it among other faces when you see it—it is an extremely complicated canvas, with many minute details—details, by the way, that change with time. It is much easier to start with the general size and shape of the person and to start by posing questions. For instance, if my substitute is 6'4" tall, then how high would his head be in relationship to mine if he were sitting in this empty chair opposite me? Pose the question, then allow your visual memory to answer. Continue with the rest of the body. Be specific. Question: If my substitute were sitting in this chair, where would his legs be? How far out would the knees come? Are the legs crossed? Where are the feet?

4 The next series of questions that should be posed deal with what the person is wearing. If we give our subconscious free reign, it will drop this person into our imaginary reality from a specific point in time. He will be wearing something from that time. It may be something that we recognize immediately, or we may not recognize it at all. The thing not to do is to say to yourself, "Oh, Sammy always wore those blue jeans and that old red plaid shirt," and then try to make yourself see him wearing that outfit. This approach will not work as an effective acting tool.

The outfit emerges slowly, piece by piece. You may only be able to realize a cuff of a shirt or a necklace that lies on the breastbone, but this may be more than enough to bring the image of the whole person clearly to your imagination in front of you.

5 Once you have a visual piece of your substitute, and indeed it need only be a piece, you can start to move to the next sense—smell. Everyone has a scent of his own. With some people, you are readily aware of their scent, a perfume or cologne that they always wore or the smell of a painter's oils. Work on your relaxation, and take in a large amount of air, as if you were smelling the ocean. As you take in the air, concentrate on your nose and the inside of your nostrils. Feel the air going in, and ask the questions: What do I smell? Is there a smell associated with this person? Do I smell it now? What do I smell? It is possible that you smell something that is related to the person, like a food that she would cook on her stove or a place that she used to take you to. You never know what ^ your imagination will offer in response to a question. One thing E-that you can be sure of, though, if you ask, your imagination will § give you the right answer. §

6 Various aspects of the person should be clearly before you in the chair. If you have created any kind of sensory reality, you will be ^

S a Cj very concentrated and connected to that chair where the person that your imagination has created is seated. You do not have to sit head-on to the person, nor do you have to look at her. What you do have to do is make sure that you have power over your own body. You should be able to move freely, although you remain seated. Your face remains relaxed, and you are breathing fully into each moment.

7 In the fashion of the Inner Monologue, begin to speak to your substitute. Speak in short, direct sentences or sentence fragments; do not get conversational. Don't forget that at this point, you are still doing a sense memory exercise, you are not playacting a scenario. Your body should not take on the language of, say, someone sitting in a lounge having a drink with a friend. Be very aware of small jerks or adjusted movements in the body before you speak. This indicates that you are not speaking directly from the moment in a natural and connected fashion, but that you are arranging the moment before you speak. Be very careful of the preconceived idea. We spoke about preconceived ideas in chapter 3 in relation to character. We also have preconceived ideas about ourselves and our relationships with the people in our lives. When you are working with a substitute, it is very important to allow your speech to come directly out of the moment and the inspiration that you are receiving from the imaginary object. This interaction is part of the creation process.

8 After you have spoken to your substitute for a while, it's time to work on the next sense—hearing. Go back to working on the visual and spatial imaginary reality of your substitute, and reestablish a connection through one of the other senses, either sight or smell. Do not speak during this time; be quiet and start to listen. As with any sense memory, the concentration goes to the organ that does the job, in this case, the ears. Try to connect to at least two senses at the same time. See the person, concentrate on the ears, and try to hear the voice. This is very similar to the exercise of listening to the music from memory. You direct the concentration to the ear canals and allow the sound to filter of through. If you are relaxed and in the moment, you should be able

™ to hear the voice. Keep the breath moving through the

< moments. It can be very emotionally intense to do this part of the

„ exercise, and you will need your breath. Really listen to what this person has to say to you. Listen to your own thoughts, while your body and breath react to what your substitute is saying to you.

9 Interact with your substitute without speaking, while listening and reacting to your own thoughts. This is similar to the Journal Writings as Inner Monologue Exercise of chapter 4.


This next exercise is a continuation of the above exercise. It can be done the first time you try the Substitution if you feel that your connection is strong enough to keep going. On the other hand, you might want to work up to it and try this exercise after you have done the previous exercise several times and you can re-create your substitute with confidence.

1 Start with twenty minutes of Mental Relaxation.

2 Place a chair opposite yours for the substitute to be in. Work on the same person as you did for the first exercise, and create her through sight, smell, and sound.

3 Once you are interacting with her, remain seated as you see her stand up and walk away from the chair that she was sitting in. Do this carefully, because it is possible that she will disappear all together. If she does disappear, go back to the last strongest sense memory you connected to the substitute, and carefully place her in the chair. Try to carefully see her getting up, carefully see her walking away.

Relax the space behind your eyes, as you work on seeing the substitute move. Avoid straining the eyes as a form of concentration. The greater the task for the concentration, the greater the relaxation. Seeing a person who you have created through your § imagination and sensory memory walk across the room and ^ begin to move of her own free will is a very strenuous task for S the concentration. Therefore, it requires deep relaxation.

Place the substitute across the room somewhere. Don't speak to her, just listen to your own thoughts. You can do the Inner Monologue if you must speak.

6 Get up from your chair, and turn your back on your substitute. Feel that she is still there in the room with you by keeping one of the senses other than sight going. If your connection is very strong, you may not have to do anything to keep her presence real for you. In life, we feel the presence of those around us even when we are not directly looking at them. If we are having a conversation with someone who is in the room with us, we might be doing something other than staring directly at her. We know that she is there, even without constant eye contact. People have varying degrees of power over us, depending on their proximity. It is the same with substitutes: Once you have created them, they are there, whether you are looking at them or not.

7 Close you eyes, and reach out your hand. Have your substitute come up to you and touch your hand. Feel her hand on yours. Keep your eyes closed for now. Once you have the sensory connection of her hand on yours, slowly open your eyes and see her before you. Try to see her face. You must keep the face and eyes relaxed during this exercise. If the impulse of the sensory search is overwhelming, you can look away or walk away, but keep the connection going in a flowing and relaxed manner.

You may not want to be touched by your substitute for some reason, which is, of course, your prerogative. However, in the world of imaginary reality, this is a valid response for the sense of touch. Just as not seeing the person when your back is turned, yet still knowing that she is there, is a sensorial reality for sight, you are still interacting with your imaginary object through the use of your senses.

8 Interact with your substitute by allowing her to move at will. Do not let the touch, if you have allowed it to occur, go beyond the touching of hands. Speak to your substitute in simple, repetitive language. Ask questions. Don't dissipate your imaginary reality through conversational speech. Don't get into scenarios and places. Just stay with the sensory facts of the person and your imaginary reality with her.

«o of 9 Do your monologue to the substitute, allowing the impulses from ™ your interaction to dictate how the monologue is said. Stay in the

< moment, and leave space for the discovery of something new,

5 surprising, or unknown to take place.


Any exercise that requires a good deal of concentration to get into should have a clear passage to get out of the depth of concentration. Particularly when you start to move into the areas of Substitution and the Room exercise of the next chapter, you must decide when you are finished with the exercise and allot time for a "cooling down" period. This is done consciously by slowly letting go of the imaginary reality piece by piece.

If you have been doing the Substitution exercise, for example, then you would let go of the person sense by sense, sight being, most likely, the last. You never create a scenario where the person exits the room and that's how your sense memory ends. In a case like that, it hasn't ended; you are still in your imaginary reality. All that you have changed is the visual presence of the Substitute. Your imagination is still connected to it.

To disengage yourself from a strong sense memory, you must replace the sense memories with sense realities. If you are working with smell, then work to smell what is truly in the room and take notice of it. Stand still, and close your eyes. Listen to the sounds in the room. Notice them. Listen to the sounds of traffic or of birds outside the room. Notice them. Feel your feet in your shoes and your shoes on the ground. Feel the clothing on your body, and touch your hands and face. Open your eyes and see the room. Look at it almost scientifically, asking questions about specific things: How high are the windows? How old is this rug? How many electrical outlets are in the room? Come back to the room you are standing in. Be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings of the present.

This is an important aspect of this work. It makes your work specific and much easier to manage and control.


It goes without saying that you don't have time to sit and relax for twenty S

minutes, slowly doing the sensory steps to create your substitute, on a film a^

set. When they call you to the set to shoot, you can't start doing your Inner §

Monologue, talking to the substitute that only you can see, as a way of g

"warming up" your imaginary reality to get you ready to act. You have to is do all that work repeatedly at home on your own time. When you are on a <o set, you basically are expected to be prepared and to just act. What you are prepared with, what you have taken with you from your work at home, is, ..

among other things, a set of keys that unlock the sensory experiences that .2

are useful in a moment's notice. 3

The key is important to any sense memory, because it is how we apply J what we have done in our own private work to our acting. The key is found while you are doing the exercise, through trial and error. While you are doing the Substitution exercise, take notice of what sensorial aspect brings the imaginary reality to an emotional connection and causes a reaction in you. This would be the starting point of the key. Sometimes, this connection may be too overpowering to act with, but you can attempt to blend this imaginary reality with your character. If it serves your acting talent and causes you to move forward, propelling you through the part, it is a good choice. If it bogs you down into a past personal experience that makes you oblivious to the actions of your part, then it needs to be either pared down (use less of the sensorial reality) or discarded for another key that serves you better.

This does not happen instantaneously. As with anything that is highly specialized and extremely subjective, it takes time to choose what aspects of your work at home should be taken to a professional environment. The short answer is, the ones that help you act your parts more easily, more fluidly, and with greater creativity. Nothing will give you an answer better than experiences that will teach you to make the right choices through trial and error.

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