‘M*A*S*H’: Alan Alda Revealed the Exercise Invented by Cast That He Continued Doing for Decades

by Matthew Wilson
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“M*A*S*H” star Alan Alda picked up a couple of tricks during his time on the show. In fact, he’s carried one exercise for the rest of his career.

Alda likes to laugh. More specifically, Alda likes to sit in a circle with his co-stars and go over lines with each other. The actor found it creatively liberating to poke fun at the script and to goof off with some of his castmates as well. It’s a practice he and his “M*A*S*H” co-stars got into the habit of.

“We discovered it by accident. Usually in making a movie or a television show, when you’re not needed to play a scene, you go back to your dressing room,” Alda told Harvard Business Review. “But during ‘M*A*S*H’ we would sit around in a circle and kid each other and go over our lines together. The sense of group was fortified all day long. The laughing was important because when you laugh you’re vulnerable, opened up, allowing the other person to affect you.”

Alan Alda Continued the Exercise

Alda starred on “M*A*S*H” for 11 seasons as the series lead Hawkeye. In fact, Alda was one of only four actors to appear in every season of the show. The actor got comfortable in his role and with his co-stars, even if many eventually moved on to other shows. So, it’s easy to imagine Alda falling into a routine with the others. It became an important part of his process as an actor.

Later when Alda appeared in Broadway plays, he kept the ritual going. He would gather his fellow castmates for a round of improv and jokes together. The actor believed it helped build chemistry between them.

“After that when I did a play, I wouldn’t make it an overt ritual, but I would try to work it so the cast was in the habit of sitting and laughing together, and the performance became just an extension of that playful experience,” Alda reflected. “When the other actors came out on stage, I’d already established a relationship with them. It wasn’t somebody I hadn’t seen since the night before. We were cooking. I mean, when we did [the Broadway play] ‘Art,’ we would be kidding each other until seconds before the curtain went up. There was the energy of being connected, and that really changes your point of view, your focus. You’re not lost in your own head. It makes a big difference in any encounter, whether it’s in your personal life or in business.”

Given Alda’s success as an actor both in and outside of the sitcom, the creative exercise apparently paid off in spades.

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