One of the participants in the Meisner Acting Lab that finished Phase One yesterday shared an entry from her journal. I liked her perspective so much that I asked if she would mind recording it to share on my website and she generously agreed. Here are Hannah's thoughts on the structure of the Meisner work:
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When you tell people that you're an actor, you can get some pretty off the wall, laughable and occasionally really offensive responses. Especially in Vancouver, which has got to have almost as many aspiring actors as Los Angeles. I'm not going to address all of the ridiculous things I've been asked upon answering that dreaded "So what do you do?" question. But there is one particular myth that I'd like to dispel today. Acting is not lying. It's not a form of escapism and it's not about pretending to be someone else. This is why:
There are two fundamentally wrong assumptions here.
1. Good acting is about telling the truth, the truest truth you possibly can.
2. Character is not an outside thing you put on like a costume, it must arise from within. The character is never someone else, it always you.
Human experience is 100% subjective. It's not like we can just shrug off the "my perspective suit" and put on another. Your personality, belief system and cognitive links are so complex and deep and so much a part of you that you can't switch them on and off. Even if you were pretending to be someone else and no-one noticed how disconnected you were, you could only portray them as you see them, which isn't them at all is it? Two dimensional characters and broad stereotyping are often a result of this "put on the character" kind of thinking. It's surface level, judgemental and never believable.
OK, but what about those actors who totally transform? They're not being themselves. They're completely different from character to character! They walk differently, talk differently, their personality is different. How can I say they're not pretending to be someone else? Are these not affected behaviours?
This is where imaginary circumstances come in to play.
Stanislavski talked about the Magic If. Meisner said that acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Herein lies the secret. This is how transformation is possible. You can't fake it and it can't be applied from the outside, it must always come from within. You only ever have yourself to work with, but your imagination is infinite.
I started acting when I was about 6 or 7. At the time, all I wanted was to be someone else. I was bullied by my peers, I hated the way I looked and I treasured the chance to be someone else one afternoon a week, checking my reality at the door. That's what got me in, but that's not why I stayed.
Spend any reasonable amount of time studying the art of acting and you realize that it's about facing your demons, not running away from them. By the time I was a teenager, my reasons had shifted. I wasn't happy with my life, but I wanted to change it, not escape it. The rehearsal room was the only safe place to be myself. To delve deep into my subconscious, to learn, to grow, to work out some of my angst. To be free.
Acting isn't therapy. Your acting coach does not (typically) have a degree in psychology and you should never confuse the two. It does, however, require that you have an intimate knowledge of yourself.
As an adult, I love theatre more than ever and the magic is certainly still a part of it, but my reasons have shifted once again. Acting is no longer about escaping reality and my demons and I are great friends at this point. The Ancient Greeks used theatre for Catharsis. For me it's about Empathy. Whether you're attending a powerful performance as an audience member, taking a beginners acting class for the fun of it or working as a professional actor, you may not be thinking about it, but you're strengthening your empathy muscle. You're opening yourself to experience someone else's reality. By experiencing the truth (especially someone else's truth) under imaginary circumstances, you're learning how to understand, if not to love, your neighbour. You're building your humanity. And the world needs more of that I think.
There's not a lot of truly powerful theatre out there at the moment, but it is out there. Go see theatre. Take an acting class. Take a giant step outside your mind and watch how it changes your world.
I understand why actors get so superstitious. Why we shroud our art in mystery. It's so personal and so undefinable. Sharing it only dulls the shine. The emotional preparation work really brings this home. It's lonely.
Something I'm coming across everywhere in my own life at the moment is the loneliness that sharing brings. Counterintuitive perhaps. But one of those true life paradoxes.
Have you ever had a passionate conversation, even when you are in agreement with the other person, about something you care about deeply and it leaves you feeling depressed? I'm a puppy. I get SO excited! I'm riding this high of positive energy and passion (and sometimes the other person is even along for the ride) and then, somehow in the midst of all this, emptiness creeps in and by the time the conversation is over I am consumed by grief.
And this is when I feel, acutely, the human condition.
That large neon sign of "I AM NOT THE SAME AS YOU" placed right beside the one saying "I JUST WANT TO BE LOVED AND NOT ALONE!" I'm sure we get the little reminders of this all of the time, but when it's touching something close to my self, close to my heart, when it is related to something that I consider to be a part of me, an experience that is a piece of my "me-mosiac", that is when this feeling descends like a ton of bricks.
Experiencing it in this context makes me wonder if it comes from a lack of ownership of myself. I'm a young teacher and especially being here, surrounded by amazing, talented, experienced and wise teachers, I feel myself revisiting my highschool years, trying so hard to impress, to be like. I feel a different age depending on where I am or what I'm doing. My literal self-image changes depending on how confident I am. Sometimes I see myself as I was when I was 5, sometimes 10, sometimes 17. Sometimes even the age I am now. ;)
All this yearning to fit in and reminders of high-school make me wonder how many parts of myself I habitually compromise without even noticing. It's scary; owning something important to you. Especially with the knowledge that different things work for different people, especially with so many other opinions out there, especially fearing that you might be "wrong". I mean someone else may think I AM wrong and, for them, they may be right! Oh subjectivity is such a bitch.
I find myself thinking: "Who am I to express my opinion to the universe?"
I have such an ingrained notion that in order to deserve to put an idea out into the world you have to believe it 100%, no doubt, no room for error. Perfect confidence in whatever it is you happen to be doing at that point in your experience. A ridiculous idea. Fascist! Powerful.
Note on 28th July:
Saw this on facebook the other day, I think on Yvia's status. It's what inspired me to choose this fragment to go up next:
"The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety." - Froom
Returning to normal life after "Meisner camp" has been a lot harder than I had anticipated, but I am finally ready to start picking up the pieces and preparing for the workshop in August.
You always become close to the people you share workshops like this with, but the experience I had at the Meisner Certificate Training Program was much more intense than anything I've felt before. Something about the work we did there and the kind of people who are drawn to work with Larry in this way did something very special to me that I will never forget. I am comforted by the fact that we have managed to cajole Larry into offering a Part 3, which I plan on attending in January 2013.
I did a lot of writing while I was in Oregon, but not much editing or posting, so I'll be posting retroactively over the next week or two as I order my thoughts. Stay tuned.
In the meantime I feel the pangs of separation from my classmates deeply. Larry Silverberg posted this quote for us. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing:
OK, so this is hardly scientific, but I did my little experiment today.
It actually turned out better than I had imagined because I entirely forgot to execute my plan before we did the monologues. And it went OK. I felt the beginnings of that trust, when you know you've done your work and can just let it all go. It came and went, I pushed a little. My throat hurt. For the first time in ages I was holding it all in my throat! Ah well, we're all human.
Then this evening I did an exercise with Darrelyn. This time I remembered my little experiment. I had also, when setting up my extreme circumstances that morning, dropped them into my swamp as best I could and then left them alone until it was...da da daaaaa! Time to prepare. (By the way, I'm not going into detail on any of the Meisner work because it's really not my place. If you're curious, please read Larry Silverberg's books he is so eloquent.)
And it was amazing. I did the whole thing, got into semi supine and connected. And felt very little at first. Then I let my mind wander to what I had set up that morning and it hit me like a wave. Not images like I usually get (I'm still a baby at this emotional prep stuff, it's something I've struggled wrapping my head around for years and I'm still very intellectual about it) just feeling. From there I did the preparation process that we've been exploring in class.
The coolest thing was when I got up and went to the door. I often end up in some sort of position on the floor when preparing for the deep dark stuff and I find that when I stand up my body goes into "get it together mode" and by the time I'm at the door I have to struggle to reconnect through all that social conditioning. This time, I just kept the breath connected to the swamp where my preparation was living and sure, it comes and goes and grows and shifts, but it was alive in there and SO present for the exercise that this time I really did feel I could just let it all go and be in the moment and trust.
Now this is a pretty useless comparison because it's apples and oranges. Different content, different process. But it was fun and I feel I got something from it. So I thought you might too. I for one will be dropping my preparation circumstances into my swamp from this day forward.
If you're reading words like "dropping in" or "swamp" and think I'm crazy. You might want to check out Freeing the Natural Voice or the Canada's Voice Intensive.
If you're reading words like "Meisner" or "preparation" and have no idea what I'm talking about, check out this amazing course I'm on right now through the True Acting Institute.
I haven't acted in a long time and some of the exercises in this workshop can be quite intimidating. Sure, I've done my training and put in my time but my insecurities don't care about that. When I'm put on the spot and have nothing in the last 2 years to reference, those doubts can be awfully persuasive.
I'm sure every actor has had this experience, but it is such a gift and wonder to me every time. In the midst of all the confusion and frustration when I feel lost and like I have no idea where to go from here and I should just give up, a voice from directors past (not dead, just in the past) surfaces through the mire of experience and floats into my consciousness. Suddenly I hear the voice of a teacher or director (sometimes from more than a decade ago) clear as a bell in my ear with the perfect appropriate lesson. A nugget of gold dropped into my lap through time. And I am no longer lost. I have the key. Trust is a beautiful thing. I am so grateful to be in a place where I know if I can just hang in there and breathe the answer will come. Thank you to all my teachers and friends who have taken the time to sew wisdom into the lining of my memory, those forgotten secrets that surface at exactly the right time. You save my ass again and again.
In part one of the Meisner Certificate Training Program Stephanie, Ingrid and I were observing the relationship between the repetition and being "on voice". The deeper we get into the Meisner work (we just concluded week 3 of 4-phew!) the more clear this becomes to me.
I had some time this afternoon to play around with the relationship between some of the Linklater breath work and the emotional preparation work we've been doing with Larry this week. I'll be doing some field testing tomorrow when we present our monologues.... wish me luck!
Picture by Camille L.
There is such a wealth of experience and passion and diversity in the
participants at this workshop! As I sit here in the lunch room, gazing at the stream out the window, voices wash over me and snatches of conversation filter into my consciousness. Each personality is so distinct, so vibrant and unique, I feel so much love for these people I have known only a few days. We have already been through so much. Not that we're not getting on each others nerves, that's inevitable when you're with a group of people 24/7, but even so.
I’m having trouble sleeping. It is SO invigorating each day to be surrounded by 30+ personalities, all of whom are so passionate about the work, so excited and enthusiastic. I'm exhausted, but I feel like I can't switch off. I imagine I'll sleep for a week when I finally get home.
The space Willamette University has given us to use is just gorgeous. And alive with activity. Walking in to the foyer I can feel the emotions bubble over and spill down the stairs of our studio. I feel like our enthusiasm spreads infectiously outwards, widening over the town of Salem. Larry Silverberg’s students are all over the world, doing great things.
In this atmosphere it's hard not to imagine you're part of a global movement. A quiet, energetic revolution of people intent on creating a more truthful and feeling world where we all connect with each other and make art and experience beauty with every breath, every word, every moment of our lives.
I know, I'm being effusively positive but it's so hard not to! Life here is very close to how I imagine my ideal lifestyle to be. This morning, as I wandered from breakfast to the theatre where we take classes I passed a hall where an orchestra(?) is practicing. I stopped a while to listen. In the afternoons I sit on the grass in the sun beside the stream and watch the ducks. Everywhere I go I pass little pockets of people enthusing about
their discoveries, repeating under a tree, rehearsing over dinner. I can't help but feel I have been transported to some sort of performer's paradise. A pity our stay is so short.
I've just finished the first week of the four week Meisner Certification Training Program I'm taking through the
True Acting Institute and I am taking a much needed "rest and rehearse" day.
Our instructor Larry Silverberg said something this week that just opened up my world. I’ve been struggling with the idea of how to begin this blog and this quote gave me both a starting topic and the courage to jump in and begin.
“We can only create when we are in the unknown.”
Just typing that makes me well up. It’s so beautiful. And so simple. And, okay, pretty obvious once you think about it. I think that all powerful quotes touch you because they're reminding you of a truth you already know. The beauty is in the simplicity. That’s what I love about the Meisner work (and why I feel that the Meisner Approach and voice practice complement each other so perfectly), it’s so simple. Not easy. Not remotely. But simple.
In my experience it is often the simple things that are hard to do. To be focussed and present requires something of us that we’re just not used to accessing in our culture. We’ve become too good at multitasking. I feel lost if I’m not juggling a few things at once. I feel so vulnerable.
As a way of negotiating this, If I have simple, powerful task to perform I find that I have to work backwards. If I approach the thing directly it just disappears and I become exasperated. If I create a convoluted version of the problem or task, something my mind can worry at and unravel then I can pare it down to its essence and finally experience the power of the simple thing. It is often how I approach teaching voice, especially to newcomers. The simplicity can be overwhelming. Working backwards from what we know is sometimes the best approach.
My challenge to myself at the moment, especially while I'm doing the Meisner work is to relax into the simple, the pure and the powerful. To get out of my own way and just let things be.
Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.