What happens when you bring a dog, a cat or a three year old child onto a stage as part of the performance? The audience perks up and begins to truly pay attention. Why does this happen? It happens because whatever the dog, cat or child does, they really do. Sounds simple but what does it mean? It means they don’t pretend to do something, they really do it, whatever that doing may be. They don’t act, mimic, indicate or try to be emotional. They don’t focus on themselves or the audience. Whatever they do, they really do. And whatever they are doing, whether it is looking for something, playing, smelling something, listening or answering something or someone or trying to get someone’s attention, they are 100% committed to doing it. And that is why the audience perks up and begins to pay attention. A three year old child has not been socialized. It has not yet learned to be ashamed of feeling certain emotions and expressing them. If the child is angry, happy, sad, hurt or elated it is expressed without hesitation. A child can go from pure joy to tears and back again in very little time. A child can fully express itself and not hold onto it’s emotions for fear of reprisal and judgment. And then at some point for most of us that changes. We are taught that the expression of certain feelings is inappropriate. So what does any of this have to do with acting? Well, an actor needs to be as emotionally available as a young child. An actor needs to be able to express the life of the character he is playing, whatever that life may be.
REALLY DO IT
Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances. That phrase was drilled into all of us who studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. That again is why our attention is pulled towards the child on stage, because the child lives truthfully. The child is not burdened with self-consciousness which is death to an actor on a stage or a film set. Sanford Meisner also repeated to us over and over that acting is doing. Acting is not showing an audience how emotional you can be in public or how skilled you are at indicating emotions, acting is doing. The best written plays and films are filled with fascinating characters always trying to do something. Whether they are trying to save their lives, seduce the person of their dreams, win a war for god and country or simply trying to find a lost set of car keys, a character is always trying to do something. I’m sure anyone who reads this can recount a moment in their lives where they were in an extraordinary circumstance. Maybe rushing a friend to a hospital or trying to stop an awful fight or just losing your virginity. I’m sure your attention wasn’t on how “emotional” you were or on whether you were “in the moment” or not. Your attention was on doing something, and how you did it depended on the circumstance and how the person or people you were with were responding. You were doing everything an actor should be doing when they are working. You were doing something truthfully, moment to moment, under the given circumstances.
I believe that the artist with something to offer the world has learned to trust their instincts. What they can bring to the table, whether musician, dancer, painter or actor is going to be different than what anyone else will bring to the table. They respond in their own unique instinctive way to the world around them and we pay attention. Remember, before the young child becomes socialized, it has uncompromised instincts, an innate ability to live in the moment, to respond fully and truthfully and to be emotionally available. And through the simple exercises that Sanford Meisner developed, that is what you will be learning to do in my classes. In the beginning work, there is nothing to hide behind. No character, no brilliant or cumbersome dialogue, no biography, no figuring out an inner monologue or coming up with clever tactics. It is just you and your partner in a simple exercise that will force you to live truthfully, moment to moment. In the beginning, the work is about what you have to offer that is unique. It is about getting you to once again trust the instincts you had way back when. There is no intellectual approach to this work at the beginning. It is about finding out what you, the artist, can bring to the table.
IN FOR THE LONG RUN
My classes are not one off’s. I don’t offer “The secret to acting in just 12 classes.” You sign up for a six class session, I don’t empty your bank account and you will know fairly quickly if the work is for you. My goal is not to turn every actor into a “Meisner” actor. The best actors do not display technique. Sanford Meisner never felt there was only one right approach to becoming an actor. He didn’t couch his work in elusive terminology or confounding intellectual phraseology. It is simple. He always believed that whatever an actor used to “get them there” was their own business. Either you’re believable or not, simple as that. My goal as a teacher is to work with you for the long term. That’s why I don’t charge exorbitant fees for the classes. I never walk through a class or phone in a critique. I respond differently to each student as each student is unique and what may work with one, won’t necessarily work with the other. I have many students who have worked with me for years now and that is the payoff for me, to work with a student long enough to actually make a difference. That is why I ask all new students not to put my name on their resume until they’ve studied with me for at least three months.