Monday, June 27, 2011

Living Truthfully at Freehold by Laura Grace

When I was asked to write something about my experience at Freehold, I hesitated. Not because I am totally swamped with the day job AND family AND scene work AND trying to get into shape (all true) but because, as a non profit - I'm not sure Freehold could afford all the ink my story would require. But I will do my best...

Freehold's slogan (for lack of a better word) is: Explore the YOU, you don't know. I can't think of a truer statement to sum up what happens here.

A million years ago, when I graduated from high school - I was hell-bent on going to arts school. Art is all I ever wanted to do... visual art, kinetic art, dance, music, poetry - all of it - but especially acting. I was recruited by several acting programs across the country, offered scholarships, travel vouchers - it was a very exciting time for me. However due to several reasons I won't go into now, I was unable to attend any of these programs and I abandoned, with a broken heart, the dream of an arts education. I held on to that pain for a long time... too long. Fast forward to when I found Freehold. I studied the class descriptions, read and re-read everything on the website, watched faculty videos on YouTube and after all that... decided it was high time to let that old pain go... it wasn't useful. So - I took the first of many risks to come and called to enroll in Step I - Introduction to Acting with George Lewis. Now, after two years of dedicated study and service, my only regret is that I didn't find Freehold sooner. (But everything happens - or doesn't - for a reason, right?)

Now then, if the traditional definition of acting is "Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances," then the introduction to acting is mainly learning just that first part - how to live truthfully. For this reason, I recommend EVERYONE take this class... you don't have to be a wannabe actor to get something truly significant out of it. The first day of class, 15 or so strangers stood awkwardly in a circle. Shifty on our feet, we stood arms folded, hands in pockets, eyes studying the floor or looking nervously around the room. George was VERY amused by this... like a kid with a big surprise... or a monkey just let out of his cage and wondering which one of us to pounce on first (we were wondering the same thing, actually.) I had no expectations, but I was ready to work and give everything I had. Thru a variety of Impulse Exercises we were able to let go of the "shoulds" that keep us from living in the moment, keep us from the truth of who we are. We learned how to trust our impulses, how to trust our "gut" responses. We learned how to be silly. We learned how to be grotesque. Before this class, I thought I was a "go with the flow, in the moment - free and easy - two cents giving" kind of gal. And over the several weeks of the class, as we worked thru improv after improv, hearing George bellowing over and over again "Stop being NICE! Just STOP IT...We are not here to be nice, we are not here to be mean, we are here to be TRUTHFUL!!!" I realized just how skewed my perception of myself was. I was nice, I was really nice... and that ain't good.

As children we ARE ALL impulse, ALL gut reaction. Generally, we have VERY strong opinions on just about everything and generally - we don't hesitate to tell anybody all about it. But as we grow up, we learn that this behavior isn't always so useful, and in some cases (mine, for instance) dangerous. So we negotiate with ourselves, compartmentalizing parts of us here and there, hiding and holding back some things while pushing others to make our lives work, to survive. But at Freehold, I've learned (and continue to learn) how to take those parts out of hiding - they have purpose. In this way, Step I - was revolutionary! (Or would that be "revelationary"?) So much so that in tiny black ink block letters I wrote: "We are not here to be nice. We are not here to me mean. We are here to be truthful," on the inside of my left wrist, everyday for that first year and it has kind of served as a guide post... in my acting and in my life. I must say, however - it was a little rough there coming right out of the chute - I lost 30 pounds (good thing) and nearly ruined my marriage (bad thing)! Things have thankfully settled down a bit since...

The second half of that traditional definition of acting: " imaginary circumstances" was introduced in Step I, but applied/coaxed/teased/ into and out of us more specifically in Steps II (Dan Tierney) and Step III (Marya Sea Kaminski). These circumstances, imaginary at first, become more and more real as we study them, as we play with them - and get them on "their feet." We pull them apart, we whisper the words of our characters, we scream them, we turn them in to animals, we turn adults into children and children into elders, we "make believe." We make believe. We create in these circumstances and in our characters - a heart and soul that we can truly believe in. That we can trust in, and release ourselves into. (Believe... just looking at that word right now makes me think.... Believe.... Be Alive.... Create and Be Alive. Hmmm... ) We learned that "Living truthfully in imaginary circumstances," may be the definition and the destination of our work, but "The Reality of Doing" is the road to get there.

The Meisner Progression, taught by "guide on the side" Robin Lynn Smith, cracked the whole world open to me... and I discovered just how much more there is to learn. It's here that I begin to lose my words. Down the proverbial "rabbit hole" as they say... for nearly every tool I picked up in all my former classes at Freehold, the Meisner Progression has taught the what, how and why to and so so much more. From the first day where we were all just acquaintances standing around thinking we knew something about something, only to discover that I was still... mostly just pretending and had a lot of work to do. It was like Step I on steroids! And crack! And some of the first notes I got from Robin echoed the notes I got from George in Step I and that was just the first week! Seriously, I could write a thesis on everything I've learned in just the Meisner alone. And maybe, one day I'll have that opportunity, but for now, I will end this by saying...

I have been working really hard - I'm not as nice as I used to be - and I am grateful.

Photo Above: Meisner 2010-2011 students. Laura Grace (first row, farthest right)

Interviews with Robin Lynn Smith for the Meisner Progression for 2011-2012 will be held on July 26, 2011 from 4:00 - 8:00 pm. For more information about the Meisner Progression, email us at or call us at (206) 323-7499. More information can also be found at our recent Blog Post.

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