Monday, December 17, 2012

My Meisner Journey, Part Two. By Alexandra Gobeille

Here's part two of Alexandra's posts about her experience in Freehold's Meisner training (so far) this year. To read her first post, go here. **************************************** In our Freehold Meisner training, we started with exercises, known as the Word Repetition Game, consisting of two students sitting across from each other, one voices a simple observation about the other, and they repeat it back and forth, over and over. “You have blue eyes” is an example. It felt inhuman and robotic at first, hard to keep a straight face and awkward staring into someone’s eyes for 10-30 minutes at a time. We’re never that intimate with anyone in real life. But this was the stripping down of old, bad habits and weeding out false behavior. Stanislavsky said acting is learning new habits.

So little by little, week by week, we practiced, in class and out, gradually developing the exercise. From material observations like “you’re wearing a black shirt” to physical-“you’re leaning closer” to behavioral-“you’re attacking me”, and emotional-“you’re upset”. We progressed from changing the words every 10 minutes, to voicing anything, anytime, whenever it hit us. Robin encouraged us to start tuning our awareness, our whole body soft focus, to behavior (physical+psychic emotional energy), and detecting behavioral changes in our partner. She motivated us to start letting go of old habits and defaults such as thinking, reasoning, being correct or entertaining, apologizing, explaining or self-referencing, playing games (i.e. sarcasm), blocking, manipulating the moment or your partner, pretending and many more. Many of our bad habits are due to self-consciousness, and many take us right into our head, our intellect. Meisner built the exercises to eliminate all intellectuality from the actor’s instrument, because it pulls us away from the life, wonder, and truth of the present moment. Away from the spontaneous truth within us.

Robin has us say this: “I am more interesting than the greatest actor that ever lived.”

Our authentic selves, our truth may not always be great; it may be ugly, messy, scary, but it is the lifeline of acting. The honest behavior we strive to enable comes out of our instincts. A rule of the exercises is: Don’t do anything unless something happens to make you do it. This is liberating because all you need is right in front of you and will inevitably trigger your instinct. If you allow it. We just have to remind ourselves to breathe, relax, let go, and let reality take us for a ride.

Robin gave us William Esper’s candid example to demonstrate – “When you step on a nail, do you first think about how you want to react before screeching in pain?” No, you immediately respond from your gut, without thinking. The spontaneous happens in spite of you. We started to see more and more of this in class, when our partner work took us to very surprising places - hilarious, awkward, hostile - all kinds, that no one could have ever planned or predicted. A natural improvisation was created.

To foster this, my peers provide a safe, supportive environment and Robin impassions us to be brave. To listen to our instincts and run with them, whatever they may be. She illustrates this beautifully: We have a school of fish inside us every moment; it’s not about getting the right fish, it’s about picking any one that comes.

Next up: Part Three of Alexandra's Meisner Journey.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Studio Series May Make You Wanna Jump Back and Kiss Yourself! by Amontaine Aurore Woods

In 2009, I began writing a new one-woman play. I also decided that year to apply to perform a 20 minute excerpt from it for Freehold’s Studio Series. Having performed in the Studio Series before, I knew that it was an effective tool for moving forward in a supportive, intimate, and dynamic environment. I was excited (and a little nervous) at the prospect of taking my piece from page to stage (as we say in The Biz); a crucial step that is rife with challenges.

I worked with director, Tikka Sears, on the project, as I have with several of my other one-woman shows. She’s the bomb (in the best possible and least violent connotation of the word)! Working with her and getting the piece up on its feet is always a highly transformative process, and entirely different from relating to words and ideas on a piece of paper. Now it breathes air. The characters begin to inhabit my bones, speak with my tongue. The situations become real and palpable. The steady drip, drip, drip of the adrenalin fuels the engines, and the pressure of knowing that you will soon be sharing the work with an audience arouses, stimulates and basically, at last, gets your butt in gear.

Bringing new work to an audience is risky business for a person like me, one who is sensitive to criticism. I do not relish critique. But … I ain’t dumb either. I am experienced enough to realize that honest critique is a necessary element to success.

Sometimes in my personal life I hesitate to speak my mind for fear of the repercussions. But as an artist I am driven to bold truth telling, to giving voice to issues and situations that live in the silence, the darkness, or on the fringes of our culture.

When I had the idea for this play that would eventually be called Free Desiree, I wondered how a show that had as its backdrop the revolutionary socio/political dynamics of Black identity in the 1970s would be received. I find that until a play is performed in front of an audience, it remains something of a mystery. One can rehearse in isolation until the cows come home (or ‘til Brad Pitt gets ugly, for those of you that prefer somewhat shaky invention to folksy cliche). But you’re operating in a bubble until you put the stuff out there and experience the dynamic interchange between audience and performer. The nervous giggles or outright laughter, the sighs and little gasps here and there, the silence, are all telling. The fresh viewpoints and clarity gained from feedback become precious tools for charting the path through rewrite and rework. In my case, the audience responses infused me with new energy and encouraged me to keep developing the work.

In 2010, I received a Creation Project performance grant from the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas (CD Forum) to continue the development of the show. This allowed me to finish the writing and an opportunity to workshop another excerpt. In 2012, I received a grant from the Puffin Foundation, which assisted me in presenting the now 75 minute full-length production for a successful run in Seattle and on Orcas Island. Free Desiree will get a facelift in 2013 with a new multimedia component thanks to my receiving a City Artists grant from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. My goal is to tour the show nationally in 2014 and beyond.

It’s been a long and passionate journey with this particular labor of love. Without opportunities, like the Studio Series, which gave me the initial platform to experiment and present the seed of the idea, it would have been much more difficult to take the work into full development. Over the years, the Studio Series has served me well as a container from which to explore, experiment, discover and refine my art. Thank you, Freehold! My appreciation floweth over. Now … excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Meisner Journey: Part One. By Alexandra Gobeille

I honestly don’t know where to begin.

My Freehold Meisner class has been a flood of revelation, emotion, joy, struggle, and inspiration. I have experienced and witnessed the beginning of a great transformation, starting at our core. Robin Lynn Smith is our fearless leader, masterminding this unpredictable adventure, empowering and inspiring us every step of the way. She brings an immense awareness and knowledge to the course, of not only Sanford Meisner, but influential artists and teachers from all over the world. She has incorporated Eastern philosophy, from assigned reading like Herrigel’s “Zen in the Art of Archery”, to Tai Chi based energy work and principles of other martial arts.

Every class is unique. The warm up, movement exercises, guided imagination and free association activities, group work and discussion, introspection and writing, partner work and direction … have all varied and contributed to the strong foundation we are building. They have brought the teachings to life, so we actually experience what we are learning in our bodies, in our full beings. This training has started to cultivate access to more of our subconscious. Each class has contributed to … setting me free.

Free from old acting habits of pushing, indicating, holding. Free from social habits of politeness, self-protecting, apologizing, and faking. Free from thinking. It has been said that it takes 20 years to become an actor. Because during the first 20 years, we are constantly thinking about everything we are doing. Meisner declared the Foundation of Acting is the Reality of Doing.

It’s so simple. Yet our brains automatically intellectualize it, along with every moment we encounter, because we have been conditioned to lead with our heads. Rationalize, think before you speak, get it right, be interesting, edit, edit, edit! And in other words, lie. How many times a day do we actually tell the truth? Follow our gut impulse, our instinct? Recognize behavior in others and hold them accountable? Demonstrate the emotions we are truly feeling? Probably not many. We don’t for legitimate reasons though - our safety, for one. I wouldn’t recommend telling the person on the bus that they’re creeping you out … unless you enjoy getting socked in the face. Or telling your boss they’re being a real @#$%^*$&$#^@ … I doubt they’d say how much they appreciate your honesty and that you made them feel bad.

These social and behavioral protection mechanisms serve a crucial purpose in a civilized society, but they are not useful for our acting. So how do we knock down the solid brick walls, peel back the obstinate layers of ego, fear, and being in a hurry-the three enemies of acting? Well, Sanford Meisner thought of some brilliant ways.

More on that on my next blog post!

Part Two of Alexandra's Meisner Posts can be found here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Exceptional Acting Classes in Seattle at Freehold Theatre

Freehold Theatre offers exceptional acting classes in Seattle. Since 1991, Freehold has offered acting classes taught by working professional actors, directors and playwrights including Amy Thone, Darragh Kennan, Marya Sea Kaminski, Gin Hammond, to name just a few. Whether you are an absolute beginner or a working professional artist, Freehold has a class for you.

Our Winter Quarter classes are now open for registration with most classes beginning in January 2013.

Explore the YOU You Don't Know

Winter Quarter Classes

Step I: Intro to Acting, Section 1 with Stefan Enriquez
Step I: Intro to Acting, Section 2 with Christine Marie Brown
Step II: Acting with Text with Sarah Harlett
Step III: Scene Study Text Intensive with Annette Toutonghi
Meisner: Instrument with Robin Lynn Smith
Advanced Voice-Over: Video Games and Character Voices with Gin Hammond
Auditioning with Darragh Kennan
Film Directing Course with John Jacobsen and Robin Lynn Smith
Making Theater in Community with Elizabeth Heffron
Improvisation with Gary Schwartz
Movement with Paul Budraitis
Public Speaking with Gin Hammond
Shakespeare with Amy Thone
Singing for Actors with Lucia Neare
Stage Combat with Geof Alm (prior stage combat experience required for Winter Quarter)
Voice Over with Gin Hammond

For more information or to register for a class:

Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio
2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98121
(206) 323-7499