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.

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