Tuesday, January 15, 2013

My Meisner Journey, Part Three of Three. By Alexandra Gobeille

Read Parts One and Two of Alexandra's experience in her Freehold Meisner class (so far) this year!

Instincts are triggered by what’s going on in our partner. And the meaning it has to us.

Meisner’s other essential rule is: What you do does not depend on you, but what your partner does to you.

That’s why focus on our partner is so important. What behavior are we not only seeing in them, but feeling, absorbing? We must be wide open and receptive, Robin says like satellite dishes, energetically letting things in, not just putting your eyeballs on your partner but embracing, experiencing what’s in them, like a sponge or screen door. By leaning into the emotion of our partner, we allow ourselves to be affected. Meisner claimed that your talent is measured by how much you allow another human being to affect you. By accepting the organic response, however it presents itself in you. “What if I’m getting nothing from my partner?” (a common actor complaint) Robin’s response: “There is no such thing as nothing. A human being is a fucking miracle, there is a whole universe in them you will never know the end of.” Thus, there is no end to engaging with another person, and being moved by their humanity. No limit to the strength of connection. We’ve started to experience this power, only from a very vulnerable place.

In this culture, we’ve been socialized to believe that vulnerability = weakness. But this class is teaching me how nothing is stronger because it brings us to the truth. The truth in others, and the truth in us. It unlocks the flow of life within us, the genius within us. It’s like we are slowly working to flip inside out, so that the pure truth at our core becomes exposed, pouring out of our heart and released into the room.

What I have seen, and experienced in this class is not just ‘acting.’ It is living. It is so helpful to watch visceral reactions in my classmates as a mark of real behavior for our acting. I’ve experienced impulses and emotions that are no different from the ones I have in real life. If my partner was provoking me, insulting me, attacking me, my spontaneous responses of frustration, pain, fear … were real!

The first time I had ever impulsively cried in acting happened when my partner and I were doing the exercises, powerfully connected, 100% in tune and there for each other, deep in extraordinary intimacy, and Robin added imagined narrative. Vividly describing the imagined nature and history of our relationship (siblings), she gave colorful examples of what we did together as kids, what we meant to each other. She then said something like “you will know each other for the rest of your lives … you’ll be at each other’s funeral” and I lost it. Everything that had piled up suddenly opened the floodgates. I was overcome by rich, uncontrollable emotion that came right from my heart. All from living in an invested relationship with my partner. Which was imagined! I honestly hadn’t ever experienced that, to such a degree, in my 16 years of acting. I was so used to indicating, demonstrating, playing the emotional results.

As I’ve felt in myself and seen in my classmates, these techniques work. Of course it doesn’t happen every time. We aren’t acutely sensitive and purely instinctive every time we engage. It is easy to be distracted or disconnected, but that is why we practice without end, embodying the methods, constantly reminding ourselves to drop into our bodies and honor our impulses. The more we tell the truth, the better we tell the truth. The closer we get to discovering the parts of ourselves we do not know.

We'll look forward to hearing more from Alexandra next quarter as she continues on into her third quarter of her Meisner class at Freehold. For more information on all of our Freehold classes, go here.

Getting to Know Christine Marie Brown

Christine Marie Brown has made her home in Seattle for the last 2 years after nearly a decade in New York. Christine made her Broadway debut in the Tony-award winning production of both parts of William Shakespeare's Henry IV. She has also appeared Off-Broadway at the acclaimed Playwrights Horizons theatre company and in an award-winning New York International Fringe Festival production of Harold Pinter’s Ashes to Ashes. Nationally, Christine's theatre work includes leading roles at The Guthrie, The Old Globe, South Coast Rep, Baltimore Centerstage, Shakespeare & Company, Buffalo Studio Arena, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, American Shakespeare Center, Kansas City Rep and TUTA (Chicago). Locally, her work has been seen at Seattle Rep, ACT, Seattle Shakespeare Company, 14/48 Festival, Engaged Theatre Project, Sandbox Radio LIVE!, Endangered Species Project, Mirrorstage and Northwest Playwrights’ Alliance. She has been a vocal coach and teacher through Jack Straw Productions and has taught at Cornish College for the Arts as part of their summer theatre intensive.

Where did you grow up and what drew you to acting?

I grew up in Columbia, MD, a planned community near both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. I was a shy child but I saw a production of Romeo and Juliet in elementary school and thought to myself, "I could do that." I have no idea where that came from....I was a typical kid; curious but also bashful, so why I thought that performing on a stage seemed like something I could do...?

I understand you lived in NYC for a decade and performed on Broadway in Henry IV. What was it like to work as an actor in New York?

I lived in NYC for about 9 years. I moved there after graduate school. I had a showcase performance that was part of the graduation from the Old Globe MFA program that a lot of casting directors, agents and directors attended. I also arrived there with my AEA card, which I had earned though all of the performing and understudying I did at the Old Globe, so I had a very supported, professional introduction to my start there. NYC is a union town (Seattle is not), so being a member of SAG and AEA were a huge bonus. I had the same agent who signed me after my showcase, until I moved here, but it was still a tough place to be at times, even with all of that support, training and union status. The biggest hurdle for me was the amount of energy it took to live there--to pay one's rent and get around, the amount of hustle, people, energy. This all makes it the most exciting place to be and to be next to all of those Broadway houses; to audition for such big shows and big names; it's a lot of fun, but very heady as well. For me, to work in NYC as an actor was this fantastic feeling of being connected at the highest level of the profession, to past and present theatre professionals who you admire and idolize. And because it can be such a tough and competitive place, I felt extremely accomplished.

What inspires and fascinates you in your work as an actor and as an acting teacher?

What inspires me is the earnest and fearless pursuit of truthful human behavior. I love that part of the rehearsal process; how can we sharpen what is going on between these people? "Hello" is never just a greeting. I'm also really inspired by actors who are willing to look ugly, stupid, silly or make a choice that just doesn't work--but they are really trying to figure what's happening in a scene or a character. I am deeply inspired by real listening onstage and true vulnerability; actors who are willing to drop their own masks for a moment and let us in to see the cracks behind the veneer.

I am fascinated when I go and see old plays and end up feeling so connected to what the characters are going through, that I forget that the story was written hundreds of years ago, I'm just totally taken into the world because of the truth and beauty of the performances. This does not happen often so it's very memorable when it does. As a teacher, what inspires me is watching people make discoveries; about themselves, about a text, about what it really means to be in front of an audience, about how to really listen to a scene partner; I love watching people become more confident and excited about learning how to act.

What is something that you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out as an actor?

2 things:

How important it is to have other life goals and pursuits not connected to your acting career. What kind of relationship do you want to have? What kind of place do you want to live in? What other studies and disciplines do you enjoy? Sports? Cooking? Photography? Teaching? This career is a marathon, not a sprint, so stay connected to what you love about life.

And also the idea that NYC and LA are definitely not the only places one can be a thriving actor and theatre artist in the US. They have the biggest markets and the most industry and I would encourage anyone who wants to be in those places to GOGOGO! But for those folks who just can't stomach the thought or have been and hated it, there are actually a lot of other markets; Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, San Francisco, Boston & of course Seattle-- and even Denver, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Portland, OR, St. Louis and Pittsburgh have small but very present theatre communities. I think knowing what kind of environment you like to be in is really helpful. Do you like sunshine? Mountains? Great lakes? Concrete jungle? Where do you really want to make a home?

For example, I really wanted to be in NYC and I'm so glad for my time there. But the city of Seattle and the surrounding western Washington beauty appeals to me much more in terms of how I want to live every day life.

Thanks Christine! Welcome to our Freehold Faculty team!

Annette Toutonghi (on left) and Christine Marie Brown (on right) performing in Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of King Lear in Summer, 2012. Photo by John Ulman.

"Say What?" by Jessica Robinson Freehold Teaching Artist Reflects on her Engaged Theatre Residency Work

Jessica has volunteered as a teaching artist in a residency for our Engaged Theatre program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) for the last six years. Freehold facilitates an annual residency at three separate Washington Corrections facilities, in which we enable the participants to write, direct, rehearse, and perform their own show in a five-month period. Residencies guide participants through the creation of an original performance based on an exploration of the archetypal hero’s journey. Participants invite their peers, friends and family to watch their performance at the culmination of the residency. The residency performances at the Washington Corrections Center for Women will be on April 8th. *******************************************************************

If you ask me about the one thing I remember most from my college years, it would have to be the words,

“I can’t chat right now, I have to go to prison.”

These words are those of Robin Lynn Smith, my then professor of classical text, at Cornish College of the Arts here in Seattle. As a student, I remember hearing stories from Robin about her experiences at the Washington Correction Center for Women (WCCW), and thinking,


Shortly after graduating, I contacted Robin, inquiring about the program at WCCW, and learned the program was part of Freehold’s Engaged Theatre program . As luck would have it, Robin was excited to hear my interest in the project and was quick to add how, “... I was going to love it.”

Having no idea what to expect, I signed up as a volunteer for the residency at WCCW. I remember my first day clearly. Yes, there was razor wire, lots of it. Yes, there were prison guards, lots of them, everywhere. Yes, I was very, very scared. Why shouldn't I be? I was inside a REAL life prison. A place I have only seen portrayed in movies and on T.V., both of which glorify and exploit prison to be unpredictable, hard, and a place of mystery.

By the end of my first three hour session with the women, I felt a sense of peace. All the stereotypes, preconceived notions, and fears I had about going into WCCW melted away. The women at WCCW were just that, women. Mothers. Daughters. People. That sense of peace stayed with me throughout my future visits to WCCW.

Towards the end of the residency, when the women were getting ready to perform the work they had written in front of invited guests, one of them turned to me, looked me directly in the eyes, and said, "Thank you for making this the best year of my life." I instantly started crying. Nowhere in my adult life, not even arts school, have I had the pleasure of working with grown adults so willing to jump up and make complete fools of themselves one moment and share their deepest secrets to complete strangers the next. It's what keeps me coming back year after year. Now in my sixth year as a volunteer with Freehold, it's hard to imagine a year away from the residency, so I don't. I keep coming back because the women do. If the women at WCCW, some of whom have violent pasts, can stay on good behavior year round, for the sole purpose of participating in Freehold in the fall, we are going to be there for them.

Sometimes I feel the women teach me more then I teach them. They have taught me how to be courageous and look inside myself for the answer instead of looking to someone else for it, because you are all you have. They have taught me how to speak even when I feel as though my voice will not be heard, because sometimes it won't, but speak anyway. They have taught me what it is to be human, because we all are, and we all make mistakes, it's part of life, and it's okay.

Jessica Robinson was born in Liverpool, England, raised in Stellenbosch, South Africa and is happy to call Seattle, Washington home. In 2002, Jessica was accepted into the theater department at Cornish College of the Arts and graduated with honors in 2006. Promptly after graduating Cornish, she started to volunteer with the Engaged Theatre program at Freehold. Jessica quickly fell in love with the creation of original theatrical work Freehold was doing within the prison systems, and today she is proud to be in her sixth year as one of the main teaching artist on Freehold’s residency at the Washington Correction Center for Women. Past performance credits include Clit Notes and November both with New City Theater. Look for Jessica this spring at On the Boards where her new collaboration, AJA will be performing in the Northwest New Works festival.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Interview with Freehold's Associate Partners

Freehold's Associate Partners include Daemond Arrindell, Liza Comtois, Gin Hammond, and Annette Toutonghi. To read our Associate Partners' biographies, click on their names above.

You all have such a wealth of experience in the performing arts. Can you share a little bit about how you were called to your craft?

Daemond: This question always cracks me up- I wrote my first poem as a senior in high school for an assignment over the holiday break. Being the procrastinator I am, I put it off til the day before it was due, then went with what was the shortest assignment - a poem. I thought I'd crank it out in 30 min. But spent all night on it. It ended up in my school's literary journal and I was officially hooked on writing.

Gin: In my teens I was painfully shy, and I saw acting as a way of finding masks to hide behind. As I got older, I realized that great acting was quite the opposite, so I was locked in a struggle between what I aspired to do, and being an introvert. I still remember standing on a sidewalk one sunny day in Minneapolis, feeling existentially lost, and asking the Universe what I was meant to do. "ACT!" boomed clearly in my ears, (really, it did). I thought "Oh nooooo!" and yet the sudden and profound happiness rushing through me was undeniable.

Annette: I was living in a small town in Alaska. In high school, we were visited by a rural outreach group from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. They directed a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with us. Like Gin I was particularly shy, but I think the size of the language inspired me...and I found that with acting I was able to open up and share my heart in a way that I wasn't comfortable with in day-to-day life. And finally, I was a big reader, always drawn to stories. This particular form of storytelling seemed absolutely magical to me.

Liza: I have been embracing and running from this profession my whole life. It’s crazy, unpredictable, unforgiving and amazing. Sometimes I think I am crazy for fighting so hard to be a part of it and other times I am so grateful I didn’t walk away. This world is a rough place and making theatre is the only way I can figure out to help make it better.

What drew you to Freehold and what continues you to inspire you in your work here?

Daemond: Jodie Knowles told me that I'd be great with the Engaged Theatre program and that the new direction could really benefit from some poetry. Next thing I know I'm in a meeting where Robin Lynn Smith, Freehold's Artistic Director and a Freehold founding member, says, "ok, so we are gonna go in and do yadda yadda yadda. And then Daemond's gonna do HIS thing." I quickly raised my hand, "uh, Robin ... what's my 'thing'?"

We managed to work it out and I had an incredible experience doing a workshop with the women as part of Freehold's Engaged Theatre program at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. Robin invited me back several times, then invited me to join the faculty.

Gin: When I moved to Seattle from NYC, Freehold faculty member Kate Wisniewski, (fellow alum of the American Repertory Theater Institute at Harvard), suggested I look into teaching a Voice class at Freehold. "The rest is history." What continues to inspire my work at Freehold, (aside from its wonderful students), is how Robin Lynn Smith (Freehold's Artist's Director) continues to push my ability to expand my repertoire as it relates to teaching voice-related classes. Robin throws down the gauntlet and I do my best to rise to the challenge. Through that, I've realized it's all part of the same Core; in fact, everything taught here is so incredibly interrelated!

Annette: I met Robin Lynn Smith in Graduate School at the University of Washington's Professional Actor Training Program. I studied under Jack Clay, but Robin worked with us for a year as well. She was an inspiring acting teacher and I was smitten with her right away. Her passion, smarts and clarity around the craft moved me. I was interested in teaching as well and was lucky that she was our teaching mentor because she lit a fire in me for the craft of teaching too! I taught at South Seattle Community College, University of Washington and in the late 90's started teaching at Freehold.

Liza: I came to Freehold because of Robin, the work she strives to create and the artists and faculty she attracts. Integrity in the work, a dedication to craft, a search for truth and an authentic interaction with an audience are what brought me to this profession and it fed my soul to find kindred spirits to walk the road with.

If you could have a career wish come true, what would that look like for you?

Daemond: This would be hard to narrow down to one thing, so I'll cheat and give two - star in my own one-man show and have a faculty position teaching Spoken Word at a college, like Cornish.

Gin: For better and for worse, I already love everything I do. If anything, I wish I had a team of assistants! Probably one-long term, lucrative voice-over gig would help make that a reality. Also, I wouldn't mind checking out a few of the many fabulous voice workshops being taught all over the world. There's one coming up in Tuscany that doesn't sound too bad...

Liza: We have a 4-year old and I would love to be a part of making theatre for him to learn about the world.

Freehold is Seeking Candidates for its Board of Directors

As the students and friends of Freehold, your participation in this process is vital. The eleven individuals currently serving represent a cross-section of our community and bring varying professional perspectives to the Board. They are leaders in their respective communities and are united in their deep commitment to Freehold and the work that we do.

We are seeking to grow our board to 13 members over the next year.

Strong board candidates are people whose expertise and point of view can be critical in helping Freehold achieve its goals, including professionals in marketing, commercial real estate, law, fundraising, new media and strategic planning as well as those who can leverage financial resources to support Freehold's work.

Most Board members are appointed to an initial three-year term however we do have two shorter-term slots available at this time. During their term, we expect each board member to be actively involved in the following ways:

• Attend quarterly board meetings, the Annual Board Retreat and Annual Meeting
• Attend Freehold performances and special events and bring members of the community in hopes that they will be inspired to support the organization.
• Participate in the cultivation of current and future Freehold supporters and board members.
• Make a meaningful personal contribution to Freehold.

If you or someone you know would be interested in serving on the Freehold Board, we strongly encourage you to submit a nomination or self-nomination by sending an email to zoe@freeholdtheatre.org with their name, contact information and a brief statement of why they or you would be a strong candidate.

Thank you for your ongoing support!


Zoe Fitzgerald
Managing Director

Freehold Faculty Upcoming Work

Hans Altwies is performing in American Buffalo at the Seattle Repertory Theatre running from January 11 - February 3. More information here.
Christine Marie Brown will be in the 14/48 Festival band on January 11th and 12th, 8:00 pm and 10:30 pm, ACT Theatre. Tickets. On January 14th at 7:00pm, Christine will be performing the role of Miss Ritter in a staged reading of Parfumerie, by Miklos Lazslo, produced by Endangered Species Project at North Seattle Community College - Tickets are by donation. She'll also be performing in Sandbox Radio's next show, Eye of the Beholder, on January 28th at 8:00pm at West of Lenin in Fremont along with a host of other Freehold Faculty, including Sarah Harlett, Gin Hammond, Dan Tierney and Annette Toutonghi. Tickets are on sale at Brown Paper tickets and they go really fast.

Elizabeth Heffron's play The Weatherman Project will be part of the New Play Festival at the Seattle Repertory Theatre running from January 30 - February 3. For more information, go to Seattle Rep. Heffron is one of eight writers in Seattle Rep’s Writers Group, a collection of local playwrights who have been awarded a two-year residency to develop and refine new works using Seattle Rep resources.

Marya Sea Kaminski will be playing Titiorelli in NCTC's upcoming production of The Trial, directed by John Langs and am currently in production for a feature length film of my original rock musical Riddled.

Darragh Kennan will be playing Charlie Cowell in the music man at the 5th Avenue Theatre running from February 7 - March 10.

Cathy Madden will be presenting at a couple of conferences in January: Freedom to Act Conference in New York City and Theaterfest in Houston.

Gary Schwartz is casting for Pinocchio at his theater in North Bend, Valley Center Stage and is also presenting at Valley Center Stage on Jan. 18, 19, a show he directed for singer/songwriter/storyteller Eva Moon in The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes. The theater's latest newsletter: News from Valley Center Stage.

Matt Smith will be doing a benefit performance of My Last Year with the Nuns: The Film in anticipation of funding a film of the same show. Benefit performance of My Last Year with the Nuns Hugo House (hopefully!) April 19, 7:00pm This date is not yet confirmed. Cost $100 per ticket (Yes! That's right. It's a fundraiser.) To secure your seat: Make the check out to Northwest Film Forum, and make sure "NUNS" is written on the corner, and send it to: Matt Smith 1155 20th Ave. East Seattle, WA 98112

Jen Taylor plays Cortana in the epic science fiction franchise, "Halo". She appeared in the first game of the series, "Halo Combat Evolved", as well as its sequels, "Halo 2", "Halo 3", and "Halo 4" and prequel "Halo Reach". Jen also played the voice of Cortana in the action sci-fi thriller "Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn" TV series, and has appeared in several "Halo" books and comics.