Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Exercise and The Show by Andrew McGinn

I think we all remember a time when some precocious teenager raised their hand in most likely middle school, and asked the question that teachers hate most: “Why are we doing this?  How on earth can this possibly be useful to me in the future?” 

Well, no matter how much a teacher may hate the question, it’s absolutely the most important one.  Often times students will have to answer that for themselves – even if a teacher gives an answer honestly from their point of view, it may not prove inspiring to the student.  The “Why?” question, in any case, can be a challenge for both teacher and student, but it really should be the most important one.

Being able to teach at Freehold and Cornish while simultaneously rehearsing the role of Dr. Watson in Seattle Rep’s production The Hound of the Baskervilles has often had me asking the same questions many of my students have.  In the morning or in Freehold's Step I-Intro to Acting class, I might lead students through an immersive exercise aimed toward allowing students to experience fictional circumstances with their full physical and imaginary engagement.  Immediately after that I then go straight to rehearsal for a professional production of a plot-driven language play where there’s zero time for such long-form open experimentation.  Even if there were time for such experimentation, plays move much more quickly so languishing in circumstances would ruin the rhythm and suspense.  So, then what’s the use of this training on the professional platform?

It’s as important to ask it of myself as it is for my students to ask it of me.  Like Trofimov in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, “I expect I shall be an eternal student” because constant questioning and learning is the deal when you’re doing any kind of experimentation.  So what good are the hours and hours I spent in my own training going on imaginary trips to a professional production (to say nothing of a plot-driven Mystery that is at its core a Melodrama, as opposed to the Naturalism that evoked this kind of training)?

Well the answer for me, for now, is steadily arriving in surprising moments of engagement with what’s before me in the moments of rehearsal and performance. Because of this training, openness and vulnerability is not what I do up there, it’s an aspect of what I bring to the table once I know The Show.  Is there the risk of responding to something completely truthfully and the fact is that it isn’t useful, or worse indulgent?  You bet there is. There’s an even bigger risk of it when one “lets go” and “immerses oneself” before the show has been set.  But the kind of work we’ve been doing in Step I: Intro to Acting and Junior Acting at Cornish makes it possible to turn on and turn off the mode of believing in, and being genuinely surprised by, the fiction (regardless of genre). 

This is because the immersive exercise, while often long, ends.  It is as bracketed as it is intense, and one cannot learn to come out of it unless one has first learned how to drop into it.  Once you get that, you have a choice – and a chance to allow audiences to enjoy your genuine responses and surprises.  One cannot be doing an exercise in the ‘standard professional rehearsal’, and one cannot “drop in” with the imagination until the nuts and bolts of The Show are completely second-nature. 

But, perhaps, one night when the character, lines, blocking, relationships, off-stage traffic patterns and such are all in there so completely ingrained, trusted, and known, The Show will be The Exercise. 

Andrew McGinn will be teaching Step I: Intro to Acting at Freehold this coming Winter Quarter.  Registration is now open and more information on Andrew's Freehold Intro to Acting class can be found here.
Photo top: Andrew McGinn
Photo right: Freehold Faculty Members Darragh Kennan and Andrew McGinn in the Seattle Repertory's production of The Hound of the Baskervilles running through December 15th.

No comments:

Post a Comment