Monday, July 21, 2014

Meisner Progression Interviews with Robin Lynn Smith - August 11, 2014

Meisner Progression Interviews with Robin Lynn Smith
Monday, August 11 5:30pm - 8:30pm
(Testimonials from past Meisner students can be found at the bottom of this post)

Interviews are available with Robin Lynn Smith for Freehold's 2014-2015 Meisner Progression, a 3-quarter, 9-month training program based on the work of Constantin Stanislavski, Joseph Chaikin, and Sanford Meisner. Classes are 5-hour sessions meeting two evenings per week over each 12-week quarter. Check out the great testimonials from previous Freehold Meisner alums at the bottom of this blog post. The Meisner Progression is taught by Freehold's Artistic Director and Freehold co-founder Robin Lynn Smith.

To schedule an interview or for more information, contact Freehold at (206) 323-7499 or email us at our contact page. Please bring a resume detailing your theatrical and performance experience and be prepared to speak about why you are interested in participating in the Meisner progression. Prerequisites: Freehold's Step III: Scene Study or equivalent training and performance experience. Interviews will be roughly 15 minutes each. Tuition per quarter: $960.  You can apply for our discounted rate of $795.

The Meisner class description for the 3-quarter progression is as follows:

Meisner: Foundation: Step I - Fall Quarter (Mid-September through mid-December)
Tuesdays and Sundays, 5:30 - 10:30 pm

Through cumulative exercises based on the work of Sanford Meisner, the actor learns to be habitually available to and affected by life that is actually happening in the moment, and to fully release instinctive,  uninhibited responses. The class culminates in a work with text.

Meisner: Instrument: Step II - Winter Quarter (Dates to be confirmed)
Tuesdays and Sundays, 5:30 - 10:30 pm

Students continue the exercises from Foundation, supplementing them with work in personalization, preparation, and other tools in order to access a meaningful inner life and "make real" the text and imaginary circumstances.

Meisner: Text: Step III - Spring Quarter (Dates to be confirmed)
Tuesdays and Sundays, 5:30 - 10:30 pm

Applying the work from Foundation and Instrument to scenes, students focus on detailed, in-depth text and character work -- analysis, subtext, particularization, and moment-to-moment process work on scenes.

Robin Lynn Smith is a Founding Partner and Artistic Director for Freehold Studio/Theatre Lab in Seattle. She has worked for the past thirty-five years acting, directing and teaching in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and New York where she directed Curse of the Starving Class Off-Broadway at the Promenade Theatre.  She has directed in Regional Theatres and is presently directing Freehold’s  Engaged Theatre Program which tours Shakespeare productions to prisons, projects, and tent cities, for which she has directed Othello, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Cymbeline, A Winter's TaleThe Tempest, and The Merchant of Venice.  At Freehold she directed the award-winning production of Chekhov’s The SeagullThree SistersAn Altered Life, and Veronika Falling.   She was an Artist in Residence at the Seattle Repertory Theatre with Dan Sullivan, and directed several productions including Marvin's RoomFrankie and Jonnie in the Claire de LuneCity of Gold, and the developmental workshop of Elizabeth Heffon’s New Patagonia.  She has also directed in Seattle at ACT, On The Boards, The Empty Space, New City Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Intiman where she was an Affiliate Artist with Bartlett Sher.  She has an MFA from NYU TSOA, and she is currently on the faculty of Cornish College of the Arts. She is featured in ACTING TEACHERS OF AMERICA, and she is a member of SDC and a finalist for SDCF’s inaugural Zelda Fichandler Award. She is the 2008 recipient of the The Gregory A. Falls Sustained Achievement Award.

Testimonials from Freehold Meisner Alums

"Meisner for me was really transformational and not just for the acting but really just for the rest of my everyday life. Meisner really strives you to live in the moment and to react to things as if it is the first time, being genuine and authentic. I do some commercial work on the side and I’ve been told that there is a new quality to my acting and that is 100% related to the work from the class. There is another piece that I got out of Meisner which was unexpected which is that it actually changed the quality of my day to day life … it allowed me to be more present in my life … it makes life much more interesting." - E.J. Gong

"It was through working with Robin that I acquired one of the most important things any actor can get - an actual process on how to bring a role alive. While I've taken other classes from some extremely talented instructors that included some discussion of methods for examining text, the bulk of what I typically got was notes by the instructor as though they were directing me in a play. That is very valuable stuff, but it doesn't really give you much of a process for starting work on a role on your own, nor do you get much of a glimpse of the variety of techniques that have come to light in the theatrical world. Robin gave us tools we could use to bring the character to life in ways that went beyond what was on the printed page, and thereby make those scripted words come even more alive. And I think a huge part of that came from her making us push the limits of our imaginations for nine months. To sum up, if you're not sure whether taking the Meisner progression at Freehold is worth your time, let me help you decide: YES! Absolutely! Be grateful that the gods have aligned the planets so that you have this opportunity and grab it!" - Bob Rousseau

"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!" - Alexandra Gobeille

"I took the acclaimed, life-changing Meisner progression. Not only did my classmates and I walk away as better, stronger actors, but also as enriched artists. (Any Meisner alum will most likely agree with that about themselves...)." - Julie Hoang 

"The Meisner Progression taught by Robin Lynn Smith was life-changing and gave me the tools to raise my acting game to a whole new level."  – Henry Mark

"I'm a better actor and person because of the Meisner courses with Robin Lynn Smith - best money I ever spent.  Also, I honestly believe it's gotten me acting jobs." - Anna Giles

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

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Henry IV Journey by Grace Carmack

Grace Carmack is one of our cast members performing in Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's Henry IV which is running July 14 - July 20 at the University of Washington Penthouse Theatre, Pay What You Can. To reserve a ticket, go here.
Read all about Grace's second year participating in our Engaged Theatre Summer Tour.


We made it, folks! We have completed the traveling portion of this Henry IV tour and are now into our run at the University of Washington Penthouse Theatre. Hooray!

This is my second year working with Freehold's Engaged Theatre Program, having had the pleasure of working on the workshop of Henry IV last summer. Though the show, the company, and I have changed slightly, the experience remains challenging and astonishing. At this point in the process, I find myself experiencing a lot of different things: relief, joy, inspiration, sadness, frustration, contentment … the list goes on.

Taking this material to some of these places, such as Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) and the Monroe Correctional Complex, has certain stresses that come with it. Going through security and getting 20-25 people through sally ports is the first part of that challenge. Unloading the truck and building the set in the heat and sun is a massive task. Fueling up with a few granola bars over a ten hour period is also an interesting reality of this process. What makes these steps doable, even enjoyable, is that we are all doing it out of love, respect and we have come to share something incredibly valuable to us.

When we enter into these spaces, we are entering someone's home. We are guests in their space. There are things that go on in the prisons that happen regardless of who is there, so there are ”Movements” that may happen in the middle of the show (movements are when the inmates are able to move from one part of the prison to the other for various activities). In some cases there are dogs or bells or intercoms. There is a lot of care that has gone into our set-up process so that we don't get in the way of these things because those things belong to those spaces. We do not. 

So! All of this is in preparation for our audiences. And it is all so very worth it.

These audiences respond unabashedly. It is such an honest experience. There is no hesitation. If something alarms them, amuses them, entertains them, or bores them, they share that with you. And those that are watching, that are drawn in, notice everything. An offender at Monroe approached me and said, "I saw you almost fall over there. You broke character for a second. I saw that." He wasn't being cruel. He was not criticizing me. He was telling me about a moment that he shared with me and I was so elated to have been able to have that small moment. 

There are also equally valuable lessons and experiences from those who are not as interested. It reminds me to realign my focus. There is no off-stage in these environments. We are all in view at all times. What support can I offer those onstage? When I am onstage, how do I make my intentions clear and how do I support this story? How can I make room for the uncomfortable laughter coming from the front row? Basically, all of these questions lead to one big question, which is, how can I be the best Grace Carmack that I can be right now?

Sometimes audience members will leave. Maybe they're uninterested. Perhaps they're not in a place where they can feel safe with whatever is onstage. Or maybe they had something else they wanted/needed to do at that time. But they came. I'm not entirely sure what sort of process goes on at the individual facilities to reserve space at these events, but I do know that it is not always simple. And that these people were willing to go to lengths to be there with us, if even for a little while. 

No matter what happens, each time I've been able to perform in these places, I have felt myself become more sensitized. These performances are sacred to me. They are outside of the ordinary and they demand focus, respect, a firm discipline and a soft heart. I am reminded of what the theater is capable of doing, and of what people are capable of doing, if given the right opportunity. I am so humbled by these populations and by how willing they are to share honestly and openly.

I am so looking forward to going back to Monroe on the 23rd and WCCW on the 27th for the workshops with Daemond Arrindell.


Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of "The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's Henry IV,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

10 Responses to the Personal Clown Question: Why for Actors? By George Lewis

First off, let me be clear about a couple of things. The course is called Personal Clown because that is the name given to this approach by its originator, Jacques LeCoq, in Paris. It came from research he led with a group of his students into the question, "what makes funny?" In this research they used the red nose as a vehicle for their experiments.

And: this is LeCoq's approach but it is also very much oriented for actors. There may be professional aspiring clowns or mimes or dancers or circus artists in the class, but the focus is on acquiring tools you can use as an actor as well as entering fully and spontaneously into a new sense of the present - what I call "exploding the moment." So: no balloon animals, no crowding into a Volkswagon, no birthday parties.

It is serious work, and there is a real discipline to it and it is not easy. It requires: the willingness to be publicly vulnerable, raw, and uncomfortable, to live in a state of not knowing what to do next: the availability to discover what presents itself, and to jump into whatever that is to see where it will lead you. All in front of an audience. All shared with the public. This approach is not gradual: it occurs with a crash.

The feedback I have received from students over the years say that it has taken then into a different way of experiencing their lives and their theatrical work.

Here are some of the specific skills/results this work can bring:

1. Presentational skills: we as student/actors are accustomed to working intimately with our partners which can often be at the expense of the audiences' participation. As actors, we must not only be seen and heard, but also what happens within us and between us must be visible and audible to the audience. This applies not only to physicalization/vocalization of feelings but also to the clarity of gestures and physical actions. In his exaggerated world, the clown lives with and is in constant communication with the audience.

2. The clown lives in a perpetual state of discovery. As actors we so easily pass over moments and events, taking them for granted, not seeing the myriad possibilities they offer us. Working in clown heightens this awareness.

3. So much of the study of clown is based on an "outside in" approach to acting, as opposed to the more "inside out" or psychological Stanislavski approach. It deals with emotional truth in a very different way, but absolutely requires that the clown be truthful: we slap on a physical fact and then must fill it from the inside. As actors we need a vast "toolbox" of ways to crack open a character, a circumstance, a moment. All that concerns us is what works for us; there is no "method" - there is only our own "method".

4. It is very easy to live - and to act - in the extreme, to leap from extreme to extreme. The study of clown can teach us how to 'grow' a reaction, to modulate our emotional expressions, and thus to vary our performance.

5. The clown has his/her own logic that makes perfect sense to them but that may defy the audiences' sense of reasonable. As actors, we live in problems - the obstacle, the struggle. Part of our challenge is to find what Richard Brestov called "the uncommon response to the everyday circumstance." We cannot afford to be ordinary.

6. The clown plays with everything and everyone he/she encounters. Everything has the potential to be a 'partner'- a stick, the floor, a feather, another character. As actors, we need to learn that playfulness, whether we be acting in Othello or in The Odd Couple. We say that we 'play' an action, but so often we 'do' it or force it to occur without that underlying sense of freeness. There can be and needs to be a profound sense of fun in everything that we do onstage.

7. The clown is born in the moment of failure. Then he/she expands that moment and it takes him/her on a ride- he/she surfs it from moment to moment. With practice, the piece becomes one long ride, one extended moment. As every actor knows, playing comedy is hell: much easier to play is the dramatic. The study of clown delves into a sense of comedy that is rooted in its opposite, that transcends the 'clever' and descends into the belly where from laughter emerges as a primal response.

8. There is a dynamic to space, to the expansion or contraction of the distance between things and people. As such the touch can be seen as the ultimate proximity. If we are conscious of space in this way, we can play with it: clown can teach us that.

9. There is a heightened energy level or 'presence' to everything the clown documents. The clown has an extraordinary focus. We need these qualities.

10. In the study of personal clown we create for ourselves individually our own clown character. This character-based on our own traits - is both distinct and extreme in his/her physical and vocal comportment: it is not naturalistic though it is, as mentioned earlier, grounded in truth. In this exploration of character, we learn valuable tools about creating and living in characters that are physically and vocally different than we are in our everyday lives.

And there is more, so much more. Clown is role - taught as an important part of the curriculum at the major "Masters in Acting" theatre programs, both here and abroad. The study of clown brings us to the precipice of the unknown and then leaps off into it. For us as actors it teaches us to live more fully and with greater clarity in everything we do on stage.
George Lewis will be teaching Personal Clown and Advanced Clown at Freehold this summer.  For more information:

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Story Behind the Poster: Interview with Annya Uslontseva

We had a chance to sit down with graphic designer Annya Uslontseva who has been designing the posters for Freehold’s Engaged Theatre Tours since 2005. Read a little bit about the story behind the posters including Freehold’s “The Flower of England’s Face: William Shakespeare’s Henry IV” poster …

When you create the posters for Freehold’s Engaged Theatre Tours you actually paint the image and then photograph it. Can you talk about the process of creating the posters?

I came into the design from a painter’s background so it might just have been my way of processing information. When I first talked to Robin Lynn Smith (Freehold’s Artistic Director), I think they had an illustration that they had on the computer and at the time I was having a hard time working off that illustration so I thought “Well, I’ll just try to paint it.” So it was my trying to find another way to illustrate since I couldn’t do what the designer was doing. Since then we have painted every single poster.

Can you talk a little about your painting background?

I was always interested in painting ever since I was a kid. I grew up in the eastern part of Russia.  My mom was very creative and she would draw, play piano and she always encouraged us to try creative things. So I grew up learning to play the piano, painting and writing poetry.  I pretty much explored pretty much every way of expressing myself. I came from Russia to Seattle at 17 years old with my husband. I finished high school that May, got married in August and arrived in Seattle in September. It was strange for me because in Russia I was leaning more toward writing, but once we ended up in Seattle I just kind of lost my language. I didn’t know English well enough and I could feel my Russian slipping away.  So I was somehow, perhaps accidentally, turning to a visual language because I still wanted to communicate.  It was basically the only language from my childhood that hadn’t changed.  I could still say what I wanted to say and paint what I wanted to paint and be understood. This was why I ended up going into design. It was me looking for a voice.

For the first couple of years, I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do with work as I was learning English which it made it hard to go to school.  My husband is a software engineer and one day he saw me painting and said “Well maybe you should try design”. It made sense to me.  I went to design school and I loved it. It was that voice I found, a way of talking to people.  It was a way to speak and reach out.  Early on I realized I wanted part of my work to be with nonprofits.  I felt like that was something I had to do, a way to help and give back. I worked for a few corporate businesses early on which helped me to understand the underlying processes related to the design work. Over time I started freelancing more and more.  

We often hear from our community how much they love our Engaged Theatre posters. Can you talk a little bit more about the process of creating the Engaged Theatre posters?

Even though I don’t paint as much for myself anymore, it’s always interesting to work with Robin because she brings things out of me that I don’t think anyone else would be able to.   She really makes me think and she always has been supportive of what I do.  I think it’s interesting how no other illustration works in quite the same way compared to how we work doing the painting. For example, I do very little retouches.  We come up with an idea and we go from there.  It’s very hard for me to repaint what has already been repainted.  There is a lot of trust between us and Robin really makes me think.  I have learned to trust myself. Whenever I start working with Robin I’m terrified I won’t be able to come up with anything but then I’ll just sit there and let it wash over me and wash away.  After that I’ll find myself drawing and thinking.  I’ll do word associations, ask myself what colors I see, what images come up. I might also do a word map where Robin will give me a word and I’ll expand the words asking myself “what is the meaning of this and what would be the image for that word”.

I have to first get an idea of what I’m looking for. For example, I might think of the word “despair” and go online and see what associations/images are associated with that word. Part of it is that since English is my second language, I have to do this to be sure that I’m getting the meaning right. I notice that if I go straight to the web without doing my word associations first and figuring out what I’m looking for, I end up straying and losing direction. I notice in those cases the image won’t be as powerful because it won’t have a strong meaning behind it.  However if I put my work in first, then it goes faster because I know what I’m looking for and it makes sense.

You’ve done a number of images in the past for the Engaged Theatre posters.  Were there certain images that stand out for you?

The Merchant of Venice might be one of my favorites because we basically focused on creating an illustration.  I was taking a class on typography at the time and we created an illustration from just the letters.  It was satisfying to figure that out – that it could be satisfying just working with no other elements other than letters and making it into a powerful image.  

With each next poster I feel freer and freer in the work.  This Henry IV poster image might be the first time we actually had a figure because usually our figures are more abstract.  So I feel like I’m getting more comfortable that it will work out. I am learning to trust that all I have to do is to keep working on it and eventually something will happen, it will click and there it will be. It’s always interesting to me how the image finishes off – it feels a little other worldly.  You don’t really know where it is going and the more I try to control it, the worse it looks.  The more I let go and move the paint around it seems to come together.  Most of the paintings I paint I end up painting overnight. I might do a first layer and then the composition at night and then add more to it in the morning and finish it off by photographing it.  

You said you’re not really painting apart from doing the posters? Does it inspire your other creative work?

In my other creative work, I went into the 3 dimensional.  My gardening is part of my art but so is my clay work.  I am such a practical person so I like working with clay because I make things that I can use.  I stopped painting for myself partly because I had no where else to put them. Also, I was too attached to them to give them away. I enjoy clay – it doesn’t take up as much space – I can use it and can give it to others.  There is also something about taking a piece of clay I made and go into a garden I grew and collect food and feed it to my child, I feel so connected.  I think that’s what we want when we look into the world … we want to see ourselves and what we love.  I look into my world and what I love and what I do is everywhere.

Check out more about Annya at her website: AUA Design
We hope to see you at The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's HENRY IV is running July 12 - 20 (no performance July 15th) at University of Washington's Penthouse Theatre. Tickets are Pay What You Can.  For more information and to reserve your ticket:

Other past Freehold Engaged Theatre posters designed and painted by Annya Uslontseva: