Dec 12 – Say it like you mean it.
I could start of this post saying how I’m going to recommit to posting regularly again, but I think we all know how that will go.
I’ve just finished my first quarter of Meisner training at Freehold Theatre Studio Lab. It has been a long, somewhat tiring, but mostly fun ride.
We started out with the classic Meisner repition exercise, expanding onto that to calling behavior, and then added the activities and circumstances (see previous posts for explanations of these). The last step we added this quarter was text, specifically a short scene from a play.
We were paired up with a partner. Robin made the decisions and I’m not quite sure what her criteria were, but everyone seemed well matched, so I can only imagine she had her reasons. We were then given a short scene from a play. We were told not to read the play, at least until after we were done working on it.
We did a short scene from I Never Sang For My Father. It was a brother and sister trying to figure out what to do with their aging jerk of a dad after their mother dies. Sis says it’s nursing home time for bad dad, and Bro’ says I feel guilty about not loving him and and I feel like I should take care of him even though it will ruin my chance at love and happiness.
We then worked on just reading the text mechanically. This means reading it with no inflection of rhythm, tone, emotional content, whatever. It sort of like reading it like a ro-bot where e-ver-y-thing is pro-nounced with the same weight and syl-la-bles are all the same.
We would sit across from each other at a table, not looking at each other in the beginning because we were to busy reading, and read our lines mechanically. The idea being that eventually the emotional content will come out on it’s own without us forcing it. We just read like two rock-em sock-em robots that have decided to put down the dukes and give conversation a go.
After a few days of that, we then superimposed the calling behavior onto our text, so we could say our line, or we might be inclined to say something like: you aren’t paying attention to me. Then they might repeat, I’m not paying attention to you, or they might say their next line. Sometimes the repeating would go on for a bit. Robin would side coach us, telling us to say our line as we would say our calling behavior.
For instance, someone telling me: you are annoying me, might make me defensive. I would answer back, I’m annoying you, and let my defensiveness shine through. Then they might say again: you are annoying me, and then I could say my line of text again with the emotional coming through.
It’s hard to explain this process and much easier to see it happening. It make for a very natural reading of lines, and makes it more obvious when you are “acting” the lines, faking the emotion as it were.
We learned some tricks for memorizing lines as well, such as throwing a ball back and forth with your partner while saying your lines as fast as you can, writing your lines down by hand, and writing down your lines with no punctuation, so you are not trapped into one way of thinking and saying them.
We also had different tricks during our little scene performances. All the scenes had some element of conflict to them. So when people were not letting the combative nature come out, or were “acting” it Robin gave them pillows to hit each other with while saying their lines. It was amazing how real it became and how dramatically honest the lines came out.
In my scene my partner and I were told to take a twin mattress that was lying around in the studio and each hold one end, and play tug-o-war, while saying our lines. It was amazing. It felt very freeing. I was so involved with the physical activity and saying the lines, that they just came out however they came out, apparently much more dramatically, but also more naturally. It just felt good and effortless, even though I was red-faced and breathing hard at the end of it.
Now I just need to figure out how to do that without a mattress.