We have entered the third quarter of Meisner. This quarter is dedicated to analyzing text and than using that analysis to bring life to the characters and play. Sounds simple enough, but it is really hard.
We’ve been given two plays to read and study. Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen, and Miss Julie by August Strindberg. These two plays share many similarities. The were both written about the same time, both by Scandinavian authors, both deal with the characters inability to conform to the given social structures, and both title characters kill themselves at the end of the play, finding it the only means of escape from their circumstances. A bit of a downer I say.
After reading both plays, we were assigned a character from one of the plays. Then we had to go through the text of the play and find all the facts about our character that were said by us, by other characters, or implied indirectly by the text. I got Hedda Gabler.
I have to say, in the first reading of the play, I didn’t like Hedda. She was a bitch, and actually after a few readings still remains somewhat of a bitch, but now I acknowledge she might have her reasons to be. This is not the first time where my first instinct in having to deal with a character is…this person is horrible. Then after working with them for a while you get to understand them and like them, despite their flaws. Reminds me of some family and friends.
After this we were assigned scenes to go work on. My scene has three people in it. Hedda (Me), Lovborg, and Thea. Last night in class we were to get up and do a working reading through the scene. We set up some basic furniture and wore some basic costuming to get us in the mood.
Then we started reading the lines and trying to “play our actions” as best we good while staring at a piece of paper. For those who may not be familiar with the acting terminology “playing an action” is basically figuring out what your character wants from another character and what your character does to get what they want.
I may want you to give me some money because I need it to escape my bad situation. My action is that I need to get the dough, the way I do it is the tactics. The action is drawn from the text of the play, say the mob is after me because I spilled the beans. The words I say (along with the physical expression), and how I say them is my tactics. I might try and seduce you, or threaten you, or plead with you, etc, etc.
It’s complicated. We spent maybe a half hour going through the text break down each sentence, phrase, and sometimes single word, to find it’s action. What do I mean when I say yes here? Do I mean yes, or do I mean no, but am saying yes because that’s my tactic? Am I saying it sweetly, mockingly, and why? What am I trying to get with this tactic? Is it working? How is the other person responding? What does their response do to me? On and on and on.
We got maybe 10 lines done in a half hour of working. With Robin, our teacher, coaching us with the above questions, and our repeated responses of, um, I don’t know. Oh, I didn’t realize that. Oh, I see, wow, so that’s what that means.
I think most of us who went up were pretty much ready to have a nervous breakdown. It was a bit overwhelming to realize how much information was in the text that we had glossed over. How are we ever going to learn how to do this? Robin seeing us all, reminded us that’s why we are in this class, and we will get there. I hope so.