Archive for April, 2009

Apr 22 – What does that mean?

Posted in Acting, actor, Theatre with tags , , , on April 22, 2009 by actingchick


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.


April 13 – Mirror Mirror.

Posted in Acting, actor, Theatre on April 13, 2009 by actingchick


Still recapping last quarter since I was too discombobulated to write about all this stuff then.  Plus, we have only had one class this quarter and that was mostly talking about what we are going to be doing.  No action yet.

One of the big exercises we had to do last quarter was calle The Mirror.  Sounds harmless enough you say, and if by harmless you mean physically and emotionally exhausting, then you would be right.

What you do is go up in front of the class.  The rest of the class stands opposite you.  Whatever you do, they do.  whatever you say, they say.  As you might imagine, having 15 or so people watching you intently, mimicking your every move, tends to make you feel a little, um, shall we say, uncomfortable.

What you are supposed to do with this uncomfortable energy that is running through you is throw it back onto the group.  You can do this by shouting at them, or waving your arms, or grunting, stomping your feet, whatever, but it has to be at them.  Which is all well and good until they do it back to you.

Robin sits off to the side and lets this first phase go one for a while.  Then she starts to side coach you.  She’ll throw out a person or situation and you were supposed to act it out.  So for instance she would say you are a puppy, and the person would drop to the floor, wag their imaginary tail, scratch fleas, bark to try and get you to play, run away scared, and roll over.  It was all improvisation.

Common things thrown out at you were some animals, puppies, cats, chimps, wolves.  Often you would have to protect your young.  Lots of growling, swiping of claws and gnashing of teeth.

Then there were the erotic dancers, and street prostitutes in the Holland Tunnel hustling for johns, and had to fight off the young uppity ho, who thought she could take your spot.  You could go from Can Can Dancer, to boxer, to stand up comedian dealing with a heckler, to Elvis.

Often you would have to sing something.  I had to be a country-western singer performing in front of live audience at the Grand Ol Opry.  It’s amazing how when someone asks you to sing a song, all the words go right out of your head.

You would also often have to confront an imaginary person(s), who would be doing something horrible, say like torturing an animal, or about to kill a bunch of women and children.  And you would have to stop them with your words alone.  This was really hard.  My thing was I had to stop a town of religious zealots from stoning two women they thought were lesbians.  Fun.

It’s tiring. No matter what side of the mirror you are on.  You end up moving around for about 20 minutes or so.  At some point Robin lets the group drop out and then it’s just you.  She’ll make you stay still, and say some phrase over and over again, or sing some childhood song to each person who is standing in the group not moving, but watching intently.

She’s looking for our “masks” to fall away, those shields we put over us to keep from being vulnerable.  This exercise does that.  You don’t realize it while it is happening, but as a group member watching, you can see the transformation.

Most people at the end have a childlike essence.  It’s hard to describe without seeing it, but often I could see the person as the would have been when they were five, just simply standing there and being themselves, without the artifice of having to be with-it and in control.

Some people cried, some laughed, some left the planet for a bit, but all returned and came back as themselves.  Beautifully and simply themselves.

April 10 – A little imagination

Posted in Acting, actor, Art, Theatre with tags , , , on April 10, 2009 by actingchick

Hmmm…sorry?  What was that?  Oh.  I’m sorry, I was daydreaming, and I didn’t hear a word of that.

So day dreaming, you say, Why?  Basically it’s like running.  It’s exercise, but instead of building up your body, it builds up your creative faculties.  Like any sort of exercise, unless you are magically gifted, it’s hard at first and gets easier as you go along.

We had to do some more exercises where we set up a space to be a room in our house.  We brought meaningful props in and used some Freehold furniture to make a representation of our room.  Then we again sat in there daydreaming, people watched us.

The next round we had to bring an activity and a circumstance, similar to what we had done in our repetition exercises in the previous quarter, and then we had to sit in our space and daydream.

My activity was to learn Amazing Grace on the banjo, and my circumstance was that my mom had died, and was to learn to play this for her funeral service. This is the song she wants played.

At first nothing was happening; I was too busy trying to play the song, which I didn’t know how to play. So I decided to stop and just sit there, and in that quiet spot not doing anything,  I managed to imagine what playing Amazing Grace at my mom’s funeral really meant, and I started crying.  Oh, a good amount too, more than the last time I cried.

It was interesting that I had to do nothing to get in touch with the emotions.  At other times I’ve relied on physical activity to get me into a scene.  I guess the lesson there is what you need depends on the situation.  This time it was daydreaming.

Apr 9 – Imagine that.

Posted in Acting, actor, Art, Theatre with tags , , , on April 9, 2009 by actingchick


Boy it’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  In fact a whole quarter of Meisner went by.  So now I feel forced to sum it up, so we can move on to the third quarter, and I can start talking about that. It might take a few posts, but I’ll get there.

The focus of the second quarter of the Meisner track at Freehold is developing the “instrument.”  That’s the actor’s body and mind to put it into layman’s terms. The point (as I see it anyway) is to disassemble our cultural programming enough to act/react spontaneously to the imaginary circumstances in which we find ourselves during a play or film.

Sounds kind of high-falutin, but really it’s about teaching adults to play make believe after such frivolous time-wasting abilites were crushed out of us by the monolithic weight of our western European, Protestant, technology riddled 21st century adult responsibilities.

Things that came naturally to us as children do not come naturally as an adult.  We may be able to drive and shop online, but kids have us beat in the imagination department.

I can remember spending hours playing on the jungle gym, that was really a rocket ship, trying not to touch the hot lava playground sand.  Or running through our neighborhood playing Charlie’s Angles (the original 70’s show – I’m old), fighting over who got to play which Angel.  For the record I didn’t fight; I was always Sabrina; she was the smart one, but my friends fought like cats and dogs over who got to be Jill (Farah). The loser had to be Kelly.

So what did we do in the first part of the second quarter of Meisner?  We imagined things. We daydreamed.  Sounds easy?  It’s not.  It’s easy to daydream when you are just drifting through your day, trying to escape from your tedious job by having some fun in your head.

Maybe you are rescuing kittens from a burning building and become the town hero, or maybe it’s imagining what you are going to say to someone in some confrontational conversation you are planning having.  We slip in and out all day, but suddenly someone says, you need to imagine and you need to do it now.  Then the clamps clamp down and the gears screech to a halt.

Daydreaming is controlled by our subconscious, and because of that we don’t tend to have much control over it, which is actually what makes daydreaming useful.  Our subconscious minds, if given free reign, will take us to interesting places, that our conscious mind, so worried about trying to not make a fool out of itself, won’t. Perhaps because it is afraid, or mostly because it doesn’t even occur to it to go there in the first place.

So one of the first exercises that we did in class was to daydream.  You had to get up in front of the class, lie on one of the questionable Freehold mattresses, and daydream, while the rest of the class watched.  Yes, that’s what we did.  Imagine a room of adults sitting in rows of folding metal chairs, watching someone lying on mattress with their eyes closed daydreaming.

The funny thing was it was interesting.  In my experience, I was too aware in the beginning to really day dream, but as I laid there long enough, things started percolating.  When you’d watch other people you could see emotions flit across their faces.  That was interesting.  They probably didn’t even know it was happening, but it was happening, and it was interesting.

So the first step was taken, lying down.