June 26 – The end and the beginning.
So it’s over. Last night was the final class of the Meisner progression that I have been taking for the last nine months at Freehold. I have spent the last three years taking acting classes at Freehold Theater. It has been a wonderful, terrifying, exciting, hard, frustrating, magical, roller-coaster of a ride.
The last class was a performance where we presented the scenes we have been working on for the past few weeks to our friends, family, and other students. My scene partner Bill and I did a scene from The Marriage Play by Edward Albee. We have been working hard on it, and it paid off last night.
The process wasn’t without its turmoil though. Our last two rehearsals with our teacher, the incomparable Robin Lynn Smith, were hell. When she starts of her notes with, “Well, the nicest thing I can say is that you don’t have any stakes,” then you know you are in trouble. She sliced and diced our performances until we were left thinking, why are we here? What have I been doing for the past three years? I have to say this was justified ginsu-ing. We were lackluster, but we didn’t realize it, until we really turned up the heat.
My scene partner Bill had a hard time with his part of the scene. He has a rather long monolog in the middle of it. He would get contradictory notes from Robin each time we had a rehearsal. He tried to do them all and ended up in a mush. My problem was getting my stakes. I had trouble connecting emotionally with the scene, because I don’t behave the way my character does, and I didn’t know how to be that way. I got a lot of notes, that I had to go further, be bigger, be more of this, or more of that. I’m timid by nature, so this was really hard for me.
The last few days I was so desperate to break through my inhibitions I started to try self-hypnosis. I stared at a hypnotic swirl on my computer screen and repeated phrases like, when I perform I am fearless and confidant. When I perform my emotions flow freely. When I perform I am relaxed and creative. Anyway, I think it actually worked. I was nervous, but not as much as I normally am, and I was really able to amp it up during our final performance. I did things we hadn’t rehearsed, and I dealt spontaneously with the fact that my shoe fell apart in the middle of the scene. I also was able to respond to Bill when he tried new things in the scene.
He too really shone in the final performance. He managed to overcome what had been giving him so much trouble, by deciding that instead of trying to do the notes Robin gave him, he should do what worked for him. It totally worked. It wasn’t that he didn’t do what Robin suggested, because he did, but not all of it. He worked out for himself what worked, and then allowed that to happen.
Before the scenes started Robin reminded us that we are here to learn how to use all the tools we have been shown, and that though this was a performance, we should approach it with astonishment as if it was happening for the first time. I think this really helped us all. We both tried new things in the scene. We played. It was fun. everyone’s scenes in class were wonderful. It was amazing to see how everyone grew, even in the last few weeks. We all shone up there, basking in the glow of the support of our families, friends, and fellow students. It was a wonderful experience, that filled me with hope, and a sense that I have arrived, not at the final destination, but at the top of the long hill I’ve been climbing, and now I can look back and see where I have been, while getting ready to descend into the forest, the unknown future. Not with a sense of dread, but a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of adventure.
I’m an actor. Now I have to act.