In studying the Meisner technique, actors learn to release their inhibitions, to let go of social filters, to connect with each other, to do what the other actor makes them do. No one ever talks about being “nice” in acting. Actors show the true humanity–the qualities and actions most of us hide.
Initially, of course, it’s hard to say unfiltered and uncensored thoughts, but most of us learn to love it. My teacher, Fred Kareman, used to say that once you learned the technique you would be more free to be yourself when you were acting than at any other time. Gone are “I” statements, skillful models of communication. You swear. You get tender. You fall in love. You openly show hurt.
I think actors are the most courageous people on the planet, and that we are driven by a need to become visible, to create publicly, in the moment, out of our human understanding. Risk, and the risks involved in acting, interest me as an actor, first of all, but also as a teacher. What do I understand about courage and risk? What do I want to teach about it?
For myself, I approach the craft of acting as my teacher about myself and life. The real courage isn’t in being socially unacceptable–at least not for me, since in some ways I’ve always lived there. The courage is in admitting how high the bar is in the business, how big an ask it is to want this, how much I have to believe in myself to try. And the risk is in aiming for that bar. Because what I understand about acting, like any other kind of art, is that I have to throw myself out into the world as I truly am. Not as I hope to be, wish I was, might be someday. But as I am now. With my secret (or not-so-secret) intellectual arrogance, with my bad attitudes, with my impatience, with my wide ever-reaching vulnerability, with my neediness. It is myself that I must ruthlessly hold to the highest standards, because outside of Boston’s small community, those are the standards of the industry.
So yes, it’s fun to be bad in the repetition exercise, to release into inappropriate intimacy, anger, humor–and there is risk in this, no doubt. But no matter how far in you go, there’s always more. People call it truth. I call it life itself. Fred was right, in a way. You are the most alive when you leave trying to be perfect behind. And just show how screwed up and human you really are.
I can’t wait for the next time I get to do it! And the next time I get to watch actors go for it, and find it, and leap into that joy.