Meisner, Movement & Presence

Everything Acting and Embodied

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Commitment–or the Leap into Risk

I’ve been blogging about audition mistakes, and this is one of them, but it goes to the heart of other issues in acting as well, so I want to just talk about the leap.  As in, The Leap.

There is no substitute for presence.  It is the alpha and omega of acting.  If you’re not present, then what you do in your acting is pretense.  It’s not what Sanford Meisner called, “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”  It’s not bringing your authentic, in-the-moment self to acting…and since, for my money, there’s nothing else worth watching, it’s a hearkening back to the days of acting as presentation.  Think Sarah Bernardt instead of Eleanora Duse.

So we reach for presence.  But.  Once you have presence, you still have to reach for more.  In art, as in sports, there is always the reach for more, for better, for the test of what you can really do.  Your personal best isn’t static.  It’s a growing entity.

I did a casting director workshop last week in which I hit my personal best for that day.  Besides the fact that it felt GREAT, and the feedback was great, I knew it as my best because there was no hangover, no second guessing, no doubts, no obsession (okay, very little obsession) about the outcome.  I was present for both takes, and I have them on my computer and have watched them a few times.  I remember, in the second take, this jolt of fear, because the presence overtook me and I lost control of myself and of any idea of what I was doing.  I felt, reacted, moved, in ways I myself couldn’t have predicted.  I kept getting little jolts of fear as I said each line differently than I’d ever imagined saying them.

Of course I know that when this happens I’m in some kind of freakish zone that is the point, of, well, everything.  Maybe it’s the definition of creative freedom.  It can happen when I’m writing, too, and I have no idea what I’m going to put down until it’s down and then usually I’m laughing my head off because I’m so bold and, well, completely nuts.

But what was the difference between being present for take 1 and being present for take 2?  What can we learn?  In take 1, I rode the sensations in my body.  I felt the moment, connected with my reader, aimed for the character’s deepest need.  But in take 2, I forgot about all of that.  I stepped into some level of the unknown–I leapt free of my day to day self and became something else.  I felt my body–I was in touch–but I didn’t focus, didn’t have to.  I knew the scene, but I wasn’t playing it…I kind of was the scene.

Josh Pais talks about the committed impulse–about being absolutely committed to being true to what’s happening inside you at the moment and f*&K interpretation, judgment and expectations.  For me true commitment in acting means jumping off the cliff of who I think I am, forgetting everything and speaking the first line in the act of this metaphorical leap.  If I start there, it will continue and move to some new place.

How much can we risk?  True spontaneity is having no idea what you will do next.  It is the revelation of the hidden self, the letting go of control.  Famous actors talk about it–Kristen Stewart, who I just saw in the Clouds of Sils Maria (and she was fabulous as she almost always is) talks about being addicted to the first read, when she doesn’t know what she’s doing and can be utterly unpredictable and alive.

Being present is hard enough, you might say.  Staying out of one’s head.  Feeling the sensations of the body, being in touch with the senses in relationship to the room.  What is this next step?

I would say that the focus on the sensations is one level of letting go of control.  But you’re still working with focus, you’re still DOING something.  And it’s a good thing to do.  But what about letting go of trying to be good and just letting go completely?  What do you commit to then?

I think you commit to a level of unfettered truth that includes terror and incredible satisfaction.

And like everything in acting, you get there by not thinking, and practice, practice, practice.

Go forth and act.


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Acting and Social Justice…and what the hell, it’s a celebration day!

Happy Marriage Equality in all 50 states!

I might think acting is all about loving the world and putting that into everything you do.

I might think acting is about commitment to the moment and to the truth of your own humanity.

But right now, what I think is that I am, for the first time in my life, recognized as equal in all 50 states.  And that is more important than anything else.  In this moment.  And retroactively to every past moment, and shooting forward into what else I can do with my one and only life.

Here is my blog on the subject:

And here is the love of my life.




Audition Mistake #3

Second guessing…or, can I even mention it, the issue of self-sabotage.

Here’s how it goes.  You make choices about your scene.  You work on being present.  Then you go to the casting agent’s office, and sit with the other actors in chairs, waiting.  Some look an awful lot like you.  Some are better known than you.  Some are, gulp, way better looking than you, funnier than you, dressed more for the part than you.  You start to panic.  There is no way you are going to get this role.  Suddenly the choices you’ve made seem utterly stupid.  You try to quickly figure out something better.  You are thinking, thinking, thinking, when they call your name, and you have to remind yourself not to stick your sweaty palm out, because they won’t want to shake it anyhow.

As you’re doing the scene, you’re imagining their thoughts, which consist of these words:  this actor sucks.  You do the scene exactly as you did it at home.  You think your way through the scene.  You can feel that they hate it.  Then you leave, slowly melting into the floor as you do so.

That’s the second guessing insecure audition.

The self-sabotage audition starts earlier.  When you get called, you panic.  It’s for a network, a big director, something you haven’t done before.  You get diarrhea just thinking about going in.  You wonder if you should maybe just cancel, because you’re so scared your hands will probably shake if you hold the paper and there’s no way you’re going to remember the lines because you’re so scared you…

Okay, tell me you’ve never felt any of these things.

In the last auditioning class I taught, the actors spoke more about these feelings than about any of the skills we worked on.  How can I be confident? they asked.  How can I stop forgetting my lines when I’m nervous?  How can I stop feeling nervous?

There’s a wonderful book called THE BIG LEAP by Gay Hendricks.  In it, he talks about the upper limit we ALL have for tolerating joy, success, intimacy and general happiness.  And he talks about moving that limit so we can have more of these things.

I’ve been working on my own upper limit for a lot of years, trying a variety of strategies.  How do I learn to tolerate the feelings and change my relationship to them?  Because they may or may not be going away, but if I can hold my own experience with a sense of acceptance, I can use it to improve my acting.  Any experience.  Truly.  Even panic, even shame.  Every human experience is expressible through acting.  I just have to hold it, rather than have it control me.

Then, there’s growing my tolerance for more success…for genuinely believing in myself, for seeing myself through periods of doubt.  Here’s the thing…you can’t do this without talking about it, without being aware of it.  You want to get to the other side?  Put yourself out there and then notice any compulsion to do something stupid…and then don’t do it.  Basically, prepare yourself for dealing with your own upper limiting behaviors.

I have to say that writing this feels like such a taboo.  In the acting world, and in the acting teacher world, both of which I occupy, we don’t talk openly about the ways we shoot ourselves down.  We talk about how hard the business is, about having a bad day.  But the built-in limits that are part of us…we might secretly hate them, but we don’t acknowledge them because if we do people look embarrassed.

Acting is so much about confidence, but you can’t just banish your self-doubt, insecurity and self-sabotage by strength of will.  Here’s the thing…being with your real emotions as an actor, and acknowledging your insecurities and limits and then lifting them, one step at a time…that builds confidence.

It’s hard.  But acting isn’t about easy all the time.  It’s fun, but it’s also challenge and grit and meaning.  I take this approach: I use acting to become a better human.  I figure if that’s not compelling, then there’s something wrong with my audience.

Go forth and act!

And, you know, do something ridiculous just because you want to.