Meisner, Movement & Presence

Everything Acting and Embodied

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The Grace of Acting

Several times a year…really more…gratitude strikes me for the Meisner class I took with Fred Kareman at Carnegie Hall.  I remember the first day so clearly–September 14, 2001.  I rode the elevator up with two women–Jeanette and Amy–and I stood there in my sweats and flip flops, my butt length hair, listening to them talk about the towers going down just 3 days before.  Jeanette occasionally looked at me with a small smile in her eyes.  The light fell on both of their hair, in this tiny elevator, climbing above the empty, silent city.

And then we walked in the room…not really together.  I was the only actor in the room who hadn’t taken a class with Fred before.

The air conditioner blasted toward us from it’s square in the wall–not really a window.  And in a school desk right next to it, Fred sat, osteoporosis hunching his shoulders forward, his striped boating shirt sharply bright in the dim light, his white hair brighter still.

This is how miracles come into our lives.

In any class, it is the teacher who makes it.  It’s impossible to have a miracle class without a miracle of a teacher.  And there he was, our Yoda, with his attitude and short temper, with his utter and complete presence, with his pauses and his eyes that looked right to the center of everything.

I’ve taught the Meisner technique for a long time now, and every class I talk about him, about the gift…and I’m sure my students know how much I loved and love him.  As we all did.  But I didn’t just love him.  I loved the other actors, I loved the room, I loved the tiny elevator, I loved…with such sadness, the empty city, and then I loved it when it filled back up with traffic and noise.

Gratitude is love.  It’s in the same family of emotions.  I’ve never recovered from the wonder of that class…my idealistic soul wants every acting encounter to be filled with the truth, the heart, the sense of blending creatively and becoming more of what I am and was and will be.  When it happens–and it does–I feel that same wonder and gratitude.  And when it doesn’t, the disappointment scrapes the cement bottom of my soul with an ugly noise, because I know what acting can be.

It can be what Fred taught all of us–Emilie and Joseph, Jeanette and the two Amy’s, Anna and Karl, George and Randy, Scott and Craig and everyone else that started and that I don’t remember.  We just have to bring that open heart, that faith, that presence, and make room for it.

What I love about teaching is that I make the room.  I clear the space, and then I try to call each of my students’ names the way Fred called to us.

That grace.  That made us all want it, this thing called acting, all the more.  That presence.  That spontaneous freedom.  The fully alive embodiment of our own human stories.  Nothing like it in this or any other world.