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Truth and Freedom

December 7, 2010

One semester. In the books.

The work is far from over, and even though I’m not in classes at the moment, my grad school life is every bit as busy as it usually is. But, it seems like a perfect time to slide the ol’ thermometer under the tongue and see where we’re at, no?

As you probably noticed, I went several weeks between posts. I had great ideas blazing through my head, but never a real chance to stop and think and write. Voice exams, movement assignments, acting showings, and a neverending list of plays to read… Writing a blog is easy. Just as long as you aren’t trying to get your MFA in Acting at the same time.

So. Brendan. One semester in, what exactly have you learned in grad school?

Let’s break it down.

In advanced play analysis, our professor told us on day one that we’d never read or see a play the same way. All we’d see is the guts and how they fit together. “Sorry,” he said “but you don’t get to enjoy theatre any more. Get over it.”

And, yeah. He’s right. Sort of. I haven’t lost complete enjoyment in watching a live performance or reading a play, but I feel like all the skin has definitely been pealed back. The Aristotelean elements of drama go coursing through my brain; “what’s the action? what’s the thought? what does this say about their point of view? what imagery is the playwright invoking?” And before I know it, I’m sitting there admiring how the play’s spleen is connected to the kneecap rather than wondering if the production is working or not. If anything, analyzing plays has made me realize how freaking hard it is to A) Write plays and B) Write them at the level that successful playwrights write them. Bravo. I’ll never be a playwright. Thanks for being crazy.

And in movement, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much to lose the insecurity about performing abstractly. If you had told me at the beginning of the semester I would perform an object study duet with a partner and a bamboo cane, I’d have rolled my eyes. Perhaps the weakest part of my skill set as an actor is to move without inhibition. To really explore and create and free one’s self takes great risk, and a set of big, shiny, brass balls. Bravo, dancers. I’m still completely and totally in awe of you. And even though I’m moving in better alignment, with a longer spine, more strength, more freedom, more creativity, and a sliver more flexibility, I’ll concede that much like playwrights, I never want to be a dancer. With the encouragement of my professor and a new diet/exercise regimen, I’ve added 10lbs since I came to grad school, with an eye on adding 10 more next semester. When I arrived, I had “a leading man face, a leading man voice, and a character actor body.” Tell me about it. I think there is an entire blogpost about this simmering in me, so I’ll do my best right now to stay on topic.

Oh, and hey. Viewpoints finally makes sense.

In voice, we dipped into IPA (consonants only), dove into Standard American, and showered in articulators. I can tremor like a dying cockroach, and swing my ribs like… someone who swings their ribs really well. I can send. And I can land. And I can make sure that when I say “TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR,” my partner across the room can hear me. When I started realizing that voice class was a mechanical, technique-focused study, it actually became a lot of fun. In acting we explore,but in voice we drill, drill, drill. If studying acting is like hitting live pitching, studying voice is like hitting in a batting cage. Drill till it becomes secondary. And you know what? I sound better. Way better.

Which brings us to acting. While I consider all four of my classes to have wildly changed my perspective on acting, nothing has so dramatically altered the way I see myself as a performer than this class. The technique we’re learning (a mash of Demidov, Chekhov, Vakhtangov, and Malaev-Babel schools of thought) emphasizes an entirely new approach. Yes, we learned all about relationships, characterization, objectives, beats, etc from Stanislavksi, but the organic method (Demidov) enforces the idea that all of those things, without scripting or assigning them, can and will spring freely into a text with spontaneous, expressive acting. Wow. Easier said than done. Basically, when an actor finds complete and total truth, and marries it with complete and total freedom, they’ll achieve complete success without even having to think about beats, characterization, the magic if, sense memory, or any of that. And as a kicker, they’ll be far more engaging, interesting, creative, and ‘watchable’ than an actor who mechanically puts together a character one gesture and inflection at a time. It’s about listening. It’s about reacting (cheers, Meisner). And it’s about expressing your character’s truth without the slightest hesitation that you might be faking it. If you do things right, it’ll never be faked. It can’t be. The most common notes from acting class this year: let it, allow it, yield to it, permit it. No choosing tactics, no conjuring fake emotions, no working yourself into a frenzy. Commit to truth, and allow what happens. You’ll be damn surprised at what comes out.

While it’s just been a few months, I could never have hoped for the type of dramatic shift I’m experiencing as a performer right now. All the pieces were there, I just needed someone to tell me what to do with it all. The decision to come here wasn’t easy, but pulling the thermometer out and seeing it at 98.6 makes me feel like a better one couldn’t have been made. I’m humbled.

On the docket: This week, we’re taking a master class in ‘acting songs’ with David Brunetti (I can’t WAIT to write about this. I hate singing, and this man is turning singing on stage into a liberating, doable, actable experience), next week is a full week of fight choreography, 12 Angry Men has already gone into rehearsals, and Reasons to be Pretty tech starts later this month. And, as if it weren’t already a full enough plate (and as if I learned nothing by overcommitting myself at SCT), five of us are kicking around the idea of doing a “Late Night” performance next semester of Men of Tortuga. I’m feeling equal parts psyched and idiotic. Anyway, I haven’t disappeared. I’ve lost myself in the world of an actor in a repertory environment.

Stay tuned for the second series of “Ask an MFA student.” The submissions keep coming in, so we’ll keep answering them as we can. It’s a fun ride. Take it if you can.

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 7, 2010 9:51 pm

    Have, at the very least, a lovely holiday. I look forward to hearing more.

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