Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Back to the Classroom

I am taking an acting class starting this week.

Which is kinda freaking me out. I mean, I have taught acting and improvisation to High School students, but other than that, I haven't been in a "classroom" environment since 1994. It's not that I ever felt I had nothing to learn, but I'm a big believer in learning by doing. I've done a LOT of doing in the past, Jesus...17 years.

The thing is, so much of what I do, how I approach the work is rooted in the script itself. What is this show? What style does it require? How to I best play THIS character in THIS play. I've often found that prescribed schools of thought about acting can get you into trouble. Trying to use "method" in a Shakespeare or Moliere piece is rather counter-intuitive and, frankly, playing against the intent.

This all comes from my early training, of course. The wisdom of Jeff Green, who's acting classes were really all about style work. What is this play? What style does it require? Truly, one of the most important moments of my acting life was playing Valere in Tartuffe with Jeff directing.

I was DEEP in my "fucking Al Pacino kicks ass and I am a Method actor" phase. Jeff had developed a conceit for the rehearsals and production where we had a giant "flower" in the middle of the round playing area. When we moved, we had to stay on the lines of that design, all crosses, all moves were arcs, no straight lines. On top of that, we were in full Restoration dress, with the physicality that requires. Arms outstretched, on the balls of your feet, generally, as Jeff called it, "that poncy French shit."

Well, there I am, all Mr. Pacino/DeNiro/Brando wanna be, bemoaning that I didn't "feel it." So, Jeff made us run my big scene over, and over, and over again. Well into the double digits (my weak memory says 60-75 times). We did it until I broke, stopped thinking,  just hit my marks and said my lines, and suddenly (magically, even) the scene worked.

What's really idiotic about my attitude is that I really didn't know shit from shinola when it came to "Method." We, really, had no "Method" training. It was part of the style work we did, but not a intensive course, by any means. My concept of "Method" was watching "Method" actors, and reading a few books.

Honestly, I don't think I ever really had a philosophy of acting until I read David Mamet's True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor. I know, I know, people hate it, think it's stupid, but "speak the words, brave and true" tripped a trigger, for me. It led to a path where what seemed to take so much effort, so much self-inflicted torture, and made it seem not so hard. Trust the play, trust the director, trust the rest of the cast. Listen, believe, and respond.

I sometimes think there's a deep-seated inferiority complex with actors. This raging desire to make what we do harder than it really has to be. Which is not to say I think it's easy, no, no, no, but I think many people try to complicate it so much. K.I.S.S. - Keep It Simple, Stupid. How much time to we spend agonizing over our choices? Trying to find the "right" one?

The trick is, there is no "right" choice.

There's only the choice you make right now, and it cannot be "wrong" if you commit and follow it through. You're living in the moment, right? Then why the hell are you trying to plan out your whole performance in advance? You wouldn't do that in the moment...in real life...would you?

That's all really just me pontificating, now. Take what you will.

So, yeah, starting tomorrow night I'm starting a class in Meisner technique. Now, I'm no expert in, really, any school of acting, other than my own, but my reading makes me feel like this is a school of thought that will work well for me. But who knows? It's been so long since I operated without a character or play to rely on that I am rather scared about it. No, I don't feel I "hide" behind a character, but I have come to rely on the world that the playwright and director have built for me to drive my choices and moment. This is a situation that removes that crutch.

I hope I don't fall down.

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