Back in the old neighborhood

Last week I went to NYC and stopped in at my starting place.

It was 25 years ago I sat tense, lonely, and worried watching an old man with thick glasses and a cane enter the room. I had no real idea who Sanford Meisner was, I hadn’t been a student of the game, I was new to the idea that I’d be an actor. I knew he was important to the school but I really didn’t know he was a whole technique. Then like a bad movie the guy next to me said quietly, “The man, the myth, the legend.”

That shook me. He was a legend? He was my first teacher. How did I get a legend guy? Then he sat down and started to speak in a controlled belch. We were warned about this and we were warned he had bad eyesight and not to be late and not to make him repeat himself and to never, ever, miss his class. He talked in very concise words. He introduced me to the idea that to tell this big lie that actors do, to be really good at telling this lie, we had to tell the truth. Man, that about blew my head open. Somehow I found a place, finally, found a place that made sense. High school sure didn’t.

We all have to experiences where we are drawn to things or people for unknown reasons but it ends up being the right thing. In hindsight we are able to piece it together, but in the moment you write it off to pure dumb luck. And that’s how I felt.

I remembered that feeling as I stepped through the red door at 340 E 54th St, and saw that absolutely nothing had changed. Like, nothing. The feel, the sound, the colors, it was all the same and it was dynamite. My room/ class mate Nick Bandouveris met me there for a talk I was giving to the students. We toured the classrooms and sat for a minute looking the old place over. We laughed when we realized we were sitting in the same seats we had always taken in class.

Up the stairs to the dance room the students filed in, Hal Baldridge (Neighborhood’s big cheese) introduced me and I looked at these great faces and spoke on how to remain sane while trying to earn a living as an actor. “Use my experience to your benefit” I told them. They applauded when the talk was over, and Nick and I left for his place for dinner with the wife and kids.

I guess I should have felt proud and accomplished being 23 years removed from this place with the knowledge that I’d met the goal I set when I left. I have an acting career. But honestly, you know what I felt…? I felt jealous. They were so bright and so pure and so enthusiastic. And they are in a place where every day they are asked to dig deeper. To discover those triggers and snatches of ego that build the toolbox for later use. That push for discovery and the fear of not finding enough, that was your every day in the early days.

Telling the truth to sell the lie is still the best technique I’ve ever come upon. Learning my truth was the best time I ever had.

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