About a week ago I was contacted by a girl who wanted to take class with me and as is customary we met to discuss it. As we started talking I asked her the normal early questions to get an idea of what she hoped class would be for her. I do this so I can see if the prospective student is realistic about what class can offer you when you are on a acting career path.
She told me she was currently in class at another school and that she just wasn’t making progress with the teacher, so, because I understood the Meisner technique well enough to teach it, she wanted me to help her with the exercise called activities. Her teacher says her activities aren’t good, and she wanted me to essentially give her a cheat sheet of ideas she could use to get through this part of the instruction and move on.
I was really thrown for a loop. “You are asking me to tutor you for your acting class…?” As if this is the way everyone studies acting, she said “yeah!” and opened a notebook to an empty page and readied her pen. “Ummm…that’s not how this works…” I began to explain the idea behind the exercise and she cut me off “I get all that, but the teacher says my activities have no meaning so I want you to give me good ones with meaning…”
I explained that this was the point of the exercise. There was no correct answer…it was for her to find a very personal answer and she would have to do this for herself. She wasn’t fazed at all by my reluctance and moved on and said “Can you just give me something that’s difficult to do…” So I said ” Well, for example if you wanted to do something difficult, you could tie yourself to a chair and try to get out of it. But you still have to know why would you want to get out of it…”
She cut me off sharply “That’s ridiculous.”
“Because that would never happen.”
“Because it wouldn’t”
“I would never be in that position.”
“What if you went to your 5 year old niece’s birthday party and they tied you up for a game?”
“A grown-up would untie me. It’s ridiculous. I don’t want to do that. Think of something more realistic.”
“Okay well let me ask you this…if there was a great movie role of a girl tied up who is a hostage in a bank robbery, would you tell the director at your audition that it was ridiculous that you would ever get tied up and therefore he’d have to change the script to hire you?”
“No. I’d do it for a movie, that makes sense.”
“But if you won’t do it in class, what makes you think you can do it in a movie?”
And here is where I learned all about her drive to be an actress…
She said “That’s different. Class and movies are different…”
This was when I saw what she really wanted and I asked her why she was in class. She explained that she wanted the teacher to say she was good so she’d feel good about herself and have more confidence about her acting career. “I just need you to help me get past this beginning stuff so I can get a scene and start acting…”
Acting training for her isn’t knowing what you’re doing, it’s about doing scenes until the teacher says you’re good. If that means getting a tutor to show you how to cheat your way through a technique that’s about living truthfully, then so be it. In her mind doing scenes is what mattered, the exercises were useless to her.
This isn’t all that uncommon really. I told her I thought she should quit class, that it was never going to get easier or become interesting because she didn’t want technique, she wanted scene study. And you know what…? She agreed with me. She thanked me for helping her and she left.
I don’t actually think she’ll stay with acting very long, but it got me to thinking about what people give up by not taking class. It’s actually the very same thing that I concluded a few years ago was THE ONLY thing an acting class or technique can “give” you as an actor and that is …a chance at fulfillment.
Did you ever hear someone who had survived something harrowing say ” I didn’t know I could do that until I had to.” That’s what class is. It’s the place that you go to dig around and find out exactly what you can bring to the roles you hope to get. It’s exciting to be in a movie and have the world applaud, but it’s not necessarily fulfilling as an actor. Years ago I was talking with a friend who is a huge star about a movie they did that had just come out and I asked, “Were you happy with your work?” and this person answered “Well the audience I saw it with loved the movie.” I could hear they weren’t all that pleased with what they did but luckily the audience’s reaction was salving that wound.
Class challenges you in ways the professional world might not. Class is about finding out how much you have of everything. The professional world just expects it to be there. How can you offer the world something you don’t know you have? Hope? Pray the director pulls it out of you? I’m not saying the only way to know what it would be like to be tied up is by tying yourself up, but it’s sure better than trying it out for the first time in the audition, or worse, getting the job and realizing you have nothing left for take 2.