April 30th, 2009 at 05:18pm brian
I’m Boris Wilke and member of the Prague Playhouse Meisner acting group. I blog about our class activities.
On Wednesday, April 29th, the most striking issue, we had to deal with, was connecting to our respective partner(s). This article is about why connection is our mantra, what juggling has to do with the Meisner technique and how hard it is to stay connected, when more “Meisner-balls” are added to the exercise.
Click on the “ACTING CLASS” button above to read more about the class itself and where we meet!
Click the “(more…)”-button below to read about last night’s class!
Last night (Wednesday, April 29th), we were taught by Brian. And the emphasis of our exercises lay on connection. One of the most fundamental differences between the Meisner technique and other, more traditional ways of acting, is this: You need to be connected to your partner.
In a “normal” play or film, each member of the cast knows their lines. One delivers them at the right time in the right tempo and position on the set or stage. But it is of almost no importance, how your partner says his or her lines. If they mess up, that’s their problem. You might want to gloss it over some. But the main goal is to just get on with your lines.
Meisner hated this kind of behavior, because it lacked truthfulness. In real life we don’t talk to the person facing us without checking, if they got our message and how they took it. We change, what we have to say, according to how they react to us.
That is exactly, what Meisner demanded of his students as well – that is, what both Brian and Ben are telling us all the time: “Don’t do anything, unless your partner makes you do it!”
It’s Meisner’s mantra, really.
What can happen in class because of this mantra – and it happened to me yesterday – is this painful experience of humiliation…
I was bursting to deliver my lines – Paul and I are “doing” a scene from the Pinter play “Betrayal” at the moment – and Brian gets cross with me and tells me to forget the scene and just “repeat, repeat, repeat!“
Because of the fact, that I wanted to get into the scene so badly, I failed to connect with Paul, who in turn failed to make me snap out of my scene-spleen. I was in my head. At least there was some sheet of cerebralness, that put itself like a veil over the truth of the moment.
You might know this from normal life. You are chatting on your computer, while somebody is talking to you on the phone. Suddenly they yell at you: “What’s wrong with you?! You seem totally distracted. You are not paying attention to what I’m saying at all! Jerk!” For the same reason, it is prohibited by law to drive with a mobile phone clutched to your ear. If you do two things at the same time, you are bound to lose your full attention to either of them. Women, you might tell me differently: But having to think about Pinter’s play while trying to connect with a bloke, who is threading beads on a string to make earrings, is nearly impossible, even for you!
Now comes in the metaphor of the juggler. If you repeat, which is the basic Meisner technique, you need to pay attention to your partner and how they make you feel. That’s two balls. Add a “door“: You need something, badly, from your partner. That occupies you, while you repeat: Another ball. Add an “activity“: You need to get something done, really fast and urgently: Another ball. Add a scene: You need to follow certain lines: Another ball.
That’s five balls.
Try to juggle with five balls! It’s really hard. How can you achieve it? Only by practicing and practicing and practicing, until one day, you actually forget about the balls and juggle them without having to think about it.
This can mean, that you have to go back to juggling three or four balls. Or, in the case of our scene, that you forget about it and pay attention to repeating, until some lines pop into your head and get flung out without your paying attention to it. That would be, as if you are juggling with four balls. And from time to time someone throws you a fifth ball, that you juggle for a short moment until you drop it and continue to juggle with four again.
The lessons to learn from this are manyfold:
Work step by step! Don’t juggle with too many balls too quickly! If you overload your system with stuff you struggle to achieve, you will drop more than just one ball and mess up everything. Be humble enough to resort to the basics: Repetition! If a strong connection builds, you might try another ball for a moment. Then again, you might not.
Be prepared for rough going! If you add a ball, you might drop it. That’s the name of the game. You need to try to add balls, though. Otherwise you won’t progress. But don’t overdo it! Don’t get frustrated, when a ball drops! Just try again and play with it. Go back and fourth! Give yourself room to expand but also to resort to well-known areas! Be fluid!
And last, but not least: “Von nichts kommt nichts!”, we Huns say, meaning: “Nothing comes from nothing!” If you don’t invest in the technique, you will not earn anything from it. Half-assed preparation will result in half-assed rehearsals, or worse still: half-assed exercises in class, resulting in humiliation or frustration – or both.
Try to see the goal less in the result but in the process, though. As long as you make the next step, you’re moving forward, no matter how slow.
And as Schwarzenegger always said when he took another round of steroids: “No pain, no gain!”
Try to say dat vissss an Austrian eccent and laugh about it, before you wreck your mind again, trying to come up with another one of those endless doors and activities. Look at it from the bright side! There you go!
That’s the right attitude!
Our acting class consists of some ten active members, who meet every Monday and Wednesday from 6.30 pm to about 8.30. We do Meisner. And the Meisner-technique really rocks!
If you want to connect with your inmost feelings, expressing them freely in an acting environment and thus getting to know yourself better and better, feel free to join us!
About the author:
I am Boris Wilke, a German expat in Prague. I am a writer at large and have been studying Meisner since January 2008. If any of you know of any kind of acting work, that befits a laddish, tall 40-year-old, please leave a note!