‘Ignore this man’

One of the often-quoted descriptions of the outcomes of training in Meisner technique is to be able to ‘live truthfully in imaginary circumstances’.
Whilst this is and should be quite simple, Sanford Meisner used to say that it takes twenty years to become an actor.
In my experience, this can be a rewarding but challenging path.
As well as our own, internal challenges, we can encounter the gravitational pull, particularly from seasoned practitioners or stock companies, toward fitting ourself into a general status-quo of what it is to ‘act’, as well as what it is to be an ‘actor’.
This was my experience of my early engagement with the business of acting and, as a young man with not yet real faith in what I was doing (despite having been raised in the theatre), I was prone to doubt the value of my uniqueness, the truth of who I was, what I was doing and why I was doing it and, instead, I tried ever so effortfully to pretend to be and do something else – to fulfil other people’s idea of an ‘actor’. In so doing, it was inevitable that the work would not have depth and that I would find it hollow, without meaning, and find it a relief to retreat from for the twenty years in which I did exactly that.

When I retrained in Meisner technique under Simon Furness, I learned that there is nothing to fear when we remain mindful and honest of the truth of ourselves, and of our shared, common connection and humanity and we train with good teachers to develop our actor’s faith.
In the end, that is it for me: to keep training, to do the work as it applies in the job and to be of service passing-on anything I can of what I have learned to others. To trust that is all we need to do, all we can do, knowing that the rest needn’t be our concern.

With a wonderful group of actors in St Leonards on Sea in East Sussex, England I have since December 2014 been teaching the foundations of Meisner-based acting technique that will, as they continue, eventually become their own unique approach to be able to truly ‘live truthfully in imaginary circumstances’. And they are also learning considerable amount about themselves in the process and about that which is universal in us all.

It is deeply satisfying work that requires me to approach each person, each group, each class and each course as unique, without expectations or presumptions about who they are, how they will be and how it will go. And, if ever my faith in my craft wanes,  if I find myself becoming sloppy and generalised in my approach, I never fail to be re-inspired and encouraged by my students and their unique, exciting journeys as they discover their true voices, going deeper into their unique expression in the world.

“At the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre, Sanford Meisner said, ‘When you go into the professional world, at a stock theatre somewhere, backstage, you will meet an older actor, someone who has been around awhile. He will tell you tales and anecdotes, about life in the theatre. He will speak to you about your performance and the performances of others, and he will generalize to you, based on his experience and his intuitions, about the laws of the stage. Ignore this man!’”
David Mamet

Walking the wire

I wish the stage were as narrow as the wire of tightrope dancer, so that no incompetent would dare step upon it.

I first came across this quote, reportedly one of Sanford Meisner’s favourites, via Simon Furness whilst training with him, some four years ago. It burned itself into me and has come to mean many different things to me at different times. Today, its meaning is something like: the dedication to this path, to the best of my ability, to wherever that leads and to those who might share it with me for a while.
Funnily enough, I have trained in tightwire in the past and even given a little performance or two on it and am reminded of another of Simon’s many pieces of wise guidance shared: ‘a miss is as good as a mile’. I think that, finally, only we can know for ourselves if we are placing each step on the path truthfully and with our fullest possible commitment. And, as some of the reflections on this subject describe, there is no ‘sort of’ staying on ‘the wire’.
To keep facing the truth of life, through the fear. I feel that is something of my task. And this lifetime is not long enough to repay the debt of gratitude I owe the good teachers, friends, family, colleagues, and my tribe with out whose help I would not have had a hope in hell of staying on the straight & narrow.

walking the wire