History of the Meisner Technique

sanford-meisner

At Green Shirt Studio, we specialize in teaching the Meisner Technique, a specific form of acting training first developed by Sanford Meisner in the 1940s.

But where did his method really come from?

Meisner was born in 1905 in Brooklyn, the son of Jewish Hungarian immigrants. When he was a boy, his family took a vacation to the Catskills, where his younger brother drank unpasteurized milk and died – a tragedy that Meisner never recovered from.

After high school, Meisner began pursuing a career in acting, and he received a scholarship to study at the Theatre Guild of Acting, under the direction of Lee Strasberg.

Strasberg’s approach was to encourage actors to feel and experience the same emotions as the characters they portray so they can use their own personal experiences to fuel their emotional response to the work.

Today, Strasberg’s technique is referred to as “method acting.” We’ve all heard the stories of actors who have gone to extremes to try to get into the shoes of their characters, such as Daniel Day Lewis only eating what he could hunt and kill himself in the months leading up to filming the Last of the Mohicans, or Hillary Swank living as a man for several weeks before shooting Boys Don’t Cry.

In 1931, Meisner, Strasberg and two other members of the Theatre Guild, Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford, formed their own theater collective, called the Group Theatre. However, it wasn’t long after that that Meisner began to take issue with Strasberg’s teaching method, which encouraged students to recall intense emotional experiences from their past as a way of accessing emotions.

Instead of reliving past experiences, Meisner believed the actor’s job was to live “truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” He believed that actors need to learn how to respond authentically to what is happening in the moment, to make their performances more real and lifelike.

When the Group Theatre disbanded in 1940, Meisner became head of the acting program at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, where he began to develop his unique series of exercises that are today known at the Meisner Technique.

To encourage an authentic emotional response and to get actors to be fully present in the moment, Meisner developed an exercise called repetition, where one actor makes an observation about another actor, and the other person repeats the phrase back to them, repeating the process over and over as the emotions and behaviors change among the actors.

One of Meisner’s philosophies was that actors don’t need to learn how to be someone else. They simply need to learn how to be more honest and authentically themselves by allowing themselves to be affected by what else is happening on stage. As he put it: “To be an interesting actor – hell, to be an interesting human being – you must be authentic and for you to be authentic you must embrace who you really are, warts and all. Do you have any idea how liberating it is to not care what people think about you? Well, that’s what we’re here to do.”

Meisner continued to teach at the Neighborhood Playhouse until 1958, when he moved to Los Angeles to become the Talent Director at Twentieth Century Fox. However, he returned to the Playhouse in 1964, becoming head of the drama department until 1990. In addition, he and his partner, James Carville, opened the Meisner/Carville School of Acting in the Caribbean and Los Angeles in 1985, and later opened a third acting school, The Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts, in 1995, before he passed away in 1997.

Through all of these endeavors, Meisner influenced hundreds of actors over the years, including Christoph Waltz, Diane Keaton, James Gandolfini, Sydney Pollack, Robert Duvall, Mary Steenburgen, Tom Cruise and more.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Meisner Technique, our next Level 1 classes start Jan. 8 or Jan. 13!

5 Ways Actors Get in Their Own Way During Auditions

Auditioning

Auditions shouldn’t be stressful. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. All you have to do is be reasonably prepared with your material and come into the room calm and confident enough to let your real self shine through.

Unfortunately, far too often, very good actors don’t get parts that they should because they find ways to sabotage themselves during the audition process. Here are a few of the biggest ways that actors get in their own way during auditions.

  1. Psyching themselves out/putting too much pressure on themselves
    It always seems like the more you want something, the worse you will do in the room, or at least that’s how it seems with me when I audition. Sure, a lot is riding on it, perhaps (but perhaps not), and, on the other hand, what do you have to lose? The more you can reframe the audition process and think of it this way — here is something I made for you, here is what I can do, take it or leave it — the better off you will be. This goes along with No. 2 (preparation) below, but if you are prepared and think of the audition as an opportunity to perform, rather than a situation where you’re just going to be judged, things will be a lot easier for you. And there will always be another audition opportunity that comes your way. This is not “it” for you — I promise! And if you think this is “it” for you, contact me for a pep talk — I will give it to you!
  2. Not preparing enough beforehand
    It’s really best for an actor to prepare well in advance of an audition and to know how to work efficiently. If you don’t know the right way to work, it’s probably time to get some good acting training under your belt and to work with an acting coach (or at least an actor friend you trust to give you good, constructive and non-judgmental advice). The short answer is that you need to work to find a deep personal connection to the material and understand very well the given circumstances of the scene or monologue that you are preparing. And if you are only given the scene the one to two days before the audition, or the night before, or merely hours or minutes ahead of time, you need to be able to work efficiently under these time constraints.If you are in charge of putting together a monologue package for yourself, do not wait until a few days before your audition to start working on a new monologue. Give yourself plenty of time, which will reduce the pressure on yourself the day of.
  1. Over-rehearsing the day of auditions
    But wait, you just said in No. 2 to be prepared! Exactly, but I find that over-rehearsing too much on the day of your audition can get you into your head on the day of the audition, and the best place for you to be in order to nail an audition is prepared, relaxed, and ready to play. Getting yourself too into your head on the day of an audition will keep your focus inward instead of outward, which is where we want you to be. We want you refreshed, relaxed, and the best version of yourself on the day of an audition, which is why I recommend getting as prepared you can be in the days leading up to the audition, and the day of the audition maybe do a quick refresher, but put the focus on relaxing, warming up, and give yourself plenty of time to get to the audition so you are not rushed. Also, do something fun ahead of time that gets you into the head space that you need to be in order to really feel ready. For instance, if the character that you are playing is a bartender, maybe you can wander in to have a cup of tea (not a cocktail) at a dive bar a few hours before the audition and observe the atmosphere.
  2. Not warming up/relaxing ahead of time
    A lot of actors shoot themselves in the foot by not warming up before an audition. What does “warming up” mean? It can mean a lot of things, but mainly involves doing some vocal and/or physical exercises to make sure that your body and voice are warm, and not cold. Your audition performance should not be the first thing you do with your body and voice that day, so do whatever you think will be helpful to you in order to really feel ready, whatever that means to you. I highly recommend some breathing exercises (a good one is to lay on the ground and just breathe for 10 to 15 minutes), humming to warm up your voice, or a few easy vocal exercises that you feel comfortable doing without strain, and something physical, such as stretching, jogging, or yoga sun salutations (the perfect warm-up to marry the breath with the body). When you get to the audition location, arrive early so you can do some deep breathing ahead of time and/or some stretching so that you can release any unwanted tension prior to walking in the room.
  3. Punishing themselves afterwards
    All of us have been guilty of punishing ourselves if the audition didn’t go well, or, if you’re like me, even if it did go well. Let’s not do that to ourselves! This is why I recommend that you do something nice for yourself after every audition—it can be something big like taking yourself out to dinner or a movie after the audition, or something small like getting yourself a small size your favorite latte afterwards. Maybe it’s time to go back to that dive bar and finally have that cocktail! Whatever it is, make it something fun, and along the way encourage yourself to let go of any judgmental thoughts about “how it went,” because it’s over now. Time to let it go, give it up to the universe, and live in the moment.

Happy auditioning!

Sommer Austin Directs New Version of ‘Hellcab’

Hellcab cast

Sommer Austin is not a mechanic, but she’s learned an awful lot about cars recently.

Austin, co-founder of Green Shirt Studio, is currently directing a production of Hellcab for The Agency Theater Collective, which will be running from Nov. 17 through Dec. 17 at the Den Theatre.

The play follows the story of a Chicago cab driver who has a really bad day a couple of days before Christmas, and in order to direct it, Austin had to learn everything she could about what life is like for cab drivers, how cars sound, and most importantly, how to disassemble an actual cab and reassemble it in a theater — which happens to be on the second floor.

“Scenically, it’s a challenge,” Austin says.

Hellcab was originally written in 1992 by Will Kern, and this popular play has been performed by several local theaters over the last 25 years, including the last four years at Profiles Theatre. The play was even made into a low-budget movie starring John Cusack, Gillian Anderson, John C. Reilly, Laurie Metcalf and others in 1997.

After Profiles closed in June of 2016, Kern asked Dexter Bullard of Steppenwolf Theatre which Chicago company should be producing Hellcab, and Bullard recommended The Agency Theater.

At first, Austin, who typically focuses on staging new works or rarely produced Chicago plays, was hesitant about directing a play that was so familiar to audiences. Though she was a fan of the play, she wanted to find a way to make the story fresh and in the zeitgeist.

“I asked if we could have a different cab driver, possibly a woman, and Will [Kern] was down with it,” Austin says. “The play is a period piece set in 1992, but in the wake of all that has happened in the past two years in Chicago and the United States, I think it’s important for this story to be told in a different way, while maintaining the time period in which it was written.”

Kern re-wrote the script to feature a female cab driver, and Austin says having the cab driver played by a woman makes you think about just how vulnerable women are when they are alone in the city. “Putting a female in the role of the cab drivers really changes it,” she says.

Kern requested that the role of the cab driver be played by veteran actor Rusty Schwimmer, a well-known character actor who has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows including Gray’s Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, Louie, Days of Our Lives and more. And Austin says working with Rusty has been amazing. “It’s very special for me to be working on Will’s script with an actor of Rusty’s caliber, and she also happens to be a friend of Will’s, so the play is quite personal to her.”

Austin’s directing team is also made up of all women and includes two assistant directors, Alex Molnar and Cordie Nelson, as well as a female fight/intimacy director, Jamie Macpherson. “Having a female cab driver for the first time in conjunction with an all-female directing team shines a different light on the text that really makes this play feel like a new work while maintaining the integrity of the text that Chicago audiences know so well,” she says.

Despite the change of the lead character, Kern still wanted the play to still be set in 1992 — back before there were Ubers or Lyfts or cell phones. And Austin says it’s remarkable how many themes from the play are just as true now as they were 25 years ago.

“It tackles segregation in the city, the loneliness of the city, racism… It addresses how we can be so close together yet be so disconnected,” she says. “It’s just interesting to see how relevant it is 25 years later.”

Austin says there has been a lot of serendipity in the production so far. First, Austin was able to get the door that was used in the original production of the play when a company member stumbled across it in a Facebook post. And the cab that Austin will be using on stage is the same one from the 1997 movie.

“A week after I started looking, the cab was on Facebook marketplace,” she says.

And if that wasn’t enough, Austin is currently teaching two students at DePaul University whose parents were both involved in productions of Hellcab, too. Says Austin, “I am really aware of the community in the theatre scene in Chicago, doing this production.”

As a director, Austin says one of the biggest hurdles of producing Hellcab has been choreographing everything that happens in the cab — matching the sounds of acceleration and breaking to the action, timing the stoplights, choreographing the actors’ movements as the car makes turns. “Creating that illusion of motion well is an interesting challenge,” she says.

And because there is no roof or windshield on the cab, there is no rearview mirror, so the actor playing the cab driver can never see her scene partners at all.

Despite the technical challenges, Austin says the rehearsal process so far has been amazing. The cast is made up of 16 actors and six understudies, 15 of which are all current of former Green Shirt Studio students, and her two assistant directors are also current or former students

Austin says as a director, she likes to be as hands off as possible so the actors are free to discover their own characters. “With actors as wonderful as in this cast, I feel like my role is as a director is learning how to get out of their way. I’m not a person who likes to block things and say, ‘You need to be doing this here,’” she says.

At the beginning of the rehearsal process, Austin will tell the actors not to act at all, but just to talk as themselves. And sometimes she’ll ask probing questions of the actors and have them answer them in the first person as their character to get them to better understand their character’s motivations. “I also encourage them for a really long time to just play and not set anything,” she says.

Austin says she’s excited that the cast has really bonded well together and has a great chemistry.

“It’s got a lot of fast-paced, high-energy [scenes], so they’re really having a lot of fun together,” Austin says. “Direction is 90 percent casting, so getting the right people in the room is No. 1 for me.”

See Hellcab at the Den Theatre from Nov. 17 through Dec. 17. Tickets are pay what you can.

Teacher Profile: Azar Kazemi

Azar Kazemi

Green Shirt Studio is excited to add a new instructor to our roster: Azar Kazemi, a local director and acting teacher at DePaul University and Roosevelt University.

A native of Idaho, Kazemi studied theater arts at the University of Idaho and then moved to New York City, where she assistant directed three Off-Broadway productions, two under the direction of actor Ethan Hawke.

Now, at only 33 years old, Kazemi has made a quite a name for herself in the local theater community. She is the co-founder and artistic director of her own theater company, The Blind Owl, a socially-charged theater that celebrates stories where the political and personal collide. And she recently the U.S. premier of Debbie Tucker Green’s dirty butterfly at the Halcyon Theatre, which received four stars in Time Out Chicago. Some of Kazemi’s other Chicago directing credits include the Midwest premier of of Jack’s Precious Moment by Samuel D. Hunter, Crave by Sarah Kane, and The Coming World by Christopher Shinn.

We recently caught up with Kazemi to ask her about how she fell in love with acting, what it was like working with Ethan Hawke and what she loves about teaching acting.

Q: How did you first become interested in theater?

A: I saw a production of Top Girls by Caryl Churchill when I was 11 and fell in love with the theater. My best friend’s dad had directed the production and her mom had done the scenic design. Twenty years later, in 2015, I went with them to London and I got to see one of Caryl Churchill’s plays at the National Theatre. Caryl was at the performance and I got to meet her! It was pure magic.

Q: What made you want to be a director?

A: I had done acting first but my senior year of high school I directed a scene from Romeo and Juliet and realized I had way more passion for directing than I ever had for acting. From that point on, all I wanted was to be a theater director.

Q: You got a Bachelors in Theatre Arts at the University of Idaho in 2006. Then you moved to New York City. What was your experience like there?

A: My experience in New York City was so incredible. I felt I had always belonged in New York and had no problem adjusting. I got a job the first day at a restaurant and lived in Morningside Heights, a neighborhood that is part of Harlem. I had an internship at a theater company called The New Group as a literary intern, but helped wherever I could to learn as much as I could about running a company. I assistant directed three Off-Broadway shows and then got into the MFA program at DePaul, which brought me to Chicago.

Q: You did two plays with Ethan Hawke. What was it like to work with him?

A: Ethan was quite wonderful. He is so full of passion for all things theater and art. His energy was infectious for anyone working on a project with him. He is very goofy and would be the best audience member for the actors in rehearsal. I was so lucky to get to work with him twice as his assistant director. We had a great working relationship because he let me be a big part of the process and valued my insights. It was a crazy part of my life where I kept pinching myself because of the rooms I was in. I am so grateful for those experiences and how they helped shape the director I am today.

Q: Now you are living and working in Chicago. How is the theater scene different here than in New York?

A: It is so different here! In Chicago you know everyone and the storefront scene is so exciting! I hardly see shows at the big houses. Instead, I love supporting smaller companies doing incredibly risky work. I love that I can walk outside my front door and be within walking distance of so many shows. That is definitely different from the scene in New York where I feel a lot of the focus in mainly on Broadway and a small handful of Off-Broadway theaters.

Q: How would you describe your philosophy as a director?

A: I direct plays where the political and personal collide. Small casts, dark, gritty, emotionally raw plays are what I LOVE. I am lucky enough to have a small company in town, The Blind Owl, where I have produced and directed shows here in Chicago. I tend to produce work by and for artists of color and playwrights whose works aren’t produced enough. I consider myself an actors’ director and tend towards a minimalist design approach. I focus on language and movement in rehearsals in order to discover the emotional truth within the storytelling. My directing philosophy is that process is more important than the product and through rigorous rehearsals we will inevitably have a great product.

Q: In addition to directing, you also teach acting at DePaul, Roosevelt and Green Shirt Studio. What do you like about being a teacher? 

A: Teaching is in my blood I think. My father has been teaching for over 40 years. Teaching acting reminds me of being in rehearsal, and that is my favorite place to be. Helping actors discover the story, their characters, and the relationships is thrilling! You would think it would get boring, but it never does. Each person you work with is different, and each play gives a new set of challenges, so you have an endless variety. Even working on the same scenes with new actors is exciting because I find out new things I didn’t see before. I feel extremely lucky to get to work on bringing the human experience to life on stage, especially in the classroom.

Q: What are you like as a teacher?

A: I care deeply for my students and have a very personable approach to teaching. I believe that actors are willing to open up more when they feel safe. So when my students trust me and know I’m rooting for them, then I feel the hard work can begin. Although I am very warm as a teacher, I still expect my students to be focused and show up prepared. I encourage actors to take big risks and to not be afraid to fail. In my classes you can expect I’ll always be honest and if you’re willing to put in the work, you will leave a better actor than when you arrived.

Q: You recently taught a Sam Shepard scene study class at Green Shirt Studio. What did you enjoy about that?

A: I loved teaching the Sam Shepard scene study this summer! It was bittersweet that Sam passed away during those eight weeks of classes, and it really shook up our whole class. We focused so heavily on Shepard’s language and finding the explosive nature of so many of his plays. The actors were all given a scene and monologue from different Shepard plays. Throughout the eight weeks, we worked on rehearsing and discovering the world of all things Sam Shepard. Having worked on Shepard more than any other playwright over the years, I feel very close to the work. By the end of the class the actors had a showcase of their scenes and monologues and it was truly exciting to see the progress in only eight short weeks! I hope to be back at Green Shirt soon for another class; it was so much fun.

The Actor’s Paradox

knock on the door

You’re reading a book when there is a knock on the door. You get up and walk to see who it is. You turn the deadbolt and put your hand on the doorknob. You open the door. On the other side, standing across the threshold, is your long lost brother. You have not seen him in years. You both stand there for a moment, looking at each other. He opens his arms to give you a hug. You hesitate before opening your arms to hug him back. You embrace. It has been ten years since you’ve seen each other and seeing his face is such a surprise.

Except, no it isn’t. Not really. It is just a scene in a play and you are only acting. You saw each other last night. And the night before and the night before that. Last weekend it happened, too. You rehearsed this moment every day in the three or four weeks before you opened the show. The last thing this moment is is a surprise. And yet it must be. It must be as if you have never gone through it before. This is the actor’s paradox.

Actors have a uniquely difficult challenge among artists. For our work to be good, we must possess the ability to both know and not know simultaneously. We have to live in this paradox, this human quantum state. There really isn’t another art form with such a requirement. It is unique to what we do.

Most of us just fake it. We pretend. We look at our friend, that actor playing our brother and we just put on the physical trappings of surprise. We open our mouth in pretend shock. We let out an audible gasp, just enough for the audience to hear it, because we want to show the audience how surprised we are. We need them to get it. For the story to be told, we telegraph the cliche of shock to the audience. We try to trick them away from seeing it isn’t really happening.

The trouble is, if you’re anything like me, fakery and trickery makes me immediately self-conscious. When I give in to pretending, it’s as if a giant blinking sign instantly manifests in front of my eyes, a sign that says in penetrating neon letters, “YOU LIAR!” My face gets hot and I fall into myself, ashamed and alone in my glaring dishonesty. I have let the audience down. I know that I have failed. And my work suffers. For the rest of the scene, I’m in my head thinking, “Did the audience just see me lying to them? Do they know?”

And the truth is, yes! The audience knows when we lie to them. Maybe not consciously, but, on some level, they always know! When actors fake it, even when they fake it well, the audience goes to sleep metaphorically and often literally. Sadder still, most audiences have grown accustomed to dishonesty and trickery. They’ll still clap and maybe even give a standing ovation at the end of untruthful performances. Out of politeness, they will settle for our lies. But they will leave with an aching suspicion that there could have been more in what they just watched, that there was something missing. And they are right.

We all know when we see truly great acting because it becomes invisible. Instead of a performance, we only see true life engendered before us. There is no pretending, there is only life itself. There is a knock on the door, it opens and the great actor actually is surprised.

But how? Why can some actors both know what is about to happen and not know simultaneously? Because some have learned, deep in their bones, that no moment will ever occur twice. No knock will ever really be the same as any other knock, no matter how many times it gets rehearsed. No matter how long you live, you will never repeat a single second of your life, onstage or off. Not really. The great actor accepts this truth and trains their attention on the specific miracle of each fleeting moment with such dexterity that they can not only see it unfold, but be fully in response to what is unfolding. They give up the futile, intellectual attempt to control and give over to the miracle of the temporary and all its potential.

This takes training and a process, but it is possible. Not only is it possible, it is necessary. Because in the presence of truly great acting, we can remember that nothing is pre-ordained, that we can each change the world, that we are alive. Great acting reminds us that this moment is the only one we will ever truly have.

Is an MFA Acting Program Right For You?

Auditioning

If you’ve been taking acting classes for a while and have started to get cast in plays, you may start to wonder what’s next. If you are serious about wanting to become a professional actor, what is the best way of honing your craft?

One path that many professional actors take is to earn their MFA in acting. Typically, MFA acting programs last one to three years and feature a daily regimen of acting, voice, and movement classes, as well as the chance to be in multiple productions a year.

Many say that MFA acting programs are great because they are intense boot camps where you have the ability to focus entirely on your art without having to work a day job while auditioning at night. Plus, being in a program with others who are serious about acting and directing can be a great networking opportunity later on.

Others say MFA acting programs cost a lot of money without guaranteeing that you’ll end up making it.

Sommer Austin, co-founder of Green Shirt Studio, received her MFA in acting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she says the experience was invaluable.

“As an MFA actor, I was required to play big parts in plays as a fulfillment of my training, and that was so great for my acting, because in my undergrad years I hadn’t been cast regularly in mainstage plays in large roles. I also got to see people (my teachers) who were making a living in the arts,” she says. “MFA training opened up a whole new world for me in what was possible as an academic and as an artist, and I am very grateful because that experience is a large part of what has led me here.”

Austin says the biggest benefit of earning your MFA is that it gives you the ability to become an acting teacher, which can help pay the bills while you continue to work as an actor.

“If you have a terminal degree (MFA or PhD), you are qualified to teach at a college or university, which can be a great way for an artist to earn a living while they are trying to do their art which may not yield much financial gain,” she says.

So how do you know if applying to an MFA acting program is right for you? Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:

  1. Does getting an MFA help you get roles?
    While getting a graduate degree in acting doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a Tony or an Oscar, it can give you a solid foundation that will give you a leg up against the competition when you are auditioning.

    Austin says when she is auditioning people, she can always tell those who have an MFA in acting vs. those who don’t. “When I am directing a show and sitting in the audition room watching auditions, I can tell when a person who has training walks into the room,” she says. “The kind of long-term commitment and work that an MFA program demands really changes an actor.”

  1. What do you have to do to apply to an MFA program?
    Although each school has its own process, most usually require an application, then an audition and an interview and perhaps a chance to see you in a classroom setting. Austin says there is a unified audition process for the University of Resident Theatre Association, known as the URTAs. “They hold a massive audition which all of the URTA schools send reps to, and those take place once a year in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. So it’s possible to hit up a bunch of school auditions in one place that way,” Austin says. “The schools that are not URTA schools are often at the same location, but you will have to schedule a separate audition (and also a separate application fee) to be seen by them.”
  1. How much does an MFA program cost?
    You should estimate that you’ll spend about $38,000 a year, according to the Hollywood Reporter, or about $114,000 for most three-year programs. And that’s just on tuition. Don’t forget the money you’ll have to spend on housing, food, books, etc. However, just like with an undergraduate degree, you can apply for financial aid and also take out federal loans to go to school, as well. Plus, many schools offer a wide range of scholarships, and often you can work as a graduate teaching assistant or project assistant to offset your tuition. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a tuition waiver in exchange for a graduate teaching assistantship, plus a scholarship, to MFA students, making it essentially free to attend. Check with each school that you are interested in to find out what scholarship opportunities they have available.
  2. How hard are programs to get into?
    Most of the top MFA programs in the country only accept a handful of students each year. For example, DePaul University’s Theater School only accepts 14 students a year, USC School of Dramatic Arts accepts about eight, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison only takes 12 students every three years. So competition is fierce.
  3. Can you do it if you did not major in acting in undergrad?
    Yes! “The great thing about most MFA programs is that it doesn’t matter what you majored in in undergrad, because they base their criteria on your audition, an interview process, and your acting credentials,” Austin says. “So if you’ve been an actor but have a degree in biology, it doesn’t matter.”
  4. What are the best schools to apply to?
    This is a very difficult question to answer and one that is personal to each person. Before deciding, ask yourself some questions: Do you want a program that emphasizes acting for the screen, or are you more interested in acting for the stage? Do you want to move to L.A. or New York, or are you more comfortable in a smaller city? Are you all about classical plays and Shakespeare or more excited about experimental theater? Think about what’s most important to you and then find a program that fits the bill.

To get you started, here are two lists of some of the best MFA acting programs in the United States and the U.K. from the Hollywood Reporter and Backstage.

5 Famous Quotes To Inspire Actors

Sometimes a good quote is just the thing you need to change your thinking, to crystalize a new point of view or articulate something you yourself don’t have adequate words to express. A good quote can plant a seed of understanding that can blossom into meaning over time. Those who have studied acting at our studio know that in addition to actors and acting teachers, we love to share words from writers, philosophers, politicians, athletes and others. Here are five of our favorite famous quotes and some thoughts on how they apply to the work of actors.

  1. “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott 

    Even on the surface, Alcott’s words have an obvious relevance to actors. As an actor trains, storms are guaranteed. It can be a tumultuous, sometimes terrifying process. To learn how to act is to learn how to let go of the comfort of control and give over to the vulnerability of connecting with other human beings as you attempt to do deeply difficult things. We must learn to find love and joy in the most fearful of tempests. But there is another layer of Alcott’s words that, to me, speaks even more profoundly to an actor’s process and life: without the storm, there is no wind and the ship goes nowhere. The same is true of acting. Our instincts, our secret selves, the parts of us that are messy and unformed, sloppy and dangerous, are the very parts of us that give our work meaning. Learning to tap into these most vulnerable parts of ourselves is what gives our acting power.

  2. “We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” – Lao Tzu 

    One of the most frustrating parts of being an actor is that there is a vast amount of the creative act that is simply out of your control. This is true in acting, painting, writing and any creative work. Moments of true inspiration and genius come on a schedule all their own. The paradox though is that, despite being out of your control, you must do work to create the conditions and space for such moments to occur. For acting, our clay is our process: personalization, script analysis, partner attention, emotional preparation etc. This is the stuff we can get our hands on and obsessively work into some shape. But all that work we do, in the end, must be forgotten about in the moment. Actors have to learn to let go and trust that the work they’ve done is, in performance, in fact, working back on them, engendering authentic, meaningful life.

  3. “How can you think and hit at the same time?” – Yogi BerraThere is nothing worse to watch on film or on stage than an actor intellectualizing their way through a performance. It is also ubiquitous. So many actors refuse to give up control and let their instincts take over. I am not saying that intellect or intelligence are bad traits for an actor to have, just that you have to be able to step out of those processes to take the swing. Intellectualizing almost always leads to self-consciousness, which destroys your work. Thinking is for your preparatory work. It’s for rehearsal. But by the time you set foot on stage or in front of the camera, you better be ready to get out of your head, put your attention on the ball and hit.
  4. “To be nobody but yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings 

    One of the things that is most satisfying as a teacher of acting is watching students break through their socialization, their politeness, their manicured self and discover the courage to express themselves fully. It is an electrifying experience to witness. We are all given various boxes throughout our lives, parameters within which we are supposed to operate. We ask politely, we swallow our feelings, we brush off hurts all in the name of maintaining and protecting the social contract, the status quo. But plays and movies are not about people politely riding the bus. Plays and movies are about those few among us who have the courage step out of their boxes and try to change their lives. An actor cannot play those parts truthfully with integrity unless they, too, understand how to break out of their own constraints and limiting habits into the rich, complicated depths of their own humanity.

  5. “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen 

    This is such a vital human lesson and therefore a lesson for actors and artists. Pain, grief, heartache will come into our lives. Some of it will come from the art, some of it will come from the career, some of it will just come from your life. It is as sure as breathing. So many of us try to fortify against pain and discomfort. When the career takes a downturn, we quit and find something less fulfilling but more stable. When we are offered a role that scares us, that we aren’t sure we can do, we turn it down for a more sure thing. When pain knocks on our door, we compartmentalize or numb out instead of just letting ourselves experience it. But this is a denial of the nature of life and certainly of a creative life. Brokenness is inevitable. We must not let imperfection stand in the way of our attempts to make beautiful things. We must ring the bells, cracked though they may be. Our brokenness is how we’re beautiful.

 

The Benefits of the Accelerated Meisner Program

Green Shirt Studio is excited to announce the launch of its new Accelerated Meisner Program, an intensive, three-day-a-week course that will take actors through the entire Meisner acting program in just 10 weeks.

Designed for actors who wish to deepen their craft in an immersive and comprehensive training experience, this class will teach you how to hone your attention, unlock your imagination, get out of your head and into the moment, tap into your innate courage and more. In addition to working through the Meisner exercises, the class will also include scene studies and monologue work and will culminate in a final scene showing to showcase your work for invited guests.

Curious about how this new program will work and how it might benefit you? We sat down with Green Shirt co-founder Andrew Gallant to ask him more about how the Accelerated Meisner Program works and what you can expect to get out of it.

Q: Why did you decide to offer the Accelerated Meisner Program?
A: We put the Accelerated Meisner Program together in order to give students another way to dive into the work of bettering themselves as actors and people. Not everyone learns the same way. Having a class once a week is all some people can do and that is absolutely great. But we’ve been hearing for a while now from other students who love what we do but want to have a more immersive experience. The Accelerated Program is exactly that.

Q: How will the class work and who will be teaching them?
A: The Accelerated Meisner program will be held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. from Oct. 2 through Dec. 15. I am teaching all of the classes, though we will have some special guests dropping in periodically to lend their expertise. Everyone at the studio is excited as hell for this program, so we will definitely have some of our other instructors coming to check things out and join in the fun.

Q: What are some of the benefits of taking the Accelerated Meisner program as compared to taking one level at a time?
A: With three days a week of class, smaller class sizes and longer class periods, we have created a curriculum and class structure that will foster dynamic growth quickly. There is more time to incorporate physical and vocal work into our sessions and get students out of their own limiting habits. And because I’m seeing you three times a week, I will have a stronger sense of the arc of your growth and a keener awareness of just when and how to push through to new territory in your work. But the most important aspect to all of this has to do with the mindset of students enrolling in the program. There is a level of devotion required to enroll in a program like this. If you are willing to put in this kind of time, to make this kind of investment, you are committed to your artistic development. And I am going to hold you to that commitment.

Q: Meisner can be pretty intense work. Do you think it will be difficult to have that emotional intensity three days a week?
A: Yes, Meisner work is intense. It is also transcendent. And it is joyful. One of the things I love most about this training is that it is deeply, utterly human. Actors get to experience the highest highs and lowest lows of human experience, often within the same two hour play. I say “get to” because I think it’s a privilege and a joy. Actors are Olympians of the human experience, and we need to train like Olympians! Sure, there will be frustration and pain, but there will also be triumph. I am interested in training actors to celebrate as they do the difficult things that need doing. This program is the perfect place to learn how.

Q: What do you love about teaching Meisner and why are you excited to teach this class?
A: I love the Meisner technique because it is a superb tool for training actors to step out of their fear and the ways they’ve been socialized, and to step into the fullness of their experience and the truth of the moments they share with others. It is a transformative experience. The best acting I have ever watched has happened in the classroom. There is nothing I love more than watching students let go and find the kind of expression and freedom they didn’t know themselves capable of. This work is full of those moments and I am ecstatic to have the privilege to be there sharing in it.

Sign up for the Accelerated Meisner Program today!

What Playing the Lottery Taught Me About Acting

winning the lottery

Like many millions of other people, I bought a lottery ticket on Monday. With a jackpot north of $700 million, I couldn’t resist. But as I handed over that cash, I felt shame. I felt judged. In my head, I heard the voices of dozens of friends and family yelling at me, “You just threw that money away!” They told me how ridiculous I was being, how insanely long the odds of winning are and to not get my hopes up. They are a familiar chorus. They pop up regularly in my life, these internalized voices, in moments when I find myself beginning to fantasize and daydream. They are the voices of reason. Of the rational. Of control. And they are trying to ruin my acting.

I have spent most of my life wrestling with my mind’s own penchant for spinning itself out of control. It is extremely easy for me to think catastrophically, to turn the smallest discomfort into an inevitable doom. In my head, a failed quiz easily turns into a life of crime and destitution. An unexpected knock on the door quickly escalates into a Jason Bourne-style apartment fight against an imaginary intruder. My mind likes to take what it is given and run away with it. I’m constantly fighting against it because, most of the time, it runs off in some terrible direction so I have to do everything in my power to bring myself back to reality just to calm myself down. There is no one coming to get me. The quiz is just a quiz.

Less often, I will find myself fantasizing about an opportunity that comes my way. When a big audition comes along, a life-changing kind of project, I will find myself drifting away into a fantastical future. I imagine hearing how proud people are of me. I imagine traveling to incredible places to film my scenes. I imagine putting money away in my nephew’s college account. I imagine taking the first vacation in years with Sommer. As it does with terrible scenarios, my mind can spin even a slim chance into a sure thing. And in both instances, when I get caught up, I hear those voices telling me to get ahold of myself, to calm down, to come back to my safe and routine life. The voices, the voices of therapists and friends and family, voices of those who have my best interest in mind, try to restore control.

The world trains us to minimize the possibility in our lives. We get messages to calm down and not get worked up all the time. We learn to keep our heads down and follow the logical, rational path. And there is value in this. It would be a tough world if everyone was constantly in contact with the extreme things that could happen in every moment. It would become impossible to get out of bed if we let the anxiety run rampant. It would be equally impossible to go to work if we followed every pipe dream. So instead we embed the rational, calming voices into our subconscious so they can remind us that things probably won’t change in the ways we fear or long for. We numb ourselves to life’s potential. We tame our imagination.

But we actors cannot. We actors must learn to tap into the depth of our imaginations in order to fulfill the depth of the roles we play. We have to remember that every moment in our life is pure potential, that we can irrevocably alter our lives by following the impulses others would try to forget. We must own the reality that some days we lose ones we love and other days are full of new love. Films and plays are not about the days where you wake up and make breakfast, they are stories about the days where everything changes. Actors must bear witness to the full potential of human experience so that, for a couple of hours at least, we can be together in the magic of the unwritten moment. Together maybe we can remember that incredible things happen to people. Some days, someone somewhere wins the lottery. And some day, it could be us.

6 Ways to Relax Before an Audition

meditation

No matter how many years you’ve been acting, going into an audition is always stressful. You’re worried that you’re going to forget your lines, or screw up in some way, or that they just won’t like you.

But if you want to have a good audition, you can’t let those fears and anxieties get to you. The more relaxed and focused you can be heading into an audition, the more likely you’ll be able to really shine.

Here are a few simple tricks for relaxing before an audition:

  1. Show Up Early
    Rule number one for having a relaxing audition: Arrive early. Getting stuck in traffic is only going to make all of your frayed nerves even more tense. Give yourself plenty of time to figure out where you’re going and find a parking space so you can walk in cool and collected.
  2. Listen to Music
    While you’re in the car or on the L, listen to some relaxing music to get you into that Zen place. Classical music or meditative yoga music are both great for bringing your heart rate down, but if you have other songs that are especially meaningful to you and you like to sing along to, that can work as well. You can even create a special pre-audition playlist of your favorite chill songs that you can listen to every time you have an audition. Another tip is to listen to music that you think will help get you into the head space that your “character” is in, which can also be fun and turn the audition into an adventure into someone else’s headspace instead of something that you’re dreading.
  3. Meditate
    The best thing about meditation is it’s free, easy and you can do it anywhere. And it’s a surefire way to center yourself and calm your nerves before you walk into the audition room. If possible, find a quiet spot to sit by yourself before the audition (sitting in your car in the parking lot is always a great option). Set the timer on your phone for 3, 5, or even 10 minutes and close your eyes and try to focus on your breath, letting all of your thoughts go. If you can’t find a quiet spot, you can even put your headphones in and listen to a guided meditation while you sit in the waiting room. Another type of meditation that can be particularly helpful for auditions is to close your eyes and visualize the audition going extremely well. Visualize all parts of the audition, from you walking into the room with confidence, the faces of the auditors brightening upon your entrance, visualize yourself going through your entire monologue (or audition piece) and see the auditors with you every step of the way. Finally, visualize them being completely moved by you and you walking out of the room with confidence. When you take the time to do this before an audition, it can give you the confidence and relaxation to do your best.
  4. Go for a Walk Outside
    Connecting with nature, even for just a few minutes, is always a great way of clearing your head and relaxing your nerves. Show up to the theater a little early so you can walk around the block and breathe in the air. Put away your phone and try to clear your head as you walk by focusing on the moment. Listen to the birds chirping, look up at the leaves. Do not go over your lines in your head. Just take the time to be.
  5. Take Deep Breaths
    Taking a few deep, cleansing breaths is a great way to relax your mind and body in a snap. Start by taking a long, slow breath through your nose and counting to three. Exhale slowly as you relax the muscles in your head, face, jaw, and shoulders. Repeat this several times until your entire body feels relaxed. Another method is to place your hand on your stomach, with the bottom of your hand on your belly button, and breathe in and out through your nose with the inhales and exhales being the same length. If you are familiar with Nadi Shodhan pranayama (aka Alternate Nostril Breathing), this can be a great way to calm the nervous system and to relieve anxiety. If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out on YouTube here. Anyone can do this exercise whether they are yogis or not!
  6. Stretch
    In auditions, you want your body to be as loose as possible, so it’s important to let go of the tension in your muscles so they don’t interfere with your performance. Loosen up by doing a few quick stretches before you head into the room. You can interlace your fingers and stretch your arms overhead, palms facing upward. Hold the stretch for five full breaths and then drop your arms to the side and roll your head and neck around. Or stand with your feet about hip-width apart and ever-so-slowly fold your torso over your legs, letting your head hang down for five full breaths. You can even shake your head back and forth while you’re folded over to let the tension melt away. This is a spinal roll-down, and to get the full benefits, do this several times in a row, feeling the space created between your vertebrae as you go. If you are familiar with a yoga sequence called the “Sun Salulation” (also known as Surya Namaskara A or B), this can be a great warmup tool for actors because it revitalizes the body and gets the breath flowing. You don’t have to do a lot of Sun Salutations to notice a difference— just a few of them will get you feeling immediately better and ready to rock your audition!