Green Shirt Studio

Dispatches from Level 1: An Acting Student’s Journal

The summer session of classes started this week at the studio. “J” is taking Level 1 with Andrew right now and we’ve asked him to keep a journal of his experience as he progresses through class. Here are his notes on his first impressions. Check back for more notes from “J” as his journey in class continues.

I would say my first impression of the Meisner work is one of intrigue–excitement about the possibilities.

One of the first things Andrew runs in class is called the Mechanical Repetition. In this exercise, you first look away from your partner, and then you snap your attention back to them, saying the first thing you see, your very first impression.

Andrew tells us that this work is a process of waking up. That having one’s attention out in the physical world, with what’s going on in the moment, really listening, right now—that’s when we are engaged (and engaging), fully available to our scene partners, the audience, inspiration.

What’s more, we don’t have to think about how to do something when we are in the moment, in this state of mind, this “zone.” We don’t have to try.

There is a stark difference between trying to do something, and actually doing it. In Meisner class, this difference is called the Reality of Doing. In short, something someone does is either real/true, or it isn’t. This concept is applicable everywhere in life; audiences, and individuals in daily life, are able to tell, instinctively, when someone is trying or disingenuous. The difference is felt, tangible both for the doer and the watcher.

These trying moments most often occur as a result of self-consciousness—focus directed inward, on oneself, which hampers the free flow of activity. Quoting Sanford Meisner, Andrew tells us that actors have two problems: they don’t listen, and when they don’t listen they get self-conscious. In other words, when you stop paying attention, you go into your head by default.

This wandering of attention can happen so fast, and for any little reason; it’s a lifelong discipline to stay in the present, be in the moment. And, when the attention is focused outward, on one’s scene partner, the doing comes naturally, without thinking about it. Actions and reactions flow naturally, a wonderful byproduct of having such outward leaning focus. Right now, the Repetition exercises are giving us a sense of being in the moment—Andrew calls these exercises “scales for the actor,” or “meditation for two.”

There are many deep aspects to this work. Wake up. Look around you. Be present, really listen, be fully available in each moment. If you leave the moment, come back to the moment and deal with that moment, not the one that was missed. Really do things. Don’t try to do them. By focusing on others, by being others-conscious and attentive to the outside world (the opposite of self-consciousness), ironically one’s best self shines through in the work.

What I am most excited about is continuing to do the Repetition, which readily give one a sense of what it feels like to be in the moment, and easily identifiable indicators for when one is not in the moment (the symptoms of self-consciousness). I am also looking forward to the emotional parts of the work, which we are already beginning to see, even in these early stages. And the possibility of marrying both–of being able to be in the moment while also being emotionally alive–it’s very exciting.