Sunday, January 26, 2014

Meisner Level One.

I'm three weeks in to Meisner level one. I've found it remarkable difficult to access as an acting discipline. It's an intuitive technique. Body awareness is a part of it. I've practiced that many times as part of my spiritual practice and yoga. Being open to perceiving the emotional state and energy of your scene partner is another part that I have experience with both in my artistic and spiritual practices.
And there the familiarity ends. Much of this technique goes against all of the instincts and defenses I have honed over the years in all aspects of life.

Meisner technique helps you work on being transparent in your emotions, and allowing your scene partner perceive everything you feel since the expression of your emotions will cause them to feel things that they will express and allow you to perceive and feel and express and so on. Dropping the veneer allows a dialogue to take an emotional journey between the working actors completely independent of the words being said. Both actors need to allow each other to see their honest emotions for it to be effective. Trust is essential. That level of transparency and openness of emotion is a real challenge for me.

Most people maintain a control over our emotions all the time. That's part of how we keep societies running. So like most other people I've learned to find ways to work with people I don't like, and create a level of impulse control so I can be around other people. But also, I grew up in a home, at least in my pre-teen and teen years, where the adults did not want to see or hear my “negative” emotions. If I showed anger for example, in action, word or even facial expression, I would be punished. If I was anything other than happy I was expected to keep it to myself, unless told to do otherwise. Finally, I lived much of my life in communities where I was the only Black student in my class, or Black child in my neighborhood. While every day was not a violent confrontation of racial oppression with hooded Klan members. It seemed almost daily that I was confronted with stereotypes about Black people. Most often people looked at me and could only think of some Black person they saw on TV. I was told I reminded people of everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Malcolm Jamal Warner, sometimes in the same day.

In some ways I feel I had no choice but to become an actor. Since I felt so many people were unable to see just me. I decided to control what they would see. I would show them what I wanted them to see. And in studying Stanislavsky I practiced my skill at doing that on stage and off. Intentionally choosing to draw on sense memory to portray genuine emotion appeals to me. It represents control, self discipline and feels powerful. It also feels secure. I was a zealot of church of “Leave your emotional baggage at the door”. Now, Years later, enter Meisner. The Church of “Bring that baggage in open it up for all to see”. It's difficult to open that bag for my scene partner. Not knowing what they want to see, and resisting the impulse to fall back on my habits of putting up an intentional emotional tapestry to look at, while keeping the deeper feelings hidden is frightening. When my scene partner looks at my face and describes to me that they see exactly what I'm feeling I feel a torrent of emotions spurred on by my defenses and desire to block them back out that is almost overwhelming.

It is also beginning to become very rewarding. There is a new intensity emerging in my craft that was never there before.