Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Country Productions produces March Meisner SLAMBoston, Diverse Voices in Theatre in Boston

Tonight is the first of three nights of BostonSLAMs. These SLAMs are special, because all participants--the directors and the actors--have received some level of Meisner training. And what's so special about that, you might ask? It makes a big difference when all the directors and actors are working from the same page, and it's becoming more of a difference as the number of Meisner actors grows in the Boston fringe theater.

First, imagine working in any kind of group where the participants have all been trained differently, who have been taught different processes, and methodologies. It happens all the time. In business, it's rare to find people who are all working on the same page. We've all experienced this, where people are constantly sniping at each other and no one gets along. It's not that they're bad people. It's just that their values aren't aligned.

But then you come across a business where there is a specific, strong culture, where people all do everything the same way, and suddenly you get a very vibrant organization made up of people all pulling in the same direction toward the same goal.

The same is true in acting. I've been on casts where there were every combination of actor, plus some who weren't trained in anything at all--the remember your lines and don't bump into the furniture types. And sure, you get a production, but it's spotty at best. We've all seen them. One or two of the actors really shines, and then there's another doing something that is just completely out of sync with the rest of the cast. And then the rest are all doing their best to keep up with the others.

But with Meisner, and particularly the Meisner students in Boston, you have one of those groups where everyone is doing the same methodology and pulling toward the same goal. That goal is the connection, and right now I've heard every non-Meisner trained actor groan, and then bellow that's what we all do. Well, yes and no. Everyone goes for the connection, but they all don't go at it the same way, and Meisner actually gives you the tools to go for it.

Most casts are script-based. They memorize their lines, and when the actors work together one of the basic exercises they do is simply run their lines back and forth. That's what you do on stage, right?--you run your lines back and forth in a believable way. And when there are problems on stage, the director will reconvene the cast in the middle of the week for a "pick up", which usually means a speed-through of the script, or simply going over the lines.

With Meisner, of course you still have to know your lines, and yes you do speed throughs and recite your lines back and forth with each other, but you also do extra work establishing the connections, the relationship with the other characters. The exercises you do are meant to break down the social barriers we all have to protect our pure, raw emotions. And the delivery of the lines comes out of that connection. Big difference.

The next three nights of SLAMs are produced by Another Country Productions, headed up by Lyralen Kaye, ACP's artistic director. Full disclosure here: Lyralen is my Meisner teacher, and has been for a few years. I started taking Meisner classes from Lyralen when I felt my own acting was growing stale. I would find myself falling back on all my tried and true "tricks" to grow a character, and I was finding it difficult to prepare for characters in more modern plays.

Another thing I saw--or rather didn't see--was so many of my fellow actors not growing. I'd sit in an audience and say to myself, I saw you do that very same thing five years ago on a different stage. And I didn't want to do that. Meisner has made me a more organic actor, one who lives in that moment on stage.


Kenny Steven Fuentes said...

I caught your performance on Monday. Well done. I have to say that I do personally have an issue with the cult of meisner, as with other cult of teacher personality. When I see Meisner done right, it's breathetaking. When I see it done poorly, it's basically no more impressive than untrained actors but more frustrating and snobby. I appreciated how much you were really paying attention to your scene partners, and how unrehearsed you played, which I think is the whole point. One of the better performances I saw. Great work!

John Greiner-Ferris said...

kenny...oh, yeah, the cult of teacher...for me, meisner is just another tool in the toolbox, but it's a good one...but like all tools, it depends on the who's using the tool...i've worked with some "meisner-trained" actors and it was a horrible experience...

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