Between smiling, laughing and stumbling on words, I am trying to learn an exercise in Meisner technique that Michael Costello is teaching us. Unfortunately I am endowed with excessive wordiness and it appears I have 4-way stops in my brain.
During this month of my Austin’s A Working Group classes, our guest instructor – master teacher is actor, director, writer Michael Costello who has an impressive history of accomplishments in film, TV and theatre. He is teaching his introduction to Meisner technique.
Now I’d heard of Meisner before and was somewhat dubious of it. So, frankly I’m thankful that Michael is planning to quickly guide us through this and attach this principle to practical use. Practical use that we can use in on-camera auditions. All of us in AWG are out there actively auditioning; we need to learn things that help us get the job.
As we stand with a partner in front of the class working through the exercise, Michael is side-coaching. We start by using repetition of sentences while closely observing one another’s phrases and reactions. The exercise is slow and methodical. It demands that we slow down, focus, be specific, analytical, and make note of detail, even the slightest variation. It requires rapt attention, like it or not. For a slightly hyper person, this is not easy. I’m having trouble.
Michael mentioned that the renowned LA Meisner teacher, Bob Krakower is an acting coach for Josh Duhamel. That got my attention. I’ve watched Josh Duhamel’s work often, seeing the zeal with which he acts, the intent and connection he makes with his scene partners, the fluid reactions he gives. I’ve always wondered how he did it, particularly with such immediacy and precision. I want that. I want to be able to do that. I want it to be automatic within me so I can use it in each and every audition and scene that I do, without question or hesitation. I need to absorb it, learn it, make it part of me. Whatever the hell it is takes. It’s the next step.
Obviously every working actor needs to get this down. The realism it creates in on-screen relationships is amazing. There’s an unquestionable visible connection between the two actors. Even though they are using scripted lines, this technique makes it believable. It enables the truth of the story to be conveyed and draws the audience in.
So here I am, trying to succinctly repeat what my partner says and then we are to take it to the next level of adlib. Therein I really begin to veer. There’s that wordiness thing again, and I’m afraid the true me starts coming out. Not that I’m trying to, but I’m getting laughter from the rest of the class. The exercise is not going as planned. Michael asked if I thought I was funny. I wasn’t sure where this was headed, but I had to respond truthfully. I said, “Well, yes, I hope so.” He just looked at me, so I said, “I’m a comedian.” Unlikely I know, but, yes, I am.
The moment had shades of suffering high school guilt at misbehaving. Obviously what flows out of my mouth once my brain gives it carte blanche should carry a disclaimer that says ‘Martha Hannah, Unintentional Smart Assery’. Maybe it’s time to print business cards to pass out as fair warning. But, I must say, Michael Costello is one kind fellow, and very patient, for he continued to work with me and my willfulness.
Later I’m working with scene partner Lindsay Mabry and we’re standing there, staring at each other. Again, I’m having trouble with succinctness. No surprise if you really know me, but it’s my turn to speak. So many words up there, so many choices, so little time. Michael encourages me to verbalize my hesitation. It occurred to me what the real problem was. I blurted out, “I think there are 4-way stops in my brain.” Yep, that’s it. That’s what happening. Blame my brain.
It took working several times with Lindsay until I finally made the connection, finally made the leap. Achieving this is not easy. And it’s so much more than following direction, specific focus and repetition. It’s also intently actively listening and reacting. It’s trusting enough to let all the rest of the world melt away except that one moment, that scene, that partnership, that connection.
I know it will take doing this again and again to truly instill this in me. But I look forward to using this tool in my work and auditions as I move forward. Sally Allen and Toni Brock, you know what we need. Thank you so much for bringing Michael Costello in to work with us!
Meanwhile I’ve got to talk to my brain. I’m not sure how that’s going to go. One, it has a mind of its own. And two, I don’t think those 4-way stops backed up with long lines of wordiness are going to go away anytime soon. But first, I’m off to get those ‘Martha Hannah, Unintentional Smart Assery’ business cards printed up….to give the world fair warning. – By Martha Hannah