My first full day in New York was eventful. After arriving yesterday with lovely sunshiny weather it was disappointing to have a rainy, high-wind warning sort of day - although my hair seems to love New York water and wants to be very straight here which is tres exciting and easier to manage than friz, but don't get me started talking about my hair . . .
Today I had my orientation at the Strasberg institute - it was like a first class really. I saw some of the others wandering around the school, and sat beside a really annoying one rehearsing a scene with another - only slightly less annoying one - they were begin very loud and trying to attract attention to their bad reading of the script - I love it when I see bad acting - it gives me such HOPE - like I may have a chance of being good at this!!! In my group was about half of my class - they were from all over the world which is cool. There is a scene study class where Anna Strasberg critiques the scene studies of students - it is happening while I am in class which is unfortunate, but maybe there will be another one . . . The funniest thing was the information booklet they gave us at registration - it has all sorts of plays to read, movies to watch, books, philosophies etc and then a bit of information on 'surviving New York' as they put it. The best thing though was the last page of the manual:
It reminds me of the 'note' one of my acting teachers in Toronto gave me regarding this trip to NYC: 'Don't have sex with anyone. You are going to be too vulnerable!' I guess sex with people is a real threat to safety for acting students in New York. I'll have to watch out for that.
During our intro session (there was only one male there out of 7 of us and he was really young - so I'm safe so far) we did the relaxation exercises - the purpose of which - I gather - is to break physical patterns of habitual movement while also recalling sense memories (touch, smell, taste, sight, sound) and uttering sounds. I think this is meant to mimic the act of hitting your mark while embodying physical characteristics, feeling emotions, staying physically calm and in control, reacting to your scene partner and speaking, or what is more commonly referred to as ACTING.
We started with the release of tension in a fluid, un-patterned way and then spontaneously uttering a sound that is at the same tone as regular speech - aggghhhhhh! Then we were asked to feel an object - I chose a cup of orange juice - while still moving freely and uttering the sound at random - so far so good. . . I am co-ordinated so this was no problemo - although the 'orange juice' smelled faintly of my lavender hand cream.
Then we were asked to 'taste' a lemon - I could sort of recall the taste of a lemon but not really - I think I was trying too hard. I shook my head a little to release the tension in my jaw and the instructor commented on how powerful sense memory is to make me do that. I guess I am good at ACTING like I can taste a lemon - even though I didn't mean to (see previous post on how it doesn't matter if you feel your performance is perfect - so long as it looks perfect - complete opposite of the Strasberg Method, but oh well - the teacher thinks I'm good at this so why correct him).
Then he asks us to remember a flavour of something we like. I think of a chocolate ice cream cone (even though I am sure I am lactose intolerant and get gassy afterward I still loooooove me some chocolate ice cream!). I remember the feeling of the cold on my lips and the thin cone in my hand and the taste of hard chocolate ice cream. Then I suddenly remember being with my Mom on Hanlan's Point eating ice cream while waiting for the ferry, and on that particular day she taught me how to lick the around the top of the cone to stop the ice cream from running all over my arms. It was a really important day for me in my ice cream licking life! (Please keep the blow job jokes to yourself - thanks - I am making enough of them in my head right now). So I am innocently enjoying the memory of this ice cream cone and then I start to cry. WHAT? Why am I crying? This was a good memory! I start to feel so much emotion that - inside - I am worried about losing control of myself. So I make that aagggghhhhhh sound that we have been spontaniously uttering and it brings me back to my body while releasing a bit of that emotion - I was trying to give power to my voice while still controlling the sound of the emotion within it.
I was surprised that happened. The instructor explained that the purpose of this exercise is to remove the physical guarding (my word) we use to protect us from every day stimulus. We carry ourselves in a certain way to function as emotional beings in an emotionally-controlled world. These exercises break that away. I have also experienced this in yoga. When I have been dealing with something or have some emotions that I have not been releasing - yoga usually brings them up for me - particularly if there is kabala bati before hand (I'm sure I mis-spelled that). I am guessing that is why I cried.
So maybe there is something to this stuff . . .? Although I have never needed much provocation to cry. I did it in my Second City Improv level A class - ya, that's right. I also cried during the movie 'Teen Wolf.'
Here are some of the notes I took in class:
"Everything you do in performance is for you - not for the audience." - This is one I will have to explore. I think saying that is like saying the universe exists in the same way with and without an observer. We know that the observer in quantum physics effects the expression of energy as either a particle or a wave - the audience will absolutely effect your performance even if you don't want them to - I'm not sure that the instructor would disagree with that - maybe what he is saying is that in order to find truth in your performance you have to find motivations which please you and not the audience. I'm gonna need WAY more clarification on this one.
"In great writing - the character's objective is a matter of life and death to that character." - I love this - it is so true - not matter how menial the issue or the want may seem to us within the context of our own lives - how great is it for that character to place so much importance on whatever their need may be! So cool. Also REALLY relevant to improv and to writing.
"Create a dual reality between the actual setting and a place and things that are significant to me emotionally." - The more you inform the items around you with emotional sense memory and significance the more charged your scene is. This is interesting because I could see it being useful to feel like I have had this couch I am sitting on for years and how when I sit on it - somewhere in the back of my mind I remember buying it with my savings, or with my ex boyfriend or whatever. It could also effect my choices and add subtleties to my character, but it seems like A LOT to think about and a great opportunity to get all up in my head. Perhaps if all of this happened during rehearsal or in my pre work and then was forgotten once I go into the actual scene then it could be useful . . .?
I would love to hear thoughts and comments from other actors out there. My next class is on Monday night so I have the week-end to read two books and get settled in this wonderful city.
This week-end I plan to go to a soulful house jam (Body and Soul) and maybe check out a performance by a lovely Toronto woman introduced to me through my new friend Mike Sereny. Her name is Maya Chilton. If I go see her I will post.
Thanks for stopping by - let the adventure continue!!!
“I believe when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade...and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” ― Ron White
PS - On my way home I stopped to marvel at this KICK ASS beat boxer in the subway and took a little video to share with you. Enjoy!