I started taking class at Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop. Yesterday we did a cold read of scripts where the goal was to make no choices in advance and allow the listening to dictate how the scenes play out. To help steer us away from playing any preconceived ideas of the material, we slowed the process down just a bit. Before we could glance down to the page for any text, we had to listen and react. We were reminded to take this important step before jumping to the next line. Only once we had an authentic reaction to the other actor’s words and behaviour were we to look to the page to express that response with the written words. In this way, the approach was almost improvisational and breathed a kind of spontaneity, truthfulness, and connection into the scenes.
My personal experience of the exercise was interesting. My partner and I were doing a Christopher Durang piece from his collection of short plays called DMV Tyrant. The exchange was between a customer and a DMV lady, who spends the beginning of the scene buried in a book, ignoring the guy awaiting her assistance, and the rest of the scene saying things that scream annoyed, sarcastic, and could-care-less. However, by sticking to the guidelines of the exercise, when I first looked up from being buried in my book, I had a surprising moment of noticing the customer across the window from me was kind of cute, which gave an unexpected spin to my subsequent dialogue. If I was just reading the scene, nowhere in the text is there an indication that there’s any inkling of romance between the characters. However, the truth of the moment, was that the guy was cute and he was staring straight at me, and being present to that allowed me to respond in a way that made more sense to the reality of that moment than if I had just defaulted to being annoyed at the interruption. We were actually having a conversation rooted in what was really happening between us. Otherwise, it would have felt more like two actors doing their own monologues disguised as a dialogue.
This idea of having a dialogue vs. a monologue had recently come up in Capoeira as well. Capoeira (in a very simplified nutshell) consists of two “players” where one makes a move and the other reacts, either by evading a kick and/or counter-attacking. And this continues back and forth. Much like the acting exercise, sometimes the instructor will hit the pause button in a game to ask whether the move we chose to respond with was really a move that makes sense or whether we defaulted to a move we were comfortable with or had pre-determined we wanted to try (much like a “choice” in acting). The answer is almost always the latter. In that paused moment, we explore what moves would actually make more sense as a reaction. Maybe the kick should come from a different direction to more effectively surprise the “opponent.” Or maybe a kick isn’t the best answer at all. Maybe there was a missed opportunity for a take-down of sorts. We don’t want to just jump to the next move as we so often jump to the next line as actors. We really need to see the move that was thrown at us before responding, so that our reactionary move is really an answer that makes sense. If not, what you see is two people playing a game, but not really connecting. They are each doing their own monologue rather than having a dialogue. And in both art forms- Capoeira and Acting- a dialogue is so much more riveting to watch… and so much more fulfilling to engage in!
Whatever field you’re in, if this kind of philosophy excites you and you’re interested in being more present to the moments in your work as well as in your life, check out Anthony’s book At Left Brain Turn Right. It’s what lead me to the studio and is very much in harmony with my Capoeira & Career Journey.
What do you do to help yourself be more present in life and in art? Do you ever feel like you’ve missed opportunities by being stuck in your comfort zone or too caught up in your own ideas (or phone, or social media, etc)? How do you strive to stay more open and connected? I’d love to hear your thoughts!