The fifth video in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. Students continue with more challenging tasks while still doing the Repetition Exercise.
Interested? Register for our Intensive Summer Meisner Technique Classes
The body doesn’t know the difference between real life and a fully lived fantasy – Elizabeth Mestnik
Meisner is all about honoring your impulse and being true to your own point of view while tending to the business at hand, including taking in your partner, fighting for what you need, and understanding your circumstances given the the text. Fitzmaurice Voicework aims to release tension and loosen the protective elements we put into place to stop ourselves from feeling or expressing too deeply. The tricky part in both cases is that we, as humans, have learned to protect ourselves from being hurt (physically and emotionally) by modifying or even stifling our impulses, because they would not be appropriate in pedestrian society (what if you burst into tears over a faulty drink order or told your boss what you really think of them?). The point is, we develop an understanding of what works best for us to live our lives as static-free as possible over a lifetime of information gained from our external pedestrian environment. And, it has worked well enough that we’re all still here! So when we, as actors, try to re-train our own bodies and emotional lives to let go of all that and be willing to be vulnerable and fully expressive, it’s no surprise that there is often some internal push-back.
Fitzmaurice Voicework allows an actor to let go of some of the tension, known as emotional armor, through a series of modified yoga poses and other breath and body work. We, as people, have learned to use emotional armor to stop ourselves from feeling the things that might hurt us, or fully expressing the things that might hurt other people. The amygdala is a small organ inside the brain that controls what is sometimes referred to as the “fight or flight response.” Fight or flight is what mammals use to save their lives in the face of danger, whether it be perceived or actual. When pre-historic man (or woman) was faced with a dangerous situation, he or she had two choices: to run for his or her life or to fight for his or her life. Placed in this situation, the amygdala fires and makes the decision for us in a split-second based on the information available. That system for survival has proven effective (again, we’re all here, aren’t we?). Unfortunately it is an antiquated system and is not always suited to today’s human world.
For example, the fear or discomfort one experiences when facing an audience on opening night may fill an actor with anxiety and discomfort. However, the level of danger one is actually in pales in comparison to what cave men faced when a saber tooth tiger was out looking for its supper! Still, in some ways the body doesn’t know the difference, and the feeling of fear and panic one gets can become overblown and shut down one’s ability to make complex choices of expression. That is an uncomfortable place to be. Over time, people build up a defense against such awkwardness: either avoid situations where that feeling of panic might come up at all, or shut down any real emotional availability before the feelings ever happen. This decision to pro-actively suspend the possibility of risk is often taken care of for us by our internal sense of survival (the subconscious mind). What’s more, once the decision is made, it can be quite challenging to reverse it.
So, there is a lot going on in a normal human’s internal make up that would prefer to stop impulses and emotional expression. Then that same human decides to be an actor and is suddenly asked to forget all that. Tough stuff! The good news is that both Meisner and Fitzmaurice are interested in freeing the impulse and allowing true feelings to be shown and expressed through behavior and words. Both techniques do so through carefully constructed exercises taught by instructors with years of experience. Both seek to provide opportunity for the actor to explore honest expression in a safe environment and regain control of what it means to allow such vulnerability.
Full, supported breathing is one way to start the process of allowance. We literally take in information from the environment and people around us. That information travels through the body, passing a series of “thought centers” (aligned with the Chakras), and picking up information along the way. The journey of the breath then reverses, and an honest response is returned to the environment through verbal or behavioral expression. This whole journey takes only a split second (about the same amount of time the amygdala needs to fire the fight or flight response). By becoming familiar with the possibility of allowing true impulse and expression to exist within us, Meisner and Fitzmaurice enhance our comfort and fluidity of function within this space.
A guiding principle of both Meisner and Fitzmaurice is to help actors allow for the vulnerable process of searching the soul and the self for honest feelings and then granting themselves permission to express those feelings with conviction and authenticity. It is an alternative to the fight or flight response, and it is available to anyone brave enough to seek it out. If this sounds interesting to you, come join us in our Meisner and Fitzmaurice classes.
Have any thoughts? Leave a comment !
Michael Yurchak is a doctoral candidate at NYU, a certified teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework, and a Meisner and technique teacher at EMAS.
The fourth video in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. Students start doing different tasks while continuing The Repetition Exercise.
VoyageLA recently published another great interview with Elizabeth Mestnik, Founder and Director of our Acting Studio.
It’s a great, in-depth read that spans everything from Elizabeth’s background & influences as an actor to her founding of EMAS and the values and beliefs that shape the way the studio is run.
Check it out the full read on VoyageLA’s site here.
The third video in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. Now the Repetition Exercise becomes more intense as students get more personal.
You might be interested in our Summer Meisner Intensive Classes, because being more personal is what you are looking for.
The second in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. Continuing with the Repetition Exercise, students are now instructed to incorporate a subjective point of view.
For more information, see our Meisner Technique Classes
The first in a series of 3 minute segments of a Meisner class filmed for the LA Times. In this video we get a brief look a Meisner Repetition Excercise and how simple words can foster behavior.
Our job isn’t to create the words, the words are given to us – Elizabeth
One of the most vital components to crafting your art as an actor is working with an excellent story. Even the best actors may struggle with films that have mundane, confusing or poorly developed plots. Reading script after script may leave you scratching your head, wondering which movie stories are the best to hone your craft and reach an audience.
Regardless of the genre, elements of a good movie story remain the same. Learning these elements can help determine which scripts offer the best use of your time. If you wish to lead your own project you should also ensure your story follows these basic rules.
An Opening Hook
The first thing a good movie story does is grab the viewer’s attention. A movie’s opening act sets the tone for the rest of the film. This does not necessarily mean that a movie must start with an exciting event or surprising twist. Screenwriters must simply pay as much attention to the beginning of the story as they do to the plot and characterization.
Excellent Character Development
A screenwriter should know his or her characters inside and out. Fully developed characters have motivations for their actions. They have genuine emotion, backstories and personalities that ring true.
Character development should not be confused with excessive or unnecessary exposition. A well-fleshed does not always need overly apparent details. Indeed, some of the most intriguing characters on film are those that are the most mysterious.
An example of excellent character development in film is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. There is little to no backstory available for each of the lead characters, yet their motivations and actions ring true. Tarantino took time and care with each role, even going so far as to give the anonymous criminals real names and backstories that are not necessarily revealed over the course of the film.
A New Way to Tell Stories
Storytelling is an art form that few can master. A story that is too simplistic may work well for young children, but will leave most viewers feeling empty. Using complexity to tell a story makes even a somewhat common plot seem refreshing and new. A good example of complex storytelling is seen in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. At its heart, the story is one of a struggling actress seeking revenge after heartbreak and rejection. Using a unique storytelling device, one that introduces the actress’s fantasy to the viewer before eventually revealing reality, turns what could be a common love story into a deeply moving film.
Christopher Nolan has made a career out of using complex storytelling techniques. A prime example is Memento, a simple, noirish revenge story. It is told using backward chronology. This was a technique that was seldom explored prior to the film’s 2001 release date.
Plotting and Subplotting
Complimenting a complex storytelling technique is the importance of a clear plot. Movies with muddled plots are difficult for actors and viewers alike. Most successful films have single plots that drive the story and subplots to keep the story interesting. A prime example of this is James Cameron’s Titanic. The plot of the story is seemingly the sinking of the Titanic, but in actuality the focus is on the love affair between the two protagonists. Subplots of a jealous fiance, a needy mother and a greedy treasure hunter only serve to highlight the main story.
A good movie story can, and in most cases should, be told in a linear fashion if it has a unique plot. This may be particularly important for fantasies and science fiction. Movies that already pull a viewer away from his or her own reality may create more problems if told in a way that is outside of the norm. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of using unique plots and characterization to drive stories with plots that pushed the viewer outside of their comfort zones.
The Importance of Believability
A good story is believable to the viewer. Characters should specifically behave in ways that would seem fitting for whatever situation they are in. This is as important for films with fantastical settings as it is for movies that take place in our world.
Movie stories set in the real world can take advantage of viewers already knowing the environment in which we live. That can be a downside to a storyteller who may wish to take liberties with reality. There are often problems with historical films that don’t portray past events in a realistic way.
Stories that take place outside of our world must build credibility, which can be difficult except for the greatest of screenwriters. An actor must sell the humanity behind situations that take place in outer space or in a world in which monsters exist. However, an actor can only be adept at this if the story is written in a way that allows viewers to accept this alternate reality.
Good movie stories are as varied as the people behind them. While the plots may greatly differ, the basics of an intriguing story told in an interesting way always remain the same.
Today let’s get a sneak peek at our founder Elizabeth Mestnik and her Meisner Technique class. Our founder and her teaching class was featured in LA Times earlier this week.
“To do truthfully under imaginary circumstances, that is our defining quality” – says Elizabeth. According to her the truth and imagination come in close contact and what comes out is true feeling. Actors don’t pretend to feel sad, devastated, joyous. The live those emotions.
“We work in a way that allows to truly get angry, truly get devastated, truly be joyous” – shares Elizabeth.
To see the full video by LA Times click here.
As the Oscars fast approach – we thought we’d get our On-Camera instructor Thom Rivera to share his thoughts on this year’s top performances:
THOM: There were some tough choices this year because there were some many great performances and really, really good films. As always, these are my favorite performances, not who I necessarily think WILL win.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic – his work in this was simple, subtle, powerful, charismatic. I heard him with Elvis Mitchell on KCRW after seeing the film, and it all makes sense.
Runner up – Denzel Washington, Fences – This is probably my favorite performance that I have seen Denzel give (close race with Malcom X). He was powerful, flawed and not afraid to be unlikeable.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Ruth Negga, Loving – This was a tough choice, but I think Ruth Negga’s performance, especially after seeing the documentary of the real Mildred Loving, was spot on. sweet, yet strong, quiet power, grace, and a grounded optimism that was incredibly moving.
Runner up – Isabelle Huppert, Elle – Damn, this was a tough film to watch, but Isabelle Huppert was a powerhouse. A true master of film acting. She took me on quite a ride. If you haven’t yet, see this film.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight – He made a tricky role look easy. To play the opposites of that character so believably, so simply. Man. That said, I wish everyone from this film could be nominated. They were all amazing.
Runner up – Dev Patel, Lion. I thought he gave a strong performance, but wish his younger selves could be nominated as well.
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – toughest choice to make this year.
Viola Davis, Fences – always gives such a truthful, powerful, heart wrenching performance. Flawless.
Nicole Kidman, Lion – Best work I have seen Nicole Kidman do. It was a surprising, subtle, effective performance.
I think in the end, I have to give it to Ms. Davis . . .no . . . Ms. Kidman . . . NO . . . Ms. Spencer . . . . shoot. I can’t pick
Arrival – Amy Adams was so good in this and leads a strong cast. The picture was shot beautifully, imaginatively. The structure of the story was surprising, unexpected and gut wrenching.
Fences – Start with August Wilson’s words, a powerhouse cast, obvious love and care given to the process . . .
Hidden Figures – COME ON. They took a very well trod formula for a movie and elevated it to something so very, very good. And that cast! That Cast!
Lion – From opening frame to the end with the real life Saroo, I was entranced. The performances the director got out of the first time actors in this film was truly amazing
An accomplished television, film, stage and voice actor, Thom Rivera is EMAS’ On-Camera Acting Instructor. Read more about Thom.