MY HARDEST ACTING CLASS EVER

December 22, 2009.

I didn’t want to work in class last week. Due to other things going on in my life I felt emotionally raw and drained and in no mood to dress up and be Maggie. I sort of hinted around to my scene partner that I was fine if we didn’t go up because he had to leave early anyway. But he wasn’t having any of it and thought we should prepare for the scene and just see how the evening played out.

Michelle was seriously jet-lagged from her trip to India and told us about her classes there. One thing I realized was how fortunate I am to be able to live in Los Angeles. She went to a very metropolitan area of India and her acting classes had students from all over the world. They all just wanted to be able to come to the States and work in Los Angeles – it’s a huge dream for a lot of people and obviously even more difficult for them to achieve. I’d just never thought about all of the actors out there who may not have access to the kind of work they want to do. I always think about how difficult it is for those of us who are already here and trying to break into the industry. But I never considered that I could have been born in a place that would make it ten times more difficult just to get to the playing field, let alone play.

I often think of my good fortune in terms of my personal freedom and relative wealth compared to the rest of the world and all of the other assets Americans enjoy without having to sacrifice a whole lot. But good fortune in acting opportunities… I never considered that. Even if I’m not yet working in the industry there is always the option to create my own work with untold professional resources at my disposal. In this country, if we want something, we can usually find a way to make it happen. That truly is a gift.

Michelle asked if our scene could be ready to go up first and my scene partner shot me a smug look; I wasn’t going to get out of it. We went through the scene and even though I’d felt loose and spontaneous during my warm-up, the scene itself felt controlled and basically the opposite of anything I wanted to do. When Michelle asked me how I felt after I said that it didn’t feel good and I was frustrated with the control I was putting on it. She said, “Well there was a lot of good stuff throughout and especially at the beginning there was some incredible authenticity from you. But I can see why you don’t feel good, because you’re not dropped into your body and you haven’t found Maggie’s sexuality and physicality.”

Michelle then proceeded to spend probably half an hour to forty-five minutes working with me on those things in front of the class. I’ve never had a teacher spend that much time with me in a class setting. With Tony we normally got ten minutes, twenty at the max. Michelle takes longer with people but I’ve never seen or experienced such a huge chunk of one-on-one attention. I’m thankful for all of the time I spent in Tony’s class because there were moments of working with Michelle when I felt like I was going to have a panic-attack or flee the theatre.

 She did similar exercises with me to what Tony would do- walking around the space and dropping into different places in my body such as my hips and pelvis; crawling around on the floor; finding various ways to use my neck and hair; finding ways to pose and show off for Brick in the scene; using my energy in more specific ways; playing different intentions on the same line of dialogue to elicit specific responses from my scene partner. It was incredibly difficult and I felt very exposed but I kept telling myself that it’s why I’m class.
 She also talked to me about the fact that I hide when I’m in these kinds of roles and scenarios and that she wants me to let myself be seen. She worked with me on just standing in front of the class and being physically vulnerable- even trying to open up my posture in a different way than it normally is. She said that I don’t feel sexy in the slip and she wants me to find a completely different ensemble that will make me feel sexy. It still has to be a slip but maybe something fancier and something different with my hair and more jewelry. She said, “Bling it out and really dazzle us.” She also gave me acting exercises to do at home during the break.

Then- and this is the point where I felt like I was on the brink of a meltdown- she said, “You look really serious right now. Tell me what’s going on in your mind.”

I told her that I felt terrified.

She said, “Why? Speak to me from the fear. What would it say?”

That’s when I started crying and finally said, “I just don’t feel attractive at this point in my life.”

Michelle said, “I get it. Believe me, I understand how it feels to be in that place. But you know that’s just something you believe in your head because outwardly you’re beautiful. And you only get one life. You’re only young once and you’re going to look back at this time in your life and see photos of yourself and wish that you had enjoyed it. You have to conquer this because if you do it will take your work to the next level. That’s why you’re working on Maggie. Because the text demands this of you and you have to find a way to do it. And you have to identify who those people were who made you feel that you weren’t beautiful and you have to give that back to them. And metaphorically say, ‘Fuck you, I played Maggie and I conquered this.'”

Michelle joked with my scene partner that he shouldn’t get too comfortable because he was next. But by the time she was finished with me we’d been up there for an hour or so. I felt badly about the rest of the class but I guess it’s the unique give and take of that studio… sometimes you might go up really late or not at all but when you do go up you get an extraordinary amount of guidance. In the end it works out to be more beneficial for everyone.

Everyone in class was incredibly kind and supportive to me. My scene partner was also very excited about the work we’d done and to get into some serious rehearsals before our next pass at the scene. I left class feeling like I’d been hit with a Mac truck but also filled with gratitude for a teacher who challenges me and fellow actors who support me. I have a lot of work to do before the New Year – a lot of mental and emotional stuff to address and a lot of physical work as well. I know it’s not all going to happen overnight but I have a strong desire to move forward in this area of my work and to come into my power as a fearless woman.

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