For as long as I can remember, I have had a distaste of the ‘pretend’, although in my pre-Meisner-technique-trained work as an actor I thought this to be a flaw, rather than the asset I now realise it to be.
One of my core acts of service as an actor and as a teacher of actors is to be vigilant for pretence and nonsense, my own as much as others’. There is enough cynicism in the world already.
Peter Falk: “when you’re young, you’re looking for people to look up to, but you run into alot of people who make you the other way – not excited – cynical. There’s too much pretend, too much nonsense. [Meisner] was important to me, to my enthusiasm”
I transcribed this from the excellent video documentary of Sanford Meisner, which focusses on his work as a teacher of actors and his approach to training:
I had someone come to one of my introduction workshops recently who had kept very quiet all the way through. Waiting until everyone had left, he approached me nervously to say that he had enjoyed what he had experienced. He apologised for his ‘shyness’ and said that he would like to enrol to train with me but that, because he felt shy and insecure, perhaps this might not be appropriate.
I reassured him that, far from his shyness and insecurity being a problem, these traits are an asset to our work.
I hear this alot – either people who expect everyone who is a performer to display continous gregarious extroversion and those who feel inadquacy or shame because they feel they fall short of those expectations.
Often the performers whose work I most appreciate identify with the term ‘introvert’, in that their tendancy is to go inward to find their energy, to dig deep, to connect with themselves truthfully, frankly and fully in order then to be able to go outward, to express, to connect to others.
An interesting thing happens when people are able to let go of the expectation that they have to be continually ‘out there’, when they give-in to the truth of their shyness, vulnerability, insecurity, it is like a weight is lifted, like the handbrake is finally taken off and they become free to fully express themselves. You see it in the work and then you see them, no longer so able to tolerate being less true of themselves than they know they can be, take this into their life also.
‘if you’re not sure of yourself, you’re a much better singer…
Insecurity and vulnerability are a real asset,
there are loads of people who can sing but there’s nothing in there.”
– Barbra Dickson, Midweek Radio 4 24/12/2014
I wish the stage were as narrow as the wire of tightrope dancer, so that no incompetent would dare step upon it.
I first came across this quote, reportedly one of Sanford Meisner’s favourites, via Simon Furness whilst training with him, some four years ago. It burned itself into me and has come to mean many different things to me at different times. Today, its meaning is something like: the dedication to this path, to the best of my ability, to wherever that leads and to those who might share it with me for a while.
Funnily enough, I have trained in tightwire in the past and even given a little performance or two on it and am reminded of another of Simon’s many pieces of wise guidance shared: ‘a miss is as good as a mile’. I think that, finally, only we can know for ourselves if we are placing each step on the path truthfully and with our fullest possible commitment. And, as some of the reflections on this subject describe, there is no ‘sort of’ staying on ‘the wire’.
To keep facing the truth of life, through the fear. I feel that is something of my task. And this lifetime is not long enough to repay the debt of gratitude I owe the good teachers, friends, family, colleagues, and my tribe with out whose help I would not have had a hope in hell of staying on the straight & narrow.