Brighton Meisner

Spontaneous Combustion

July 6, 2017

As a teacher of Meisner, I don't often get to participate in the exercises themselves, moreover, it is difficult to be truly free with my impulses when I am a) in a position of authority, and b) observing through the filter of a teacher.

So, it was a great opportunity to take a two week class with Scott Williams and Niki Flacks, my two favourite teachers. I also got the opportunity to work with some very experienced actors who were well versed in the technique.

The first week, we mostly worked with Scott, although the opportunity to work with Niki was available later in the week, I was unfortunately unavailable and so I had to wait until week two before I got that privilege. It didn't take me long to find my freedom in the work, and under the supervision of Scott, I was soon operating at a level beyond anything I had done previously. One of the discoveries I have made in my teaching, is that the very process of explaining and dissecting the technique to others has helped me to become better in my own work.

On Monday of the Second week I got to work with Niki. Her work is some of the most amazing work I have ever undergone, and her hugely supportive and compassionate approach is always appreciated. Using body manipulation, and key words, she is able to open up the body to help free up emotional responses. More importantly, the work is repeatable on your own. I performed two monologues with an emotional intensity that I have never before managed.

On the Wednesday, we were invited to demonstrate the work to some actors who were undergoing an introduction class at the Actors Centre. We worked with each other, and then with the new students. It was a wonderful experience, and the new students rose to challenge with aplomb.

Finally, on the Friday we performed a selection of scenes to invited guests. I got to play alongside Sophie's Lady Macbeth as Macbeth, which, discounting the stress of learning the lines in so short a time, was a great joy to play.

In summary, I continue to learn how to give myself up to the technique, and look forward to learning how to teach Niki's work so I can add it to the work I can offer people.

 

Letting Go

March 22, 2017

I have been teaching quite a few classes recently, and I even got to do some advanced script classes which included direction, and one of the things that struck me was how much Meisner is a practice in 'letting go'.


And there are a lot of things in acting that we can let go of - there are the obvious ones: being interesting, being believable, worries, and self-consciousness. But the practice demands much more challenging things, particularly letting go of control.

Anyone who has been to one of my classes would have heard me mention this on many occasions. I am firmly of the belief that we do our best work when we get out of the way of our acting. The feeling can be as strong as if we had become possessed by the words in the script, almost as if they were a summoning spell.

But working with my actors over the past few weeks, I have also become aware that Meisner can be about play - about letting go of the rules sometimes, letting go of what we are good at - our usual hangouts when we are performing, but also allowing ourselves to go play with those places when the impulse takes us there.

I have seen many Meisner actors approach their work with a seriousness and dedication to do the work that can actually block their creative approach. So you are doing a script and you suddenly feel like channeling Henry Fonda with the lines - don't suppress that impulse, allow it and play with it, just remember to let it pass and let it go again.

All things are possible (remembering our rules to not hurt our partners, and to pay for what we break), Meisner means freedom, it means play, it means allowing, not suppressing, but it also means to not cling on to those moments once they have come.

Martin Hobbs - Founder
Brighton Meisner

 

Scripts

March 9, 2017



This week, I have been teaching script work and was reminded how I have changed the way I go about this. In my experience, working with scripts has always been the major sticking point for people, and the more experienced the actor, the harder they find it.

There are a number of reasons for this: Firstly, it involves sight reading - and a very strict and specific form of sight reading which is technically difficult to master. Add to that the difficulty people have reading other people's words and the whole affair can become very intimidating.

Secondly, the technique starts to look a lot like acting, and that triggers people's anxieties like no other. People's temptation to perform is at its greatest, as is their fear of looking like a bad actor. Getting an actor to let go of those an anxieties, to dare to be boring or incomprehensible, and to trust the technique is a huge ask.

Lastly, this exercise is like no other script class an actor will have experienced, in fact what we ask them to do is completely at odds with most of the teaching they have received throughout their education. And this is an important fact to be aware of.

The reading of the script, at it's base level should be as close to the experience of a repetition exercise as possible, and that was my starting point for adapting the exercise. (Prompted, I must say, by some great students who were really struggling, but were full of insight as to why that was so).

So, now, when I teach this for the first time, I ask the actors to start with ordinary repetition and then for the person with the first line to grab a few words from the page, look their partner in the eyes and then speak them. The words become the repeated phrase, just like a call in the repetition exercise. The other actor repeats the words and then they both keep repeating it until the person whose line it is grabs some more words and makes a new call.

If the words can be personalised (they contain an 'I', or 'you', or 'me', etc) then the second actor (the other one than the one whose line it is) should attempt this. I have found this to be more affective, but some students can struggle with the mental gymnastics this requires.

Other advice for running this exercise - reassure the actors that it's not about their technical ability, rather it is about learning to sustain the emotional connection between the actors whilst using words from a script. Keep reminding them to look up from their scripts if they are searching ahead for their next words. Advise them smaller sections of text are better to repeat, don't be afraid to break a sentence into small chunks, particularly as the other actor has to remember what to repeat.

I have found this to be a very popular and enjoyable introduction to text. Many students who have previously struggled with a line by line read through, have found this liberating. And it has helped actors see that there isn't just one right way to read a line. In fact, because this is far closer to the repetition exercise that they have already become familiar with, they are far more likely to let go of control and allow the script to 'do' them.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to have tried this, but in case you haven't, I heartily recommend it.  

Martin Hobbs
Brighton Meisner Founder

NB:  Martin is available to teach Script Tutorials.  For more information please email info@brightonmeisner.co.uk


 

Making Calls in Meisner

January 26, 2017

This blog is going to be a little more technical than usual, and is really my thoughts on one of the areas of contention in the practice of the Meisner Technique.

When I was first introduced to Meisner I was taught to make calls that were specific, that were factual, that were not judgements, and that were true. I was taught that calling behaviour was better than calling descriptions about a person's appearance (eye colour, clothing, etc) and, more controversially, their mood or emotion.

After my initial training was complete, I sought out other teachers to hear their wisdom on the technique. It was only then that I discovered there were alternative views. In particular, many teachers not only accepted calling a person's mood, they actually encouraged it.

Eventually, I began to teach Meisner, and I preferred to keep calls to behaviour, but accepted that some people might call moods. When I was asked why I took that position, I didn't think it would be an adequate explanation to say "because that's the way I was taught" and so I began to examine what affect different types of calls had, why teachers might espouse one over another, and to make up my own mind about which I preferred. This has been an ongoing process, and one that is mixed up in my understanding of the technique in general. More recently, whilst running Single Text exercises I have gained some new insights.

To explain my current thoughts on calls, it is probably best to explain my belief as to the main benefits of an ongoing practice of the technique. Meisner described acting as 'Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances', Scott Williams has refined this to 'Living truthfully under given circumstances'. And both these teachers would make a big deal about 'being in the moment'. Luckily, in the Meisner Technique, this is no airy fairy non-specific state, but a clearly defined and achievable objective that can be illustrated with a very simple exercise.

One of the prerequisites for 'acting from moment to moment', a state similar in experience to being in flow, is to not be thinking, or reflecting on your experience, but to be engaged fully with it. One of the problems with the thinking process is that it is often crowded with negative and critical reflections on process. I have been told this is a mechanism the brain uses to keep us safe - it keeps our behaviour and emotions under control, unfortunately, what is safe for the social world, is a death knell to ones creative expression.

In fact, what is great for our creative expression is to take our hands off the wheel, to be out of control. Perhaps I will amend Scott and Meisner's definition of acting to 'Living fully under given circumstances' because very little drama requires us to be small and limited in our expression.

But to choose to be out of control is unnatural, it is terrifying, and the more we tap into the multitude of possibilities in any moment, the more scary it becomes. And so we find as many ways as possible to limit those possibilities, to find narrative and sense, boundaries to the abyss.

We latch onto things - a persons shoes, a movement, or worst of all - the words! And so we come back to the call - a good call is one that routes us in the here and now, one that keeps our attention fixed on our partner, and focuses us on what they are doing right this moment - if our attention is fixed on figuring them out, we aren't being fully present, but if we are being with them, and we casually notice their behaviour, it will route our attention over there.

Behaviour changes from moment to moment, but we don't have to pin it down exactly - keep the call simple, and keep your attention on the person. If you get distracted by the words, bin them, make a new call.

But what about moods or emotion? Well, there are two problems for me - firstly, emotions are hard to pin down in another, we have to figure them out. The behaviour isn't always indicative of the emotion - shouting can be caused by anger or excitement, and tears - are they joy, laughter, sadness or anger? The calls are just as difficult to receive as to give, the first thought is often 'Am I?'


Secondly, are we ever really feeling one emotion to the exclusion of others? Or are we like an onion with layer upon layer of different feelings. Behind one emotion is often another. At the heart of it, even the opposites come together - my experience of joy is a blend of happiness and sadness. But the behaviour is just what it is. When the behaviour is called (without judgement) there is a recognition that it is right. And the attention can stay on the other person. And this is the great benefit of Meisner - that we can learn to trust ourselves. Trust that we can let go and follow the course, that we can survive people's reaction to us when we follow our impulses, that the moment isn't as terrifying as we were led to believe, and that our hearts can survive the intensity of living fully.

Martin Hobbs
Brighton Meisner Founder

 

Happy New Year

January 4, 2017

Happy New Year!

It's a new year, the dark yawning gulf of January is upon us, we have plenty of time and an urge to get started with things. The trick is to find the balance between pushing ourselves and holding firm with our ambitions for the new year, but also remaining kind to ourselves in the process.

Our Meisner practice is similar - we want to improve our practice and stretch our emotional boundaries into deeper territory, but we also need to keep ourselves both safe, and open to all possibilities.

I suppose my only answer to the dilemma is to go into my work determined to be as open as I can be, to give into my impulses as much as I can, and be ready for unexpected and the uncomfortable. And a good place to start is to feel both the fear and the excitement of the exercise from the moment I step up there.

So, if you feel like getting some work done in this new year, why not come along this Friday.  

Martin Hobbs
Brighton Meisner Founder

 

Meisner & Panto

November 29, 2016

As the Christmas season approaches many actors and performers will be finding work in Pantomimes and Christmas shows. What they have in common, like much of the work that is directed at children, is that the characters and performances are 'larger than life'.

In our Meisner practice we spend so much of our time looking to respond truthfully, that we can mistake that to mean natural, or small, but it doesn't have to be. When the work is routed in the truth, how large or small it is is irrelevant. Just as in life, where people are more or less demonstrative, so we can give ourselves the permission to be bigger 'characters', we can give ourselves the permission to have larger responses.

However, there are times when we may choose not to be truthful; much of the comedy in Pantomime (and other forms of exaggerated performance) comes from the obvious dissonance between the characters' responses and the actual truth of the characters feelings. When we see the Dame showing us that they are crying by wailing inconsolably and rubbing their eyes, we know they aren't really upset they are just 'being dramatic' and that is funny. If it helps, in those incidents you have no need to worry about 'being truthful' because the character isn't being truthful, the truth of the situation is that the character is being manipulative.

 

Meisner & X

November 15, 2016

Over the years I have been asked how Meisner works with Shakespeare, or with Physical Theatre, or Brecht, or ...

And the answer is simple - exactly the same as usual. The Meisner Technique is an underlying approach to acting that can fit with pretty much any style of acting, any script.

Put your attention on your fellow actors, say your lines, and get on with it.

If you took some classes on Shakespeare, they might tell you about meter, they might explain how sometimes he breaks the meter, and what that signifies.

All that is useful, relevant, as are the ins and out of a writers style - the pauses in Pinter, the exacting stage directions of Beckett. But once you are performing that play, you need to put your attention on your fellow actors and trust that you have all that stuff learnt. If you haven't, it's not going to help you to be thinking about it on stage. Let go of it by putting your attention elsewhere.


 

An Interview with Brighton Meisner's Founder Martin Hobbs

November 2, 2016

Interview with Martin Hobbs – Founder of Brighton Meisner

Tell us when your interest in acting first started?

I first got the bug when I performed "The Walrus and the Carpenter" with my cousin as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee in a youth group at the age of 10, but I didn't get the opportunity to pursue it until much later. By then I was in my mid-twenties, I was looking for something fun to do and I went to a free acting workshop in Brighton with the Upstairs Theatre Company.

Where did you study?

After several years attending local drama workshops and performing in various shows, I decided to take it more seriously. I went to a small school in Kentish Town called NW5 Theatre School. It was the only one I could afford, and the principle had impressed me in the audition. However, my experience there wasn't great, and I graduated the school feeling a worse actor than when I entered.

How did you discover the Meisner Technique?

After drama school, I became a member of the Actors Centre, and began attending as many classes as I could afford in between acting work. One of these was an introduction to Meisner run by Scott Williams.

Where did you study The Meisner Technique?

I was so impressed with the class, and Scott's teaching, that I immediately signed up for his two year Meisner course. We would meet a couple of times a week and work through the technique, taking our time with each stage. It was a wonderful experience. I split the second year up over a number of years, so I could continue to work.

After Scott's class, I was hungry for more, so I regularly attended weekly drop-ins, short courses, and summer schools. I have worked with Kate Maravan, Mike Bernadin, Larry Silverberg, and Aileen Gonsalves.

What is your dream role?

Like many actors, I would love a TV, or Film role. The boy in me would love to be in a cult movie, sci-fi, or fantasy series, but the more grown up part of me loves theatre, and loves dark psychological roles that push me to dig deep. At heart though, I am a working actor that just loves to be performing or teaching. If they pay me to do it, I probably will.

Which role did you first incorporate your Meisner Technique training into?

That would be the second year production by Impulse where I played a British author who had convinced his readers that he was Irish, and who wrote Irish literature. I can't remember much about the play (including the name of the play or my character) except a scene where I tell a ghost story about a 'fetch' that lives on the moor.

What challenges did you face?

The biggest challenges I faced were to incorporate the technique when I was still gaining my trust that it worked, and that it would be sufficient in delivering a respectable performance; and allowing myself to perform impulsively whilst speaking with an Irish accent.

Which technique/s do you find the most useful?

For me, the lessons that come out of the 'as-if' exercise, that I shamelessly stole and adapted from Aileen, are to keep it simple. To trust that it works. The Meisner technique is the simplest of all the acting techniques I have been taught. But its very simplicity can be its sticking point - my brain constantly strives with the idea, it constantly questions and asserts "shouldn't I be doing more?" Only through practice have I come to learn that it is quite sufficient.

Why did you start Brighton Meisner?

I started Brighton Meisner with Maria Lloyd specifically to practice the technique. I wanted the opportunity to practice with fellow actors in Brighton so that I could save myself the journeys into London. Unfortunately, we couldn't find enough people to practice with, so we realised we would have to teach people.

As it happens, the class has become my sandbox, somewhere I have been able to experiment and consolidate the technique, and my understanding of it. In honour of the Upstairs Theatre Company and the free workshops that started me off on this journey, I do my best to keep the costs down.

How do you see future actors benefitting with learning the Meisner Technique?

The pressures on actors now, and in the likely future, will be to get on and do the job as efficiently as possible. Rehearsal times are minimal, or nonexistent, and this is where the technique can help. I believe Meisner helps actors to be versatile quick studies that can just get on with the job, and cope with the problems that can arise when rehearsals are at a minimum.


 

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