12 July 2021 - 07:36 BY Louw
Forget About Being Good
Writing that opening line already creates conflict inside me. I love that. It’s a challenging thought. But here’s the thing: when you stop worrying about being good and focus on your co-actor, you’ll probably be good… even GREAT.
I started reading a book called Sanford Meisner On Acting by Sanford Meisner & Dennis Longwell. Firstly, buy this book if you’re serious about becoming a better actor. It’s raw, honest, challenging and incredibly freeing and practical. I love practical. I’ve mentioned that before. Give me tools that I can work on daily to improve my craft, not an academic lesson that makes me just over-intellectualise everything.
I already found so much value in this book, but especially related to one of the students in Meisner’s class. The book basically takes you on the journey of how Meisner teaches eight men and eight women for fifteen months on acting. It’s as if you’re in the class observing every moment. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I learn the best that way, watching others go through scenes, being directed, taking risks, and experiencing their failures. This book does that and you find yourself in the class, almost as if you can relate to one of the students in that group.
I found this one part particularly relatable, like scary how relatable it was. I will share that exact section with you from the book:
“’ Let’s talk about this,’ Meisner says. ‘Ralph, you have an emotional block about this scene.’
‘I guess I do,’ Ralph says with a plaintive sigh. He sits on the edge of the bed. ‘I feel very self-conscious and I have real difficulty getting a hold on it.’ It’s like mercury. I tried to practice preparation all week, and every time I tried to induce this emotion it just didn’t work.’
‘Ralph, in this scene, your girlfriend is sleeping with Joe Schmidt. The mystery is why you don’t blow up right away. I don’t understand that.’
‘That’s the thing. For some reason I can’t get pissed off here. Sometimes I’m walking down the street and I involuntarily think of some guy I hate, and I want to punch him in the head. Then I try consciously to do it here and it doesn’t happen.’
‘You have to be more open to suggestions.’
‘You know what it is? You told me once that I always have to be the champ. I try to be good all the time. I was trying to give the best performance instead of concentrating on my partner and the emotional circumstances of the scene.’
‘What do your eighteen analysts say about your difficulty?’ Meisner asks.
‘There are twenty of them, every one of them is baffled.’ Ralph says. ‘Actually, you know what they say? They say, ‘You’re afraid to be angry, aren’t you?’ I used to have a violent temper when I was a little kid.’
‘Get it back,’ Meisner says and the class laughs. ‘Seriously, Ralph, I think you’re right,’ he continues. ‘Your problem arises trying too hard to be good. It’s understandable, but there’s a danger in trying too hard to be good…’”
What a beautiful realisation. That hit me. I knew I also have that tendency. To want to be the best or have the best scene etc. Then I become stuck or blocked and I don’t know why. Scenes feel just a bit too mechanical or too much “work”.
I found this piece of advice to Ralph very applicable to my craft and journey. It’s brought freedom and focus back.
The minute that you’re not learning I believe you’re dead. – Jack Nicholson
How did you find the technique/tool/advice? Did it work for you? What was different this time? Share with the tribe and let’s keep on creating beautiful, honest and memorable performances. Let’s execute our best selves!
Edwin van der Walt