Things have moved so fast in the last year. The huge interest that the drop-in classes first attracted has developed over three years into a genuine commitment to long-term training and deepening of the actor's art. This community of like-minded artists offers a real home to serious actors, directors and writers. Producers, agents and casting directors too, have found their way to the Actors-Space to investigate the work.
We have been established in our Space at the Aqua Carré in Kreuzberg for just eight months, but it was immediately a place we could call "home". There followed the development of the building into an office and two studios, and then of course the visit by Bill Esper in June, and shortly afterward the wonderful Susan Patrick, also from the US.
We enjoyed a five-week, full-time summer programme, with contributions from Susanne Eggert on voice, Jens Roth's Sourcetuning and Emily Poel's Grinberg movement Method. With the addition of Andre Bolouri and Wolfgang Wimmer as Co-Directors of the Actors-Space, and Annette Goeres, Karen Cifarelli, Erinbell Fanore and Michael Schuerk to the regular teaching team, we embarked on yet another exciting journey: the beginning of our One Year Actor-Training programme.
This represented so far the peak of our ambition: to give the Meisner Technique its most faithful contemporary incarnation, and fullest authentic expression outside the USA. Now into its fourth month, the course has attracted so much interest that we will shortly begin a second class.
Here in Berlin, where so much of modern casting and acting practice has changed in such a short time, we are now offering the opportunity to train FULLY in a technique that most coaches here only understand as an exciting "added extra" to the actor's toolbox.
Repetition is not the Meisner Technique. Activities and Knocks at the Door are not the Meisner Technique. The Meisner Technique is an ENTIRELY INTEGRATED WAY of working as an actor. It is exciting, liberating, fulfilling, energising and all in all, a breathtaking way of approaching our art. Just as when I first encountered the exercises, at drama school in London twenty years ago, Meisner's approach still seems totally revolutionary and at the same time totally familiar, as if everything about it were self-evident.
When I ask people at the beginning of a class, "Why are you here?" there are three answers that most commonly feature:
1) I want to find a way to be more truthful in my acting
2) I need to get out of my head, I want to get free
3) I want to rediscover some of the fun of acting, why I became an actor in the first place
Consider some questions:- What if your performance couldn't be "wrong"? What if you could go into an audition knowing almost nothing about the character, but still feel equipped to bring powerful choices to the reading? What if you knew the secret of emotional preparation is not childhood trauma, but the activated imagination...? What if you were free of all anxiety about what you're "supposed to be doing"?
All these concerns, and a few more besides, are dynamically addressed by Meisner's simple but utterly powerful exercises. Actors become less self-restricted; less concerned about their own behaviour; more attuned to the events of the scene; more impulsive and intuitive in their acting. This takes work, of the kind all other artists take for granted. Dancers have their barre, Musicians their scales, and Actors, too, need to exercise at all times. In fact it takes a good deal of work to achieve simple, truthful behaviour, but it is this, of course, that we love in all truly great performances.
Peter Brook was asked what he was looking for when he was auditioning for his first company in Paris. He replied, "I want to work with actors who know how to open themselves up, and then communicate openly with other actors"
This is a common theme in all acting theory, but among the american inheritors of Stanislavsky's system, Sanford Meisner was alone in putting the relationship between actors at the root of his teaching practice. This is something too many actors forget, and too few directors ever properly understand - that acting is a collaborative art, and that we must learn first to Really Listen, before we worry about anything else.
Many people, seeing the work in practice, have immediately understood the value of Meisner's exercises and added them to a rosta of other teaching tools, and that is perfectly valid. Over the years, from a London base, I have taught throughout Europe, in France, Austria, Belgium, Holland, Ireland, and those visits are always exciting opportunities to offer actors another way of thinking about their work.
But the project here in Berlin is not simply a place for exercises pulled together from all the great acting techniques. Actors-Space Berlin is the first acting space in Europe dedicated to the Meisner Technique as a total approach to the challenge of being a complete actor. Whatever you think you know about the Meisner Technique, we're only just getting started!
All the work we do here has this at its heart - be authentic, be intuitive, be spontaneous. Work hard, but look for the fun in your work. Trust your instincts, and work on your craft. Exult in your successes. Fail in public.
Get up and go again!
Laugh, Cry, Rage against the fates.
Enjoy the challenge.
I look forward enormously to working with you.