Monday, October 09, 2006

First Day of Class: Feel the Sweat

The first day of proper classes, or I should say, one class, of 30 people, all sitting on the hardwood floor, for eight hours, was difficult to get through (and hard on the butt, knees, hips) but I’m glad to finally be beyond the mushy getting-to-know-you games and long-winded introductory sessions. I’m not at all used, as it was totally taboo in the schools I come from, to Ben’s policy of having the class give feedback on a student’s onstage work. Determined prove to myself that I can at least pretend I’m not mortified by what I’ve gotten myself into, I volunteered (after many sweaty seconds of silence in response to Ben’s asking who would like to go) to put my work up first; out came Lady M with shaking knees and hands, voice cracking and chin all a-wobble. I figured in that moment that I’d just quit acting once I had my degree, or perhaps find a way to flunk out—fake a drug problem?-- and take up some occupation less savaging to my nerves (like landmine testing). The flaying this performance would surely receive from our teacher was now to be merely a test of my new stoicism, if not total indifference (do they use “crank” or “smack” in England?). But instead of ripping into me himself, Ben asked the rest of the class what they thought. Eight different people offered advice, but I was too stunned to hear any of it; at my old schools and the theatres where I worked in America, it was forbidden, punishable by shunning and verbal humiliation, for students or other actors to give criticism on one’s stage work. I liked it that way; the teacher or director could play the bad guy and one could just assume, with no evidence to the contrary, that one’s classmates and colleagues were awed unto speechlessness. At Friday’s class suddenly I had 30 teachers, directors, judges, and I wanted to destroy them all. However, when I considered that this was just a different approach to teaching and that I should try to adjust my thinking to accept rather than resist and write it off, a new and actually more worrisome problem emerged, both in my few harried moments at the center of the circle, and for the succeeding hours of class watching everyone else work. Not everyone knows the difference between giving direction and giving acting criticism. About half the feedback from the class (I hardly gave any, too set in my ways to open my mouth on another’s performance) was direction—“I think you should walk further downstage,” “I think she should sex it up a bit,” or, “maybe if he played it angrier it would ‘work’ better,” and this sort of input isn’t helpful to an actor who’s just trying to learn to “act” fully, whatever that means. It’s the sort of thing a director might say, whose only concern is making a production work—sometimes this stretches and challenges the actor but much of the time it’s merely pragmatic problem-solving. I got the feeling that when people offered real acting advice (“I didn’t quite believe you there,” “You dropped the last line and we couldn’t hear it” “Do you realize you’re shifting your weight back and forth while you speak?,” “I think she could have gone farther ‘sexing it up’” (that was to me)), it was by chance, and I hope Ben, who did give a few suggestions throughout the day on what manner of input is helpful, will make teaching the difference between the two an ongoing mission if he intends to continue having us remark on each others’ work.…

2 Comments:

Blogger Matt Mullenix said...

You still sound nervous, Larissa. Relax--this is this the blog! :-)

Ok. Now sex it up a bit.

7:39 AM  
Anonymous Johnny Horizon (aka John-San) said...

You...YOU, sex it up? Impossible. Why, right now at my desk I have a picture of you and Friley at your going away bash (as we're not allowed to say in the domestic violence world), and you are the veritable Platonic Form of sexy.

Perhaps all these stooges need is a good lesson in Kantian Categorical Imperatives. "Larissa is the equivalent of 'sexy' in terms of Pure Reason." Perhaps a primer in Hegelian Notions would be more to their liking. "The struggle of the slave and the master is such that the self-conciousness of the slave exists in and for itself when, an by the fact that, it recognizes Larissa is 'sex' personified."

That'll learn 'em!

8:11 AM  

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