I’m tempted to set up this post by giving a history of the rift between Sanford Meisner and Lee Strasberg but I’ll skip the historical acting coach drama (pun intended) and get straight to what is on my mind. Meisner took issue with Strasberg’s preoccupation with affective memory (also commonly known as emotional memory) because he said that it made people more introverted. Meisner figured actors were already pretty introverted people by nature because, in order to be drawn to acting, you have to have a bit of an obsession with your own emotional inner workings. Strasberg taught people to use their own emotional memories as the fuel for their dramatic work. Meisner, on the other hand, believed that the only place to begin was the here and now. He didn’t want his acting students to go digging through their past experiences to find some emotional nugget over which they could obsess. He wanted them to look up, directly into the other actor’s eyes and respond without hesitation to whatever unexpected impulse the moment of connection inspired. Meisner’s work was all about reminding actors that they didn’t have to hold back. He believed that we have all the emotional fuel we need right inside and that a commitment to the reality of the moment would bring it out. Instead of dwelling on their own feelings, he encouraged actors to stop thinking about themselves and start paying attention to the other person and the “reality of doing.”
Over the past two years, we’ve all been hidden away to some degree. Lock-downs, social-distancing, quarantines, work-from-home, mask wearing, all of it is intended to preserve human life and all of it is fiercely debated at every stage. It’s hard enough to have to take on this isolation but then to feel that you’re being constantly bombarded by differences of opinion over every little aspect of your day to day life? The combination is enough to force a person into a deeper state of isolation than even the physical distance itself has caused. Instead of a community effort, “let’s all look after one another,” the tone has become, “I guess it’s everyone for themselves.” After several years of distance and isolation, I can see that I’m not the only one who is experiencing the introversion that Meisner warned against. Now, I’m not one to look down on introverted tendencies. My own introverted tendencies have probably saved my sanity throughout this global ordeal. Meisner himself was a very introverted person. But, as an introvert, he knew that he had to resist the tendency to brood and push others away. It’s one thing to enjoy quiet reflection and “me time.” It’s another thing all together to become obsessed with your own inner workings to the point that you have no room for what anyone else might be bringing to the reality of the moment. That’s something that happens, not because a person has a naturally introverted personality, but because they aren’t able to make connections that reaffirm that they are safe, they are accepted and they can move through the world without second guessing everything they do.
Teaching Meisner against the backdrop of a global pandemic casts a pretty telling light on the genius of Meisner’s ideas. There is something pretty profound for me about being in a room full of people who have spent two years forced to separate, isolate, cover up and distance and getting to be the person who’s job it is to tell them it’s time to look up, make a connection and receive what is coming at them (rather than obsessing over what’s going on inside). Actors are showing up for one hour of looking, listening, being present with whoever happens to be standing across from them and, it seems to me, that they’re leaving lighter.
This isn’t new. People have always needed to slow down, connect and be present in the moment in order to remember that humanity is bigger than just what’s going on in their own heads. But, in this particular moment, it’s impossible to miss the importance of that connection or take it for granted. This isn’t the moment for trying to capture some deep seated feeling and give it release so that you can marvel in the wonder of your own emotional baggage. This is the moment to emerge from those inner musings and find everything you need in the here and now.
"We need to get serious about devising that new play!"..."I don't know, maybe we should put it off some more."
There are a million ways to create brand new theatre but with a world of possibilities available to you, it can be difficult to pick one approach, stick with it and make your ideas a reality. If you want to be a part of developing brand new theatre in 2012, get started on the right foot by participating in one of the Brand New Theatre Co.’s theatre devising workshops this January.
Here’s how the BNTC Brand New Year, Brand New Plays Project works:
One playwright will be teamed with two to six actors.
Each team will attend a four session workshop.
The sessions, which are three hours in length, will take place either over the span of one work week (Mon-Thurs 6:30pm to 9:30pm) or over one intensive weekend (Fri 6:30pm to 9:30pm and Sat 9am to 8pm) during the month of January.
Each participant will work directly with BNTC staff to book the session in January that works best for his/her schedule.
BNTC’s Artistic Director will guide each team through a series of devising exercises designed to kick start the creative process while giving depth and structure to ideas about Plot, Character, Setting and Conflict.
At the end of the four sessions writers will have a framework for a one-act play. They will then have until the end of January to produce a working script.
Teams will come back together for one more session between Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 during which they will read the script, have the opportunity to make minor adjustments and come up with a presentation plan (note: most presentations will consist of a simple script reading).
On the weekend of Feb 10-12 (specific date TBA) the works-in-progress will be showcased at a BNTC fundraiser. The audience will have the opportunity to donate to BNTC by purchasing as many votes as they would like. They will then vote on the work-in-progress that they feel has the most potential to become a successful completed theatre piece. The winning team will take home a portion of the audience’s donations as their prize.
Important Notes On the BNY, BNP Project:
The entry fee for participating in the project is $75/person. (This is half BNTC’s normal workshop fee because the BNY, BNP Project is still in the pilot phase.)
Because this is a pilot project, BNTC cannot make any guarantees about the outcome of each workshop. BNTC will support writers in the development of their works-in-progress but participants must be prepared for the possibility that their work may not be presentation ready in February. BNTC will make every attempt to ensure that each group has a presentation to offer but we cannot give refunds to groups that are unable to produce suitable scripts in time for the presentation event.
How to Sign Up
Fill out the form below. You can sign up with a group or as an individual. BNTC staff will be in contact with you about scheduling your specific workshop dates. We will contact you first by email but we may need to follow-up by phone to ensure that we have scheduled you with a group size and workshop dates that you can commit to. You do not pay until an entire team has been scheduled for the workshop dates you have selected. Remember, the sooner you sign-up, the more likely you are to get the workshop dates that work best for you.
Trying something new can be stressful at any age. Before you make the investment of enrolling your children in the acting classes BNTC is offering this winter, why not give them a chance to get the first-class jitters out of the way by bringing them to a free trial session? The sessions are designed to be a fun low-pressure experience that will help you and your child to see if BNTC is a good fit! Parents will have an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the session and will also be given a 25% tuition discount for the month of January if they decide to enroll.
Sign Up Today! – Spaces are Limited
Welcome to the Theatre for Pre-School and Elementary Students
Free Introduction Session for Kids: 11am to 12pm
Question and Answer Session for Parents: 12pm to 12:15pm
This class is an opportunity for students aged 4 to 10 to meet the teacher of the classes, Story Telling and Dramatic Play (for 4 to 6 year olds) and Welcome to the Theatre (for 7 to 10 year olds). Students will meet some of their potential classmates, play some fun and easy theatre games and learn one or two things about what it means to be an actor.
Acting and Improv for Middle and High School Students
Free Introduction Session for Kids: 12:30pm to 1:30pm
Question and Answer Session for Parents: 1:30pm to 1:45pm
This class will introduce the ideas that will be taught in both Acting and Improv (for 11 to 13 year olds) and Acting, Improv and Shakespeare (for students aged 14+) . There won’t be any Shakespeare yet but there will be acting games and an introduction to improv to help students build confidence and show them how much fun BNTC acting classes will be.
Please Note: The Brand New Theatre Co. is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of The Brand New Theatre Co. must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
BNTC is moving to its new location this November (8701 W. Parmer Ln. Suite 1122 Austin, Tx 78729). We will use our studio space in the evenings to train actors and create brand new theatre but we need your help to put the space to good use during the day.
We are hoping to start each day with yoga or pilates classes between the hours of 6am and 9am. We will then make the space available to a small community of self-employed “co-workers” from 9am to 6pm. Obviously, after a long week of early morning exercise and diligent self-employed work, we will all be needing some pampering so we hope to bring in a massage therapist or two on Saturdays between 3pm and 9pm.
We are very excited to be offering these opportunities to the local community but we want to make sure the community is as excited as we are. If you think you would be interested in some of what we have to offer, please fill out the survey below so that we know we’re on the right track.