Tag Archives: acting

This is the Moment for Meisner

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.

Free Kids Classes – November 19th

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.

Number of Spaces Still Available:

Welcome to the Theatre – 2

Acting and Improv – 5

Interview with BNTC’s Artistic Director

A basic overview of what the Brand New Theatre Co. is all about and how you can be involved.
Vodpod videos no longer available.

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.

Up to Now

BNTC started in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2005 as a name to put on my various directing/producing  projects. I didn’t really have any ambition for the company at the time. I just thought the title “The Brand New Theatre Co.” would look better on a poster than, “Something Kara Saunders Decided to Do.” BNTC’s first production was the world-premier of a one act play by David Ives called Roll Over Beethoven. Interestingly, a major theme of the play was the importance of letting go and learning to approach art playfully rather than feeling that you have to become the master of it.  It’s a theme that has come to resonate with me even more deeply as theatre devising has taken on importance in BNTC’s repertoire.

Roll Over Beethoven was presented at a one act festival in Tulsa, Oklahoma and, though it was well received, it didn’t exactly rocket my directing career straight to the heights of Broadway (or wherever people go to actually make a living directing theatre). Over the next couple of years I did some freelance directing under my own name and used BNTC’s name to land such illustrious jobs as writing/directing the entertainment for the Bama Pie Company Party, and playing the role of the Princess of Katroo at a six year old’s Birthday. At that point, BNTC wasn’t so much a theatre company as it was an excuse to make a few extra bucks and score some free hors d’oeuvres.

In 2007, I had started to teach high school and middle school drama part-time and I realized I probably knew enough kids who wanted acting lessons, that I could put party appearances behind me and start offering acting classes on a regular basis. I reunited with an old friend from my childhood theatre days (because, of course, I had been a child actress) and we started advertising acting lessons primarily to students at the schools where we taught. It turned out that she had been directing an Improv group for a number of years so I decided to do some producing as well. BNTC helped Crayons Improv to transition from a season of scattered un-paid shows to a schedule of monthly professional performances that got them voted “Best Improv in Tulsa” in the 2008 “Best Of” issue of Tulsa People Magazine.

By 2008, regular professional productions and ongoing acting classes were starting to give BNTC its shape and I was starting to deepen my interest in theatre devising (aka: collaborative theatre creation). What started out as acting exercises with my students was coming to result in some exciting work but I didn’t feel that I had a firm enough grip on the process of playwriting. Fortunately, with a name like Brand New Theatre Co. even the slightest internet presence was enough to attract the attention of a few playwrights. I contacted some experienced writers and some complete novices (like myself) and we began meeting regularly to discuss our individual work and brainstorm ideas about creating in community.

Steam was starting to build behind my ideas for the company but I felt that I was also beginning to hit a wall in terms of the progress I could make in a city that was not known for supporting the professional careers of its theatre artists. I wanted to make actor-training my primary vocation and needed to deepen my understanding of the training I had received as an actress in order to do that. I also wanted an opportunity to focus my energy as a director on the work of devising theatre so I needed to be in a city that was home to a large concentration of professional actors and playwrights.

I moved to England in the fall of 2009 to earn a master’s degree in Actor Training and Coaching at one of the country’s top Drama Schools (University of London: Central School of Speech and Drama). While studying there, I held a position as a visiting tutor at another major Drama School called Rose Bruford. I also took advantage of the city’s  vast resource of professional actors to expanded my work in devising by offering workshops in Viewpoints and Composition (a technique developed for theatre by an American director named Anne Bogart) .

When I returned to the U.S. in 2010 I was excited about the possibilities I saw for ongoing actor training with professional actors and I was eager to explore a number of new approaches to theatre devising. I also began restructuring the training programs I had previously developed for young actors in order to provide a more in-depth ground-work for advanced training (should my young students choose to continue acting as adults).

With a clear vision for the future of BNTC, I began offering short term workshops on advanced acting techniques while I visited various U.S. cities to research the best location to launch the next phase of the company’s development.  I arrived in Austin in May of 2011 and was immediately struck by the amount of pride Austinites take in their city’s creative culture.

Austin is known as a center of both artistic and commercial creativity that starts from the ground up. People here seem to start collaborating before they have finished their first cup of coffee in the morning and they are not precious with their creative resources. Whereas, in other cities I heard phrases like, “it’s a hard place to make a start but if you just trust the system you’ll get there eventually,” in Austin people would listen with delight to my ideas and reply, “I know a guy who might be interested in that!” Rather than feeling overwhelmed with a sense that there was an all powerful “industry” that needed “breaking into” I felt that people in Austin had grabbed the idea of “being their own industry” and run with it.

In other cities I heard, “Well I don’t know how you’re going to get an audience. People here only want to see things they’re familiar with,” but Austinites said, “That sounds cool! I know some people who might be able to help you. I’ll send you a link to their Facebook page.” Rather than resisting new ideas or discouraging “competition” the people I met here seemed to be thrilled to support any creative endeavor they encountered. I have been amazed to find that absolutely everyone I’ve met has not only had some resource or connection to offer but they have also offered it without a hint of fear that there aren’t enough resources to go around.

By late June I had finished making the rounds and investigating possible cities and had decided to make Austin BNTC’s new home. I’m looking forward to being a part of the vibrant creative community that makes this city such an amazing cultural center. I’m still settling in and feeling like I’ll never learn my way around but I think I’ll start feeling like I fit in here the first time I get the opportunity to listen to someone else’s creative vision and say, “I love that idea. How can I help?”