Academy Diaries – Part III: Trying to be a person…

Taking this course has been one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my whole life. I’ve decided to write about my Acting class in a single blog because it has been the integral part of the course. There are many reasons for this and I’ll do my best to articulate this experience so that you will maybe understand why and I apologise in advance if my thoughts are all over the place or as repetitive as an unprepared Oscars speech.

People. The people I have worked, acted, cried, laughed and connected to through this experience have been the principle reason as to why I value this journey so much.

Susan Pilar has been my Acting teacher and never have I met a teacher that has created such a safe and progressive environment for a performer to work on their craft. Susan makes you feel totally transparent, in the sense that   She can read you so well that if she asks you a question hour can tell she already knows the answer so there’s no point speaking anything that isn’t truthful and when you speak the truth she responds with such empathy and compassion that it really creates an safe environment where you can act with truthful emotion. Susan doesn’t stick to a particular teaching, but her teachings are heavily influenced by Sanford Meisner who developed his technique after working with Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg. It’s amazing how much of the technique she was effectively able to teach us in only a 5-week period.

Our exercises in the beginning focused on living in the moment and being able to become connected to our surroundings and the action within the scene. One of the most eventful activities was presenting a “Slice of Life” to the rest of the class. This activity involved recreating a small 5-minute segment of our everyday lives and recreating it in front of the class. This involved setting up our home environment and placing set pieces on the fourth wall to encourage the notion of living privately in a public space. For this activity I just did a small segment of returning back to our apartment after class and doing odd jobs like checking email and putting clothes into a laundry bag. I found it quite easy to interact with the fourth-wall and place a soft-focus on the audience so they didn’t intrude into my space. The 5 minutes went so fast, it turned out I over planned and had too many tasks to complete, which was actually beneficial as I found it incredible easy to be grounded in the task and get caught up in the doing.

This task was really beneficial in terms of be grounded in an activity and I found it really helped when we began our scene work as it helped create a realistic focus which allows you to live in the moment and react truthfully.

Weeks passed and we were then given our scenes for our final performance. As there were only two males in the class I was given two scenes to do. The first scene I was given was an excerpt from the play Orange Flower Water by Craig Wright, where I played the character of Brad who confronts his wife Beth on her infidelity after he walks in on her packing her belongings.

The other scene I had to perform was an excerpt from the play Boys’ Life by Howard Korder where I played the role of Jack who is smoking pot in Central Park while babysitting his son and he decides to hit on a girl who runs past.

Both roles weren’t really likeable characters so it was difficult not to judge them. I really had to focus on backstory for both these characters and really pay attention to the objective in each scene that justifies their behavior.

I could spend this time now going over the whole rehearsal process but it was just so elaborate and extensive, but I will say that the guidance and support provided from my classmates and Susan was invaluable. It is so important to run-through the scenes multiple times and workshop different approaches to see what works. As human beings we have so many layers, so when you’re “trying to be a person” it is important to expand that being to every facet possible; from emotions to physicality so that you get to a place where you embody a character that truly LIVES in the scene.

On the last day we had our final presentation of our scenes. I am really proud of what has been created, not only by me but everyone in the class. Everyone really took their scenes to a place that was personal and I believed that everyone was living that moment for the first time. I found this really difficult, especially doing two scenes, I found it challenging to live in one scene and then live in another – while both characters have similar traits, the tone of the scenes and the motivations were completely different.

I did however feel the most invested in the scenes during this final performance. I can’t remember the details of Orange Flower Water, but all I know is that I was motivated to yell with more passion and anger than I have ever felt on stage before. So much so that I pulled a muscle in my abdomen.

I sort of see it as if the course has helped discover and create a map to emotions in my soul that I am able to access for future performances. Not only that, but it has helped me work on my craft in a way that is more refined and focused on delivering a truthful performance. 

I will miss a lot of people from my course with good friends like Vanni, Leah & Becky. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone in the course. In many ways it isn’t really goodbye, I like to think of it as if everyone I have met has added to my life that can’t be taken away. I value this experience so much and I know I will be seeing everyone again soon. Below are a few phrases from Susan which will always remain with me:

“There are no more accidents”

“I love you, but Fuck you”

“There is no escalator on the true path of self discovery and mastery.Every actor,artist,person must take the stairs, one miraculous and unique step and moment a time”

“Choices come down to choosing either love or fear…..Pick love every time”

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