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Get to 100%

This year I’ve continued to do bits of acting around the money-paying internet typing so, now it’s the end of the (academic) year, it’s a good time to catch up on what I’ve been up to.

Since January I’ve had three roles in short films, which is an infinite percent increase on the same period last year. Well done me. In order the roles have been:

  • The Man — a silent man in a suit who appears in people’s dreams, including chasing a small girl down a school corridor.
  • Door Man — a silent man in a suit who carries a young teenage girl from her bedroom while she sleeps.
  • Smiling Man — a silent man in a suit who terrorises a young woman in a park at night.

I assume my next role will involve silently disturbing a middle-aged woman. There’s obviously a type here, in spooky movies, the tall, slim, bald, silent man in a suit. Which is fair enough (I don’t mean to criticise the writers/directors). “It’s better to be typecast than not cast,” is something I expect someone’s said before. The third role was even paid (a little) so that’s nice.

The shoots have all been interesting although they haven’t called on many of the skills I’ve hopefully learned while studying the Meisner technique, given my interactions with other actors have only involved staring at them, chasing them, etc. Which is fine. At LISPA, over a decade ago, they told us that the physical theatre skills we were learning would “stay in your bodies” so I’ve been relying on that being true.

In order to keep improving my more conventional acting skills (i.e. attempting to convincingly portray a real human) I’ve been continuing to go to drop-in classes with the Salon Collective.

For a while I worked with Angela on a scene from Shelagh Stephenson’s excellent play The Memory of Water. Ange (who’s great!) played one of three sisters who have arrived at their recently-deceased mother’s house for the funeral. I played the man she’s been sleeping with for five years, who’s married with kids. It was good fun and very useful.

We did a bit of improvisation to get a feel for the characters’ relationship and then ran the scene several times with different teachers. Early on we slowed the scene down hugely, which gave us time to find the right moments and emotions to say the next line. Then it was way too slow so had to make it much more snappy. Every time there were things that worked and things we needed to work on. Here’s a pic.

After several classes we decided to give the scene a rest — although we might go back to it sometime — and I continued going to drop-in classes to return to the Meisner repetition exercise.

I wasn’t that enthusiastic about doing this because I so often feels that I gets stuck in familiar patterns with the exercise… an awkward phase at first as you both focus on observing each other (“You stood up”, “I stood up”, “You stood up”)… there’ll be a shouting phase or two (“You’re a bitch!”, “I’m a bitch!!”, “Yeah, YOU’RE A BITCH!!!”)… someone will cry, or come close to it (“You’re taking care of me”, “I’m taking care of you”, “You’re taking care of me”).

But I figured that this was my problem to try and avoid. And watching other people do the exercise — which is often nearly as useful as doing it yourself — some of them do manage to come alive and break out of what feels like a potential rut. A couple of people particularly in recent weeks were inspiring and exciting to watch, their mood changing on a dime. “Mercurial,” as Dom described one of them.

Over a few weeks I’ve continued to make progress, although this is never-ending. Every time there are new notes to take on board and try to satisfy next time around, until you’re trying not to get confused by the growing collection of advice. Some things I’ve found really useful recently:

  • Help your partner get to 100%. Whether they’re angry or sad or happy, if they’re not yet as angry, sad or happy as they can possibly be, then it’s your job to get them there. This really helps me focus on them rather than get lost in my own head.

  • Say each thing as if it’s the only time you intend to say it. As I said, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and once we start shouting at each other I’d think, “Now we’re going to build this for a bit until we’re as loud and angry as we can get and someone will give up”. But that’s like a character knowing in advance how long an argument will go on for. You should only expect to shout “You’re a bully!” once. This helps me get to 100% more quickly, and avoid accepting the rut of a slow build.

  • If you get stuck in your head, or something else isn’t right, make it your partner’s responsibility. It’s their fault you feel shit! I realised this after a few days of mulling over an exercise during which I’d got stuck in my head a few times, which hadn’t happened for a while, and really annoyed me.

So, I think I’m gradually improving and should probably try and put it into practice again sometime, even if it’s just another scene in class. I often think I might be getting better at doing this exercise but I need a lot more practice at working with scripts and scenes and cameras/stagecraft…

I’d like to do more things that aren’t classes but, given I don’t want to put on my own show, I’m still not sure how to do that other than filter the stream of casting emails for the rare things I might want to do. “Immersive theatre? Nope. A cruise? Nope. A panto? Nope! A silent man in a suit who… Where do I sign?!”

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