Although I attended a well-known college acting program, my real acting training began in NYC, where I was lucky enough to work with many of the 20th century’s great acting teachers. Of all of them, the teacher who I feel most contributed to my craft and changed my life was the legendary William Esper, with whom I studied Meisner technique,
On our final day of class, Bill Esper said, “Don’t stop here. Go. Work with other teachers. Other methods. Learn as much as you can. Because after all, an actor is always just mucking about, trying to find what works for him in every single moment..” Bill talked about developing an actor’s “tool kit,” a collection of techniques that will be there to meet every acting challenge.
If he had let me, I would have stayed in Bill Esper’s class for the rest of my life. I adored him and his way of teaching the Meisner technique. But I followed his advice, and went on to work with other truly great teachers, including Stella Adler, Uta Hagen, Juilliard’s Norman Ayrton and more than one of the Actor’s Studio great method coaches. (I worked with many other techniques as well- including many forms of comedy improvisation, Michael Chekhov, Viewpoints, Alexander and Suzuki, and of course, good old Konstantin Stanislavski.)
I used every one of these techniques as a working actress, and as I did, I learned a lot more about them- what worked for me and when. I developed my toolkit as I rehearsed and performed on stage and in television and film. And I learned even more from the amazing theatre artists with whom I was fortunate enough to share a stage or screen.
I spent a year playing opposite the amazing Eartha Kitt, who took me under her wing, and taught me the ins and outs of being a high level musical theatre artist- things she had learned across a lifetime of performing, things I could never have learned in a classroom. I had the great luck to work with legendary Shakespeare teacher and director John Barton, who co-founded the Royal Shakespeare Company, and whose techniques have changed the way actors approach Shakespeare. And I spent many years at the historic Circle Repertory Company (the then NY home of great American playwright like David Mamet, Sam Shepard, Tennessee Williams, Terrence McNally and Lanford Wilson– as well as directors like Wicked’s Joe Mantello amd a long list of actors including Mary Louise Parker, John Malkevitch, Tim Hutton, Jeff Daniels, Alec Baldwin, Chris Reeve, Demi Moore, Ed Harris…. and on and on…Circle Rep was a breeding ground for great work, it was theatre history in the making—and we all learned so much from each other. And from Circle Rep, a host of great acting teachers has emerged, a group that continues to share ideas and methods to this day.
WHAT I BELIEVE
I believe that you must feel fully safe and accepted in your acting class and in life- You must learn to feel loved for exactly who you are, as well as where you are in the process of your acting training.
I believe that an actor must have technique, that the actor must come to truly know how his or her body and psyche. I believe that one can train the imagination to create truth out of pretend circumstances.
To do this, I believe that you must develop a rock solid sense of truth, that you must LEARN to know when you are in truth, and develop a strong point of view. But I also believe in letting go of boundaries and limiting beliefs- so that you can soar.
I believe in working from a heart centered impulse. Bit I also believe in intelligent crafting of character and circumstance, as well as a detailed specific performance.
I believe in process—I believe that you never ARRIVE at being a good actor—that you will always be growing, stretching and learning about yourself and your craft.
HOW I TEACH
My classes are very small, very intimate—As my student, you will feel safe and nurtured and inspired to keep taking risks, to keep going deeper, to keep trying other ways of looking at things.
I follow the flow of each student and of the group. I move from technique to technique, following the lead of both the class and the individuals in it. I am tough, I will ask a lot of you, but I am first and foremost, loving and accepting of everything that you are.
My students thrive, and they GROW. In my class, you will change Within a month, you will become a new actor. And that will keep happening. Month after month after month. The moment you emerge from one cocoon, you will feel yourself starting to break out of the confines of another
I am proud of the fact that so many students comment on the fact that when they think they have arrived, I gently help them see the new beginning, see how much more there is to explore. They truly appreciate this in me. And it is one of my favorite parts of teaching.
(This is why professional directors and casting directors request my students. And why heads of college programs are watching out for them.)
This is my mantra.
“Be coached.. Come to class. You will shift.”
WHAT I TEACH
Developing craft in acting is a personal journey- one that includes both developing skills and discovering your own sense of truth and point of view. In my class, you will discover who you ARE— what makes you tick, and how your body works—and then incorporate that into your technique.
At this point, new students often ask, “But what about emotion? Will I learn how to cry?”
Of course, you need to truthfully examine what gets YOU really sad, or really excited or enraged- and you WILL discover all that. But what they often don’t tell you as a young actor is this—Great acting does not focus on emotion. There is not need to TRY to fall apart at the seams, as any effort TO cry will be inherently false.
(Humans almost never TRY to cry, the truthful impulse is to try NOT to. Get it?)
But you will learn to feel something so deeply that you have to fight the feeling in a scene. Because you will learn to relax your body, to open up and just BE- to let go of all pre-conceived notions, all IDEAS of how things should look or sound, and allow yourself to be present—to experience things moment to moment to moment. AS IF THEY ARE REALLY HAPPENING! (And if tears are called for, they will simply BE there, you won’t have to make it happen.)
Let me give you an example of this false idea of acting vs. the real deal:
(Nine out of ten young actors are confused about what acting actually is—especially if they have been doing lots of plays in non-professional programs!)
When actors first come to me, I give them a sort of acting check up- I ask them to read a monologue or do an exercise to see what their strengths are, but also if any bad habits have developed or if there are specific weaknesses.
Let’s take a look at a first meeting with an actual student that I will call Ben.
Ben arrives at my studio, charming and confident. He has been the lead in all his school and local theatre company plays, and is wanting to get ready for college auditions.
I give Ben a monologue from a well-known play and ask him to show me how he would work on it. I tell him to take all the time he needs, and that this is not to be a performance, that I am simply interested in his process.
Ben looks at the monologue for less than a minute, and declares that he’s ready– all pumped up to start.
What follows is a sort of disconnected rush of false emotion and ideas.
(I call this “ being on the acting train, ” a sort of whoosh of oh so general and far from truthful emoting. )
Ben has made a snap judgement about who the character is, and what the scene SHOULD be. He has acted out an IDEA of the character, and while he has done this, he has actually left the character far behind, because his brain has been mostly consumed with whether or not I think he is good..
Ben’s performance is far from compelling, – and nothing about it has any connection whatsoever to him. It is like he has donned a store bought Halloween costume- he’s all overblown sound and dramatic nonsense—an attempt to be what he thinks I WANT him to be.
Let me be clear. Ben is very talented. (With technique, this Ben became a very good actor—and eventually got into all the best programs.) But the Ben that arrived in my studio on this day would not have succeeded.. Because he had no idea what acting actually WAS- and no technique.
I work quickly to get actors like Ben off the acting train. We put our focus on real technique—relaxing the body and teaching the brain to quiet itself, so that the heart can open and allow true impulses. A relaxed body and honest impulses will lead Ben to a moment by moment experience of a scene- an experience where even he doesn’t know what is going to happen next. The results of this kind of acting are always surprising and fully alive. And it makes auditors sit up and take notice! Which leads to JOBS and COLLEGE ACCEPTANCES!!
I also teach actors like Ben techniques that will help them to connect the characters to themselves. There is something in every character that you can feel and believe is a part of YOU—but doing it fully takes learning skills and a lot of practice. You must learn to make everything you say personal and specific to you—and oh yes, you must make it personal to who you REALLY are, not an idea of who you wish you were, or who you are currently tricking yourself into believing you are.
And with a host of techniques to choose from, there are always lots of ways into this process. My goal is always to help you find the way that works for YOU—whether it’s method work, or Meisner, or physical work that leads you into your imagination- in my class you will find YOUR way of working.
And you don’t have to stop there. Because you will also have the opportunity to learn styles- classical, musical theatre, comedic, dramatic and contemporary. You will learn to act a song—and I mean, really act it- by making specific moment to moment choices that are connected to melody rhythm and rhynme patterns. And your technique will be strengthened with scene work and with crafting monologues. Add to that on-camera acting technique—and how to get the most out of your professional auditions, or working with dialects—and you will see that you are in a class that is truly special- with a teacher who is determined to help you find the WHOLE actor in you.
So be coached. Come to class! And be shifted.
See you soon!