Saturday, March 23, 2013

Theatre For Thought, March 23, 2013

joel fishbane

“If only the stage were as high and narrow as a tightrope, so that only those completely trained would dare to venture out on it.” 
– Sanford Meisner

Ideally, in order to be an actor, you wouldn’t actually need to know anything other than your lines. Ideally, the director and playwrights would know the things worth knowing and would impart them to you during rehearsals. But this is not an ideal world. When Isaac Newton sat down to explain the universe, he realized he did not have the tools to do it. So he invented calculus. As artists, we must strive to do nothing less. 
“Once you choose to become an actor,” says Greta Papageorgiu, “it is your duty to continue to learn and push yourself.”  A Toronto-based acting teacher who specializes in Meisner Technique, Greta Papageorgiu, took some time to talk to me about the importance of continuing your training long after the diploma is on your wall. “Sanford Meisner famously said that it takes 20 years to become an actor…it is difficult for actors to practice when they aren’t working and so we convince ourselves that it is okay for us not to.” 

Learning only the tools of others and never developing any yourself will resign you to a life of mediocrity.

Meisner, the influential guru who taught luminaries like David Mamet and Diane Keaton, developed a theory of acting that involves repetition exercises and “emotional preparation”  - finding an imagined circumstance related to the scene – which will bring  actors to a more truthful emotional state. Although based on Stanislavsky’s Method, it is also an adaptation that arguably has become its own beast. Like Isaac Newton, Meisner needed his own tools to work with.

Learning only the tools of others and never developing any yourself will resign you to a life of mediocrity. You will be someone who can bring nothing new to the table; your Hamlet will be just as moody as everyone else’s. This is an idea that needs to always be paramount in one’s artistic growth: every artist is unique and the methods that help one artist will not necessarily help another. 
Even Meisner’s exercises, as influential as they have been, will only be useful to some; part of your job as an artist is to find the ideas which work for you and discard the rest. But you can’t do that unless you expose yourself to all the ideas that are out there. “Actors should take time to study as many techniques as they can,” says Papageorgiu. “Clown, mime, method, practical aesthetics - and take what they find useful from all of them.”
In other words, the training never stops. New teachers emerge all the time and they bring with them new ideas. No artist can rely on a single curriculum to give them everything they need to know. “Every program has holes in it,” remarks Papageorgiu. “It is the actor’s job to figure out what tools they are missing to complete their training.” Papageorgiu, who graduated from McGill, had fallen in love with the Meisner Technique and went to New York’s fabled Neighborhood Playhouse. She also worked for years as an assistant to Jacqueline McClintock, a Canadian-based instructor who exposed an entire generation of artists (including myself) to the Meisner Technique. 

McClintock died far too early last August but left a legacy of artists who adopted her mandate of continuing to improve themselves while they waited for their agents to call. “[She] found it unhealthy for actors to spend their days sitting around waiting for the phone to ring,” wrote the Globe and Mail in their obituary. “So she decided to teach, beginning with sharing tips with a handful of actor friends.” From there, she went on to work internationally, collaborating with such Canadian luminaries as Atom Egoyan and Jessica Paré.

“I am part of the community who is still reeling from the loss of [Jacqueline’s] inspiring, supportive and loving voice,” Papageorgiu says. “She changed so many lives and is the perfect example of what a powerful impact a teacher can have.” Papageorgiu hopes to have a similar effect on her own students. She has already taught in Montreal, Toronto and Munich. Her next class begins in Toronto in April – there’s a special discount for CharPo readers (see below!). 

She is thrilled to be part of what she sees as a thriving community of teachers in Canada. “Canada has grown so much in the past 10 years.  Students are able to find good teachers for anything they would like to study and not necessarily in institutional settings.” Canadian artists would be wise to take advantage of these offerings. It's money well spent. An athlete has to go to the gym and an orchestral cellist has to practice everyday; artists must similarly remain active if they want to keep from going stale. 

Greta Papageorgiu’s next session starts in Toronto on April 2nd. For more information go to: 15% Discount to Charlebois Post readers if they mention the code word Charlebois in their e-mail. 

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