Saturday, May 18, 2013

Get Truthful Behavior

When you were the sky
Suzanne McDermott

Learn to observe

I spent a large part of my senior year in college sitting in the dark next to John Ulmer in the Asolo Theater in Sarasota, Florida. At the time, John was the Artistic Director at the state theater and led the FSU Asolo Conservatory, Sarasota, acting program. Earlier in his life, John had been Sanford Meisner's assistant at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Meisner was a founding member of The Group Theater which was based on the Stanislavsky method of acting. Meisner said that
"Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances."
Although I was given credit as John's Assistant Director on a Pinter play, all I really remember doing is sitting still and quietly, watching actors rehearsing and working on stage. Every once in a while, John would lean over and whisper in my ear, "Did you see that?" and I would think "No, I did not see that. See what? I have no idea what you're talking about."

Eventually, through observation and exercises in his acting class, I began to get what he was after. I learned to notice truth in human behavior. Once seen, this cannot be unseen (though some people pretend better than others.) It ruined me for life.

Play partners

Acting exercises are partner affairs. I imagine that John used some of Meisner's exercises and that Meisner used some of Stanislavsky's. Meisner said that the exercises of his method were largely diagnostic tools. The exercise I particularly remember involved an actor about to board a train, never to be seen again, and the other actor having a final chance to share something important with the person boarding the train. It was a potential moment of truth.

Ulmer and Meisner often involved actors with props in exercises to distract their thinking enough to allow true emotional connection.
"Transfer the point of concentration to some object outside of yourself - another person, a puzzle, a broken plate that you are gluing."
—Sanford Meisner
Student and teacher relationships are partner affairs, too. Over the years, as I've honed the exercises in my drawing and watercolor method (a couple of which come from my best teachers), I've discovered that they are also diagnostic tools. I do not teach students to draw or watercolor in a particular manner. Rather, I see what each person brings to the paper.

As I help you learn to see what you are actually looking at (while correcting various technicalities), I help you become acquainted with and appreciate your particular style of mark making. It's a way to understand yourself on a pre-verbal level. Part of my training helps you bypass your intellectualizing and critical mind by focusing on the subject you're drawing or painting rather than your idea of that subject. It's a way of allowing your true line or stroke to be more easily expressed. It's a way of learning to observe.
“Success is transient, evanescent. The real passion lies in the poignant acquisition of knowledge about all the shading and subtleties of the creative secrets.” —Konstantin Stanislavsky
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