Line Learner is a great little app to help actors learn lines. You record your lines and your cue lines from the script. You then set it so that it leaves a silent gap for all of your lines when you play it back. It’s just like running lines with a partner giving you the cue lines. It’s very convenient and effective.
Yesterday I finished B4 at the Black Box Acting Studio in Chicago. It’s the fourth and final level in what is a terrific program. It’s only been around for a few years, but the curriculum is solid and the teachers are passionate and smart. I feel like I’ve learned some new tools and sharpened some old ones, but most importantly I’ve now got a process for auditions and rehearsals. I also feel like I have a new home base, so that when I do get cast in a show and I’m running into roadblocks, I have a community of people I can call on to help.
What is the program?
Like a lot of programs in Chicago and elsewhere, they start with exercises used in Meisner classes. You learn to observe your partners behavior. You do repetition. Repetition is something that I’ve done for years. I thought this part of the curriculum would be old hat for me. But I certainly did learn new things.
I think that this whole thing about getting the who, what, where out in the first few lines is a scene killer. It may be this necessary building block for newbies, but when two moderately experienced improvisors are worrying about that stuff at the opening moments of a scene, it can be dreadful to watch and dreadful to do.
One solution that I’ve advocated for years is just do something, anything at the beginning of the scene. Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, don’t make the scene about that activity. Just do that thing so that your scene partner can join you and you can blow past the who, what and where. Start talking about anything else. This tends to work reasonably well.
But when you can do that, there is a whole different set of muscles to work on. They are acting muscles. Continue reading “Who, what, where… the first three lines”
So I have moved back to Chicago. I’m renting a nice one bedroom condo. It’s definitely the nicest apartment I’ve ever had. It has central air and a washer/dryer in the unit. I feel almost spoiled now. I think it would be hard to go back to most of the closets I rented in Chicago and New York.
You might ask, why am I here? I’m here to get better. I feel out of shape as a performer. As an actor, I never really nailed down any particular process. I’d get a script, memorize it, go to rehearsal, try to absorb the blocking and direction, and try to figure out the best way to say my lines. It’s not a great process and it doesn’t seem to take advantage of all that early training which encouraged me to work off my partner. So the first priority was to find a studio, go back to class and figure out a process–a real process that starts with a script and ends with a full, dynamic, grounded and improvisational performance.
I’m in class again. Actually I’m in a lot of classes again. I decided to move back Chicago and to retool. It’s like that part in the movie where the guy has to train for the big confrontation in act three–the montage. I needed a montage. In my montage, I’m taking acting classes, learning to play guitar, studying at the Annoyance and inventing activities that I can practice deeply and which will make me a better performer. Of the classes I’m in, the acting one is the most challenging.
Years ago I took a series of acting technique classes. The instructors didn’t mention Meisner, but it was obvious that the exercises and methods were similar. We used repetition. We improvised scenes using imaginary circumstances. It was exciting and visceral and raw.
I took those lessons and tried to apply them to my improv. It taught me to be present, to pay close attention to the emotional life of my scene partner and to act on my gut impulses. For years, I’ve taught workshops that try to bring those ideas from Meisner to improv. I’m teaching one of those workshops this weekend.