In this exercise, my scene partner, Julie, was giving me SO much to work with, and I just could not say what I was seeing/feeling. I pushed my instincts down and doubt was the only thing in my mind. I knew that I thought she was being a total bitch, but the words just couldn’t come out of my mouth. Mercifully, Ed, my teacher, stopped me.
“Megon,” he said, “You seem like someone who’s been ‘therapized’ – like you’ve had a lot of therapy.”
Ugh – guilty. Though actually what I think he was seeing was not the result of too much therapy, but of living a life avoiding feelings and of people pleasing; a life of doubting what I saw or felt and being told, “You don’t/shouldn’t feel that,” and, “No, that’s not happening.”
Sanford Meisner, who created this acting approach, said that his approach to training “is based on bringing the actor back to his emotional impulses and to acting that is firmly rooted in the instinctive. It is based on the fact that all good acting comes from the heart, as it were, and that there’s no mentality to it.”
In Meisner classes, you learn how to live in the moment as an actor, and how to respond truthfully to a given moment based on what you get from your partner. Through improvisation, emotional truth and personal response, you learn to resonate authentically within a given circumstance.
Essentially, the Meisner Technique is designed to help make actors more authentic and real, and less like robots reading a script.
Ed went on to say he loved people like me out in the real world (meaning people who let others go ahead of them on the bus etc)., but that, “in here – that won’t work.
No. In here, you have to destroy and be destroyed.”
My heart leapt for joy and sank at the same time. “Yes! Finally, permission to say what I really think,” I thought, which was quickly followed by, “Oh, I don’t think I can do that.”
Fear stopped me. Fear does that… a LOT.
I don’t know if I’ll ever continue taking Meisner acting classes or not, but I do know that class helped me see that acting is about having access to your feelings, ALL your feelings. It’s about telling the truth and speaking to what you are seeing without judging yourself.
My whole life, I’ve worked really hard to hide my feelings because I thought that kept me safe. Yeah, it kept me safe alright; safe and dead inside.
Unexpressed feelings make for pretty mediocre songwriting, as well. I think great songs come out of risk-taking. I know for sure great art has to come from the truth.
Stuffed feelings can also turn into disease in the body. A friend of mine (whom I met in group therapy) told me she’s heard cancer called the “nice lady” disease. Think about it.
I also know that anger is fuel. That’s what it’s for, to fuel change. And change my friend, can be scary stuff. But anger, sadness and other feelings also fuel creativity.
By letting myself start to feel all of my feelings, I’ve been writing a lot more songs lately.
Here’s the chorus to a song I’m working on.
I’m not going away
I’m not gonna lay down
I won’t disappear
And let you put me in the ground
I’m not going away
I’m not fading to black
No, that nice girl you knew
Is never coming back
Unfortunately, learning how to feel feelings you have been trained very carefully to disavow – like anger, sadness, and even joy -- is like turning the Queen Mary around. It takes time.
One last quote I love that I think really clarifies this whole thing for me. It is from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you.”
Changing course takes time, but it is totally worth it.