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James Walker Acting Workshops

James Walker Acting Workshops www.jameschristiewalker.com All workshops are based on the Meisner Technique. The Meisner Technique is ideal for anyone interested in exploring their emotional world for reasons of self development and authenticity.

Be prepared to be challenged and venture outside of your existing comfort zone. This technique and how JC teaches it has the power to transform you not only as an actor, but as an individual.

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23/01/2022

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03/09/2015
BESSER ALS PAPA

JULIA L. TIM D. MARTZWALKER HAMBURG CLASS SCENE WORK

24/04/2014

Faison (HBO series, Boss), Jami Rudofsky (Gilmore Girls, Masters of S*x w/Risa), and Brennan du Fresne Schulweis (CSI:NY, Spiderman).

There are no absolutes. So many factors go into making a casting choice. And you have no control over most of this process. What you do have control over is the kind of work you bring into a casting room, the way you approach each experience, and the joy you share in doing the work for it’s own sake. If you allow yourself to be fully present, bold, specific, emotionally engaged, and you share that with us as your collaborators… If you bring yourself fully to the work, we will fall in love. We will be your champions. And if it’s not this role, then another one. But you’re in our hearts and minds for good.

Los Angeles
2014

13/01/2013

KEITH RUSKIN INTERVIEW Los Angeles "One of the Foremost Meisner Teachers"

Could you discuss the Repetition Exercise?

One of the places people bastardize Meisner’s work the most is the repetition exercise. It is his foundation exercise. He begins with it, because it is the most important thing he’s going to give you, without which the rest of it doesn’t matter.

Repetition is designed to do two things-

1. To stop you from thinking so much!
to try to remove any intellectuality from the actor’s instrument, to have you respond viscerally to your partner, to things around you and to the circumstance, that’s it.

2. To teach you to put all of your focus on your partner’s behavior.
…And to see what is really going on in your partner’s behavior. To teach you to read behavior and in that, teaching you to listen and to answer your partner in a way that goes way beyond words, beyond waiting for cues. To learn to listen and connect to your partner in a soulful, heart to heart and meaningful way. One that will connect you to them underneath the words you say, so that there will be a living and spontaneous connection felt when you act together.

The thing is, the words, the blocking, the staging, the costume,—all of that’s going to be the same every night. On one level, that is dead, because it’s the same every night. What is never the same between two people—actors or not—is the soulful, human connection between them, what happens between them, their mood, their inflection, their tone, the place they are coming from, their feelings at the present moment.

Meisner’s contention was that if you and I run lines back and forth, waiting only for cues, we’re not really doing anything together, except memorizing and saying words. But if you and I listen to each other and what is really going on inside the other actor, in their heart and in their being and I heard in your voice that you were sad or upset--if I really listen to that, I will be affected by that. And I would work off of you in a different way. If you were in a happy or excited, blissful mood, same thing, it would do something to me. It would change how we work together, every performance, every take. No two takes can ever be the same one moment to another, no two performances could ever be truly the same because we are changing all the time and if we could connect deeply and humanly to each other and pick up those changes than we would have a connection underneath the lines, underneath the surface. That connection is what Meisner was after and he got it through using the Repetition exercise.

He found a way to connect you to your partner, thus creating what all great acting looks like, an improvised, living, spontaneous experience.

What repetition is not

If you’re still thinking, if you’re still in your head trying to remember your lines or your blocking, if you are trying to figure out the rules or what something means, or you’re not directly repeating what you hear from your partner in a brainless, unintellectual way, you are not doing Repetition.

If your focus is anywhere but 100% on your partner’s behavior and on what’s going on inside them, on what’s happening to them and their reaction to it, then you’re not doing it.

It is not an improvisation where you make up dialogue in reference to an already predetermined circumstance, it’s not dialogue, it’s not talking, it’s not ‘hello,’ it’s not questions, not explanations, there’s no clarifications…ever. You repeat what you hear and the only way you change it is if you see something change in the other person’s behavior, you pick it up.

Meisner had two rules that you must know to do Repetition and that were crucially important to his entire technique.
1. “What you do doesn’t depend on you, it depends on your partner”. You give your focus and attention over to your partner, what you get from their behavior. And that’s what the source of your life is for awhile.

2. “Don’t do anything until something happens to make you do it.” That means you don’t pretend, force, or manipulate something to happen, or begin to act because you want to act. You wait, until something happens in your partner’s behavior that forces you to mention it and you start the repetition with that. You might look at someone for a minute or so, you might look at him or her and see them get nervous and you would say, “you’re nervous,” and repeat that back and forth, your brain is not needed. You need to observe, listen, and connect to that person, even if it’s in a mechanical way. It’s mechanical, it’s inhuman, it’s technical, but it’s leading you to something, to a connection. It’s not leading you to think. Every time your partner speaks, you listen. Did it change? Did the tone change? Did the inflection change, did it go up? You are forced to listen to the other actor and observe them as if they were under a microscope. Pick up every change in their behavior and use that as the source of what you repeat to them.

Look, In the beginning, you listen, like a tape recorder, like a dummy or a moron. You listen to the behavior of your partner, the tone of their voice, the mood they are in, the inflection of their voice, everything that makes up their behavior. This will allow the teacher to see that you are picking it up and after you get brainless enough, then and only then do we allow you to make changes based on what you do pick up, based on the other actor’s behavior. First and foremost, we must teach you to stop thinking so much, to get you out of your head.

I always come back to Meisner’s two rules. 1) “What you do doesn’t depend on you, it depends on your partner.” 2)“Don’t do anything until something happens to make you do it”.

It’s the single greatest exercise that I have ever found anywhere in the world for the training of an actor.

How long do you practice Repetition?

Well , that depends. In the beginning of the work, when you start you spend weeks, months focusing on teaching the Repetition exercise until the actor achieves a certain level of mastery. You work on it long enough to see if the student has stopped thinking. To see if you are putting your attention on your partner, on their behavior, on how they were saying what they were saying or whether you were still in your head thinking or still focused on yourself. The goal is to stop thinking and put all of your attention on your partner in the exercise. So, when we have achieved that, then we move onto the next part of the work, which is the Independent Activity part, but we never stop using Repetition to warm up, practice, stay out of our head, rehearse, and simply get ready to work.

How long can the exercise last?

Again, it depends on what part of the training we are in... It could be minutes, it could be practiced for hours. We’ve had 40 people in a room repeating for over an hour. It will grow and deepen as long as the actors are growing and deepening. There is no end to how far it can go because there is no end to how intimate two human beings can be... It is based on how willing the actor is to reveal themselves and connect. If an actor is willing to expose themselves and their emotions in the repetition, the repetition will become exposed and emotional like all great acting is.

What does “Emotional Preparation” mean to Meisner?

When the Group Theater started in 1931, Lee Strasberg used Constantin Stanislavsky’s affective memory or emotional memory with the actors. By 1935, Stella Adler, Sanford Meisner and many others in the Group Theatre hated it, but Strasberg loved it. When Stella Adler met with Constantin Stanislavski in Paris, he said, oh, I don’t use affective memory anymore, I didn’t feel it to be effective in the long term. Stella Adler returned to NY and told them about it, Strasberg was furious and it created a fight. When the Group disbanded, they each went in their own direction. Meisner found his way of working that he believed in. He didn’t believe that the past is so important to the work, he thought the imagination and the future were more important and vibrant for an actor. If I set a seed in your mind that something could be happening to someone you love, the seed of the future is all based in imagination. He said the past is dead. It’s over. The future is vibrant, that’s where things happen. That’s where we’re going. ‘Emotional preparation’ is how an actor shows up onstage in the circumstance and the answer is imagination. Very very specific use of the imagination, very detailed. So that your imagination takes off.

He never said this publicly, but he told me in private that one sign of talent in an actor, is when an imaginary circumstance is able to create emotion in them. An actor is going to respond to imagination where an ordinary person wouldn’t.

The first part of the work is repetition; the second part is independent activity and then comes emotional preparation after we do our first scene to incorporate the work we have learned in Repetition & Independent Activities. Each part of the work we mix with a scene to incorporate the work you have just learned, to then try it with text. Emotional Preparation is the last part of the first year. In the second year we do more advanced work with Relationship, Character Work including Impediments, and Spoon Rivers.

the Reality of Doing

On the very first day of any of my classes, you will hear the same thing Meisner always said on that first day…

“The seed to the craft of acting is the reality of doing.”

His entire technique is based on those three words:

Reality of doing.
Reality of doing.
Reality of doing.

If you are in a scene where you are reading a book and your wife comes home to tell you your father has died, you don’t ‘act’ reading or fake-pretend reading, you must really read that book as you would if no audience was there. When you really do that something will happen. You will get interested, bored, excited, lost in it. When your wife enters the room, you won’t act or pretend being interrupted, you WILL truly be interrupted, because if you’re really doing something, it will be a real interruption.

Meisner’s entire technique is based on that. Everything you want to do in acting must be based on the reality of doing. If you’re playing a doctor on Grey’s Anatomy and your patient needs a prescription for some medicine you must really write the prescription on the prescription pad. Don’t drink a cup of coffee from a cup that doesn’t have coffee in it. Don’t fake smoking a cigarette or writing a eulogy, really smoke it and really write it as you would in reality.

My contention is, if you don’t know how to confront your father in life, how are you gonna do it onstage? If you don’t know how to seduce someone in life how are you going to do it in front of a camera authentically. I am certain that an actor, who cannot do something in life, cannot do it onstage. They cannot do it onstage with pretending, and I’m not interested in that kind of acting. Some actors are limited because they don’t know themselves well, especially their shadow sides, the parts of themselves they are not comfortable with and hide. Until they are willing to be seen and I mean really seen as well as expose themselves deeply and intimately to others (their audience) they will never be great actors.

I love the quote and teach from it that says
“ Do the thing you fear the most and the death of fear is certain.” An actor could make that their mantra and it might lead to greatness on and off stage.

In the second year of the work, we begin Impediments. This is the beginning of how Meisner approached Character work. They are in wheel chairs. Right now, those students, they should be in wheelchairs all weekend. They should be in wheelchairs every minute of the day. I got guys on trains downtown, they’re running around the way Daniel Day Lewis spent 6 weeks in a wheelchair, the way Brando spent six weeks in wheel chair. That’s also the reality of doing.

How do you approach an actor’s fear, or stage fright?

You can’t focus on yourself. You have to focus on what you’re doing in the scene. Confronting, seducing, revealing, or focused on your partner’s behavior. Get lost in that. You have a place to put your focus that if you truly practice 100% of your attention on what you’re doing, or on your partner, on their behavior, or if you put 50% of your focus on what you’re doing and 50% on your partner’s behavior, you won’t have anything left for yourself. Daniel Day Lewis gets so lost in what he’s doing that he forgets for a minute. If your ego is more important and you can’t get off yourself, it probably won’t work anyway.

David Mamet has been rehearsing his new play “The Anarchist” starring Debra Winger and Patti Lupone at our school for the past two weeks. He invited me to the run through of the play the day before it was leaving to go to Broadway. I watched Patti Lupone acting and was so enthralled by her power and concentration onstage. She was so completely lost in what she was doing. She was taking what she was saying, what she was doing and it was as if she was shooting Debra Winger with it, like a shot gun blast hitting her partner in the chest . She was focused not on herself, not on her words, not on how she was acting, but on her partner and what she was doing. These are world-class actresses, both of them and they both know powerfully what Meisner knew, that acting is doing!!

An actor’s fear…If I was faking it on stage or in front of the camera, I’d be scared too. You will get nervous if you are not really lost in anything. Re-focus your energy. Diane Keaton said, “Acting is the proper focus of energy.” If someone is focused on trying to be a ‘good actor,’ trying to impress their parents in the audience, trying to get the job, trying to win an award, your best work is not gonna happen. You’ve got to give up the whether your good or bad; and give it up for—‘I gotta go, I’ll see ya later and when I come back you can tell me how it went.’ You cannot be concerned or focused on your own performance. Meisner said 99% of the time, the audience will do what you do, you get involved, they’ll get involved. You pay attention, they’ll pay attention. You have a good time, they’ll have a good time. You listen, they’ll listen. With ONE exception: the emotional quality—if you feel sorry for yourself and feel self pity, they don’t need to... You will lose your audience. That’s the only time the audience will go away. There is an old quote for actors about the more you cry onstage, the less the audience will need to. There is truth in that. No one goes to the theatre to watch someone in a difficult situation feel sorry for themselves. They go to see someone stand up against the worst odds and attempt to overcome them and never give up and that way they identify with that part of themselves.

Did Meisner use words like objectives and actions?

No, never. Just doing, very simple. He always kept it simple.
What are you doing? The second part of the work which comes after Repetition is called the Independent Activity.
An Independent Activity is something the actor sets up, brings in, prepares to do that has 3 qualities:

1. Difficulty- So difficult, it’s almost impossible to accomplish
2. Urgency- So urgent, it demands all of your attention.
3: The Reason Why ? - Why you are doing what you are doing and/or Who are you doing it for? The reason should be very close to your heart, meaningful, provocative, moving to you, scary and exciting. The reason why is what motivates the actor to do it.

If an actor comes in and is getting dressed and writing a eulogy for his father’s funeral service. You’ll find out in 5 seconds if you have a real actor, if they’re really doing something, if it brings them to life or if they are just faking it.

One of my students did an exercise where she was removing bandages from her body for each of her emotional wounds from her childhood in an abusive family and doing a ceremony where she lit a candle each time she removed a different bandage. It was so moving. People willing to be witnessed in these places. All secrets go away and they start to become an open channel of expression. Then, once they get a taste of the “Reality of Doing”, they’ll never do something fake or inauthentic again onstage, nothing phony and if they do, they will always know the difference.

The play “Night, Mother” is really one independent activity, one doing. A woman has to try to convince her daughter not to commit su***de. There are many things she does during the course of the play, but if she ever stops trying to convince her daughter not to commit su***de during the course of the play then she is done, out of the play, not really doing what she needs to do to be real.

Meisner never used words like objective or super objective, but just simply…doing . The doing is to stop her daughter from committing su***de. It has difficulty because her daughter has decided to take her own life later in the evening. It has urgency because she has decided to do it within two hours and the reason why she is trying to stop her is because she loves her daughter and does not want her to die.

So in everything, from an exercise, to a scene, to a full play or film, you can tell whether the actor is really doing what they are asked to do. And they give it meaning by asking the right questions, why are you doing that, who are you doing that for, how much time do you have to accomplish that ? Are you really writing that eulogy? When you see them become affected by what they’re doing, then you know you have an actor, if you see someone just trying to be phony or trying to be emotional, they’re not doing the work.

Do you coach actors who have never studied Meisner?

All the time. I have to quickly get them introduced to the
“Reality of Doing”, into the idea of getting real. Getting them to stop “acting,” and instead to be honest and try to get them to come to life. In a coaching session, it is hard to get someone’s channel to open all of a sudden. That’s tricky. You can only do so much, but if they’re able and willing, you just use the technique, you use the “Reality of Doing” something. We never break it down intellectually, we never talk script analysis or interpretation. We say, what are you doing here? Are you here to confront her, then really confront her! Just keep it simple, get into the doing and hopefully if you have an actor, the emotions will come spontaneously.

One of the biggest obstacles many actors deal with is that fear of making a fool of themselves, to be exposed or to be found out to be a phony. The irony is that the actors who are willing to do these things are the ones that work! The ones who are willing to risk, willing to make an ass of themselves and put themselves out there on the stage are the only ones who achieve some greatness, some mastery in their craft.

George Bernard Shaw said
“Acting is self revelation brought to the optique of the theatre” Self revelation means simply to reveal oneself and that is what all great actors do over and over. In our classes, we ask you to tell us what you hate about yourself. Tell me what you don’t want anyone to know. Tell me what no one knows about you. Tell us a secret. Tell us what you dream about that you don’t want anyone to hear. Tell us what you’re embarrassed about. Tell us what you want to change. That starts a motion that lets them know what they’re in for. So, they either need to run for the door or they will stay forever. When they come up against a wall, they’re either gonna break it down, go around it or turn around and head for the hills ! If they just want to be a star, or be rich and famous, they never get to the work, they just leave. If they really love it and want to act no matter what and they stay, they become the most beautiful, pure, dedicated, revealing, and sensitive actors I have ever met.

Meisner said “Art expresses the human experience”. I love that and I love working with people. I love teaching this technique. And I love working with actors who bring all of themselves and their highest level of humanity to their work. Ultimately, I think that’s it, quite simply, that great actors are usually also great humanitarians.

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