This morning I observed Larry Moss's coaching process at the Roundhouse Theatre at the invitation of La Boite, (Thank you La Boite!), a wonderful opportunity for any actor, regardless of how long one has studied. I left feeling strangely disturbed, having experienced flashbacks of my intense and life changing acting training with Stella Adler in New York City in the late 70's. I knew I had to spend time deconstructing my experience so that I gain an understanding of my journey from then till now.
For those who don't know, Larry Moss (http://larrymoss.org) is a highly valued acting teacher with a coaching studio in California. In his time, he has worked with many well-known theatre icons, including Stella Adler. Now he works with many successful actors living on the other side of the Pacific. He comes to Australia on a semi-regular basis to host workshops along the east coast of Australia. I think this is the first time he has come to Brisbane.
Reading his popular book on acting, The Intent to Live, Achieving your True Potential as an Actor, Larry Moss writes in his introduction
One of the most important things I've learned about acting is that you can't separate how you live your life and how you practice your art.
And I think he could easily have followed with the above quote that I found in a magazine somewhere. Artists must learn to be able to be vulnerable, empathic, compassionate, "alive and firing" (Deborah Hay's favourite quote) on stage, BUT not at the expense of their private lives. And there's the rub. We are so driven to perform to the best of our ability, that we often do not take time to consider how important it is to stay grounded. One of the most valuable things Moss said was that acting is a process, not a destination. Rather than being right or wrong, black or white, acting is always in process.
I certainly agree with this and I also believe in Moss's suggestion that we need to live our lives as we practice our art. For many years my quest has been to focus on how to help actors live well and at the same time have a thriving vocation, a way of being that heavily relies on their emotional landscape and their unique embodied practice. As Moss worked with the actors, I noticed the importance he placed on voice production, mentioning Patsy Rosenburg, a marvellous vocal coach...here is a link to her website: http://www.patsyrodenburg.com/PatsyRodenburg.com/Home.html
Vocal production is an essential skill for every actor to master. And not just actors. Many think of the voice as being representative of the self. Last week I participated in a voice class at NIDA Corporate as their role-play actor. The corporate clients were there to improve their vocal range because they were aware of how important their voice was in the world of business. They were in search of a new way of being present through voice. In Patsy Rosenburg's latest book, she writes about this concept of Presence: a delightful exploration of energies that one can harness to create energy on stage.
Her exploration of presence begins like this:
...I began to recognize the different types of energy that a human can learn to harness: energy of the body, the breath, the voice, the mind, the heart and the spirit. We all give out energy and by listening we all receive energy. Give and take. What I discovered was that it wasn't a miracle that [acting] students found their presence, it was a tragedy that they lost it in the first place. I began to know that presence is a universal quality that we all have but it somehow flattened out of us- 'It' is an 'It' that we all have locked away in our bodies and breath that can be awakened" (Rosenburg, 2007).
Rosenburg identified three basic energy movements: she explains it in her book and Moss mentioned one of them today while coaching a student.
Here is a brief summary of Rosenburg's Circles. I find them extremely useful to identify why a scene may not be working:
1. First Circle is inward moving, introspection, drawing energy towards the self. It is focusing on self: "the energy you generate falls back into you".
2. Second Circle focuses on a specific object or person and moves in both directions: taking in and giving out. The preferred way of being on stage (and off!). Rosenburg describes it as "the energy of connecting" and it was interesting to note when the actors really connected today and when they just waited for their turn to speak.
3. Third Circle focuses outward. It is non specific. Rosenburg describes it as "spraying your energy out to the world with an aerosol can". I am reminded of parties where I am talking with someone, seemingly in dialogue, however their focus is everywhere but you.
Rosenburg believes that we all have a favourite Circle, one that we use habitually, and that preferred Circle can block our presence (Rosenburg, 2007). I believe this is what Moss was focusing on this morning as he worked with his actors. He seemed to move them through different circles, sometimes asking them to reflect deeply, sometimes having them create a loud guttural sound and then suggesting they play clean actions in order to create the intensity of relationship needed to move the scene forward.
As I watched, I remembered the classes that I sat in with Stella Adler all those years ago, recalling how we scrambled to work in front of her when the opportunity arose; the deep deconstruction of our scenes, and often a deconstruction of us as performers. I remember the shame of not getting it right and the judgements that followed, both from myself and also from Adler. It was extremely uncomfortable sometimes, and as I watched today, I'm not sure things have changed.
Moss was very kind to his actors and managed to move each one of them towards a stronger, more powerful performance by the end of the coaching session, and at the same time I noticed that assumptions were occasionally made regarding the actors' way of being, nothing that I hadn't heard before...but it awoke in me the need for careful technique when talking to actors-in-process, so that they grow to their best selves, both professionally and privately. What may work on stage, may not translate off stage into a healthier way of being.
When a class is large and a student is learning new ways of being-in-their-world, there is enormous pressure to perform at the expense of self: the task is to relate cleanly and honestly with compassion, empathy and intelligence. Yet until an actor understands themselves, this level of vulnerability can have a negative affect. Yet we are trained to be witnessed after all, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Regardless of my slight discomfort as I witnessed actors being hard on themselves, I left wanting to re-read Larry Moss's text and Patsy Rosenburg's latest book. Unable to find my hard copies, I downloaded Presence and Intent to Live onto my Kindle and plan on spending time deconstructing their processes so that as director I have very clean lines with which to direct my actors, beginning with the question "What Circle are you in?" and ending with "Remember, acting is a process, not a destination".