Of Meisner and Men

So for almost the last two years, I have been taking a Meisner Technique class down in the West Village on Saturday afternoons with a great, no BS teacher named Alan Gordon.  For those unfamiliar with the Meisner Technique, it is so named for Sanford Meisner, one of the preeminent American acting teachers.  Meisner came out of the Group Theatre alongside people like Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Elia Kazan and eventually created his own approach to acting, which became known as the Meisner Technique.  The main points of the Meisner Technique are about not doing anything until something happens to you, doing something because of how you feel, and doing whatever you do fully.  Get that?  It’s all about DOING.  No thinking.  No trying.  It involves a LOT of repetition, which most people would assume is boring, but it disciplines you to listen, focus on your partner, and get out of your own head.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s basically a magic sedative for your neurotic tendencies. 

Well, at least it is for me.  I can’t speak for the OTHER 8,999,999 people in New York City.

Anyway, in Things That Never Happen To Twentysomething Female Actresses in New York (which will probably be the title of a chapter in my memoirs), my acting class happens to have quite a few straight men. 

13305013_10206618278437799_6338819931218120113_o

This is a vision board I made this past summer while drinking a glass of white wine, and yes, features a Beyonce quote. #hypocrite

Yes, you read that 100% correctly.  I am just as baffled as you.  I spent four
years at an artsy university where our unofficial slogan was “gay by May or your money back.” (That is a real thing. #goStars)  I haven’t been around so many straight men in a creative scenario for so long, it feels like being in a foreign country.  The best part is I didn’t even have to make a vision board (which, if I understand correctly, is where women drink white wine and cut pictures of yachts and six-pack abs and Beyonce quotes out of magazines?) or use the Secret to manifest this, it simply happened!

I am at an unusual stage in my development as an adult woman, I think.  My last relationship ended over three years ago, and I really haven’t dated anyone seriously since.  Yet, 75-85% of my closest friends are all in serious relationships now.  I’m 28, and I’ve basically had all of about two actual boyfriends in my life.  I realize I shouldn’t really compare myself to other people, but sometimes I look around and think, am I doing something wrong?  Even my ex is dating someone else (and honestly, I don’t even want to get into THAT right now).

And did I mention that I pretty much work with all men, the majority of whom are straight?  I am surrounded day in and day out by single, eligible men, and I didn’t even have to subject myself to being on the Bachelorette to do it.  No roses to give out.  No weird hot tub conversations.  No fantasy suites.  I wouldn’t mind chatting with Chris Harrison, because we went to the same university, but I don’t want to do it while I’m also trying to court twenty-five dudes with appallingly preppy names like Chad or Geoff (apologies to all non-douchey Chads and Geoffs).

chris-harrison

Chris Harrison, fellow OCU Star, and red rose/love advocate

ANYWAY…College Emmy would excitedly down half a Four Loko (the original version with caffeine, because those still existed in my day, sorry body) and proceed to try to get one of these dudes at work or in her class to be interested in her.  She’d try way too hard and get very drunk and force her best friend to drive her to get cheeseburgers from Whataburger at 3:30am and help her take her pants off before going to bed (which may or may not have happened…several times.  Sorry/Thank you, Caitlin.).

But Current Day Emmy can’t be bothered.  It’s not that I’m not interested, exactly; it’s that I’m less interested in TRYING.  Why should I TRY to make any of these men like me?  Why should I TRY to force my way into a relationship I’m maybe not enthusiastic about for the sake of saying I’m in a relationship?  I tried very hard to make my last relationship work, but truthfully, his heart wasn’t fully invested in it or in me.  Trying just isn’t good enough; it isn’t active enough.  Trying isn’t enough.  It is because of my Meisner class that I have become less interested in trying and more interested in DOING.  In FEELING.  In BEING.   I believe it was Yoda who said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  I subscribe to that more than ever these days.  It’s like carrying my OWN little Yoda on back through my personal Dagobah training ground (i.e. New York City…which CAN actually get quite swampy in the summer heat).  And that is why I just DO my work and don’t try to make men like me anymore, and you know what?  I have noticed interesting things have started to happen to me.

yodalukedagobah

I carry my Meisner Technique training on my back like it’s Yoda…except my sweaty hair never looks as good as Luke’s.

The more I have focused on my work and doing the things I want to do, the more opportunities have started to come my way.  Better creative jobs.  People wanting to collaborate with me.  Money is flowing in.  I’m happier (other than the deep worry over the spectre of fascism associated with this dumpster fire of a presidential election).  It feels as if the universe is conspiring on my behalf (I know, Amy Schumer; I’m the worst.) the more I DO my own thing, the more I DO my work.  And that has also led me to feeling a lot more comfortable in my own skin and worrying less about whether or not dudes are into me.  It’s actually really freeing.  And when you’re comfortable in your own skin, I think it also makes you more attractive to others.  It’s amazing how when you let yourself be seen for who you really are without apologizing for it (which is a major struggle for women, because we always think we have to be someone else in order to please everyone in a way men never do), the right people start making their way into your life.  You are far more interesting when you’re really being yourself.  And some of the gentlemen around me these days are noticing that confidence and noticing me…if you know what I mean.

And as great and flattering as it is, I realized I actually like having my skills and work validated more than my relationship status on Facebook.  It’s taken me awhile to get there, and I could very well change my mind tomorrow, but if I’m really being true to myself, I’ve always cared more about what I’m doing and putting out into the world my whole life than whether I’m attached to somebody else.  I KNOW.  That’s a pretty big life realization, but it’s the truth.  I never really remember dreaming about my wedding as a kid; it was always about what I was going to DO with my life.  But you all know that if Benedict Cumberbatch or Oscar Isaac or Tom Hiddleston or Michael Fassbender (or any of my other Dream Internet Boyfriends) came knocking on my door, there’s no way I’d be turning THAT down. Honestly, if I feel a strong attraction to a dude now (and maybe I currently do to one one of the fellows around me…which I will neither confirm nor deny at this moment in time), and I feel it’s worth doing something about, then I will (okay, fine, I’m currently doing something about it; I’ll confirm it).  But gone are the days of TRYING; that only led to me feeling unhappy and like I was less than others.  I may not have all the same things in my life right now as many of my friends, but that doesn’t mean anyone is better or more fulfilled than anyone else.  It’s just different is all.

kxkp3gq

Oscar Isaac: deserving recipient of my pancakes, $12 maple syrup, and my undying love/devotion

Do I get lonely sometimes?  Sure.  I’m a really supportive, smart, funny person who makes awesome pancakes that I think an intelligent, funny guy would enjoy eating for breakfast, but I’d rather the RIGHT intelligent, funny guy get those pancakes than waste my precious time and energy and maple syrup on a string of wrong guys (Hey, real maple syrup from Vermont or our Canadian neighbors is like, $12 a bottle. Not giving that liquid gold to just ANY Chad or Geoff.  Chris Harrison, you may have some.  Also Oscar Isaac.).

And it’s only natural that so much of what I’ve learned in nearly two years of studying the Meisner Technique has begun infiltrating my personal life.  If art truly imitates life and vice versa, then how could I possibly avoid speaking my mind/feelings honestly with others both onstage and off?  I’ve always been a confident person, but having grown up in the Midwest where politeness is prized above plainspoken candor, I haven’t always felt comfortable communicating my wants/needs out of fear of insulting others or being a burden.  But you reach a point where that repression is unbearable and you have a choice: wallow in it or DO something about it.  So now I DO something about it.  And that has made all the difference, because when you are clear about what you want and/or how you feel, it makes it easier to deal with others and for others to deal with you.  You can’t control how others will respond, but you eliminate the guesswork.  Honesty is still, most of the time, the best policy.  DO something because of how you feel.  DO it fully.  Meisner’s mantras are now MY mantras.   They should be all of our mantras.

So DO your work.  DO things that make you happy.  Don’t worry about the other stuff.

13719541_10207061163469648_7723329730975939319_o

Nothing says “I’m a confident, independent Millennial woman” like a hipster filter-y Instagram selfie on a mountaintop (that probably has a caption like #wanderlust)

“We know what we got, and we don’t care whether you know it or not.”

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

How Being a Temp(orary Receptionist) Has Helped My Acting

I spend, on average, 20+ hours a week answering phones, sending emails, delivering packages, and re-stocking fridges in office buildings all around the great City of New York.  I have worked for Barnes & Noble Headquarters, NASCAR, Grey advertising, Patek Philippe, and tons of fairly prestigious financial investment firms.  And while I haven’t had say, an actual professional acting gig yet, I consider many of my temp jobs as an opportunity to hone my acting skills and use them on a day-to-day basis.

You might say then that I do, in fact, act 20+ hours a week as well.

So how exactly has being a temp helped my acting (other than padding my bank account and keeping a roof over my head)?  Let’s take a look.

The receptionist is the first point of contact for all guests, which means it’s vitally important to make a good first impression so every guest feels welcome throughout the duration of their visit to the office (and also doesn’t think ill of the company).  That means offering a smile, a seat, something to drink, and taking their coat.  Above all, the receptionist offers respect.  Most days, I am perfectly friendly and have no trouble greeting people, but like any normal person, I occasionally have days when I would prefer to be anywhere but the office and not have to interact with anyone.  As an actor, it’s important to be respectful of everyone around you from your fellow actors to the crew to the director to the audience, much like being a receptionist.  And even if you aren’t feeling up to the part (at least emotionally; sickness is a different issue), you still have to perform at one-hundred percent no matter what else is going on in your life.  You owe that to everyone around you, especially when they’ve brought their A-game.

Answering and transferring phone calls is a big portion of any reception job.  Again, it’s important to be friendly, but it’s even more important to speak clearly and to listen well.  So much weight in acting training is put upon all the complexities of various methods from Stanislavsky to Meisner, etc, that many actors forget the simplest, most significant part of acting: listening and responding with clarity.  What’s the point of living in the woods with nothing but prospecting tools from the 1880s and the clothes on your back as “Method research” for your character if you don’t bother to really listen to those around you and speak clearly and accurately?  When I answer the phone, I really attempt to listen hard to what the person on the other end is saying and then do my best to speak as clearly as I can so they know what’s going on or get the answer they’re looking for.  In turn, I’ve learned to be an even better listener (and have proper diction when speaking!), which is not only good for my acting, but just in life in general.

Being a temp is basically being a substitute teacher for offices.  I’m very lucky to often be asked back to offices in which I’ve previously worked, but I frequently am going to new places, which means I have to jump right into things quickly and often learn on the job.  Having to leap without looking can be scary, but it forces you to be confident with your choices and think on your feet.  It goes without saying that acting sometimes requires improvisation and always requires confidence and a commitment to making bold choices.  Because of temp-ing I have learned how to adapt myself quickly to new work environments and protocols and be more confident with my choices.  If I make a mistake, I don’t beat myself up, I just learn how to fix it and move on with my day, without anguishing over the fact I didn’t do everything perfect.  The goal is always to make as few mistakes as possible and make everyone else’s day go as smoothly as if the real receptionist were there.  Being confident also means not being afraid of asking questions.  If you don’t know the answer to something, just ask.  I’m a big proponent of asking questions, because I feel it’s part of my job to try to understand as much as I can about what’s going on around me (also highly important in acting).  I’m always surprised by how many people are too proud to admit they don’t know everything, so they never ask questions, fearing it will make them look unconfident or stupid or assuming people don’t want to help them.  This is totally wrong.  I’ve yet to meet a single person in one of my workplaces who doesn’t want to help my day go smoother by answering a few questions.  Ask and ye shall receive, kids.

So to re-cap, these things apply to both Temp Work AND Acting: 

  1. Show respect to those around you by being friendly and giving 100% at all times.
  2. Really listen to people and respond clearly.
  3. Be confident and make strong choices.
  4. Don’t agonize over making mistakes; fix them and move on.
  5. Be adaptable.
  6. Ask questions!
  7. Learn as much as you can about your role and what’s going on around you.

Apply these to your life (and acting if applicable), and I promise you’ll see instant, positive results!