Contributed in quarantine by Emma Welch
Part 2 in a series of 6 — To catch up on Part 1 Read Here
To sum it up plain & simple: the work is not exactly the same; but it’s possible and valuable. And really great work is being done by the students and faculty through this platform. Not every scene, not every exercise, not every class–but that’s also certainly the case when in the Studio too.
From what I’ve gathered (and experienced myself), working through a screen makes it a heck of a lot harder to focus and connect. Connecting to your peers is possible, but it now demands 110% of your energy to stay in it.
They are in the middle of relationship work…..
For those unfamiliar with the work, let me go on a tangent here.
Our First-Year students are exploring improvisatory exercises with deep personal meaning.
Partner 1 is in the room doing a meaningful activity (practicing a song for their grandpa’s funeral in 20 minutes, planning the perfect prank to get back at their little brother before he leaves for college), and Partner 2 is entering the room with something they need from Partner 1, connected to an imaginary relationship and circumstance that both actors are committed to.
The tenets of the work – “taking in” your partner, responding to them on impulse – are surprisingly achievable in this platform. Noticing behavior is almost heightened by the camera frame, many have reported.
You take in more minute, specific details than you might have in the room. Since it’s a close-up, you have access to details you’d never see in class standing 5-10 feet away. And the rest of the class can see those details as well – which makes the work so much more vivid for everybody.
But when your impulse is to hand them a bouquet of flowers, or when you’re knocking on your door in Santa Fe and it’s not coming through your partner’s screen in the Catskills – things get clunky.
” Oh, this is really cool! I can actually see every time a thought comes in your face” – Terry to Gabe Rysdahl
“Now you have the benefit of a close-up, you can see the nuances of the entire face. To tell you the God’s honest truth, I think it amplifies it…as far as reading behavior, as far as being present…because it’s you and the other person and that’s it, there’s no audience there. You hear Terry giving his notes…pointing things out, doing what masterful stuff he does.” – Fernando Mateo Jr
“The work is possible but it requires more attention. Your sense of truth knows the person isn’t in the room. They say ‘Come in?’ and I’m like ‘Come in where?! Into your screen?’…[This experience is] really pushing us to be even more involved with your partner, forgetting about the rest no matter what, because we won’t always have the Studio in the future.” –Alexis Bessonart
“Basically the activities are an episode of Chopped. Ok, I’ve got an egg, a sharpie, and three matches, what do I do? Now you don’t really have that luxury [of going to the dollar store] so yeah what the hell are you gonna pull out of your ass that’s gonna motivate you, that’s gonna bring you to life? What’s at your disposal?” – Fernando Mateo Jr
“I can focus on the negative but there is a silver lining to everything. Like with activities–it calls for more inventiveness; it calls for more connection; it calls for, like, all these positive things that will actually be rewarding.” – Fern Hall
“We’re all still willing to take the risks in this new [platform]. I’m going to be [in my underwear] in the hallway because I need to explore that. I want to feel it, so I’m going to take that risk!” – KiYonna Carr
“I feel very affected by what’s going on in the world. I’m not immune to it, and it’s hard to keep that out of my mind and go into acting class and just focus on that. But again, good practice for when things are going on in my life and I need to let those aside and focus.” – Fern Hall
“Sometimes on a film set, the last take is the best one because you’re exhausted …So I think in that sense, that’s how [the world’s] affecting my work…..There’s just so much uncertainty– the nervousness of doing a good scene kinda goes out the window and you can be more free. It clears out the bullshit. And I see it from my classmates. People are opening up through Zoom, and I wonder how much of that is because there’s so much ‘swirling around’ there’s not time to really get into your head…and that person in front of you, your partner, all the sudden becomes your lifeline.” – Gabe Rysdahl
The 2nd-Years are doing table work on scenes, with the big question mark of: “What happens next when we’re off-book (memorized) and working on blocking??”
But as actors, our imagination is our most important resource. An actor who needs to show the audience they are stepping into a magical forest and being kissed on the cheek by a fairy is most likely just staring at a green screen and a tennis ball.
There are difficulties and sacrifices in doing the work this way. But so far, it seems that the work they’re doing now (at the ‘table’ sitting down with scripts in hand) translates very well to this platform. Many expressed feeling grateful to be at this stage of the work.
“Of all students at the Studio, being at end of second year, having already learned the majority of what I need to learn – Right now we’re just putting everything together and making sure that it works. [It’s] really good practice for the outside world – helping to strengthen and build that muscle of ‘Oh shit, I have work to do.’ And it’s not necessarily gonna be in a nice little comfy acting studio. I gotta do this work at home for myself.” – Victoria Ré Milien
“For the first couple rehearsals – it was weird – like: am I supposed to truthfully take you in as if you’re here in the room with me? Or you’re across from me and that I’m looking at a screen? That was a weird adjustment. I think I landed somewhere in between. Like you’re there, but you’re also in a screen.” – Jihoon Im
“Interestingly, the video platform gives more freedom for equally giving space to each other…. In a physical environment, sometimes some people can take over the conversation for a long time. I just feel like the video platform makes me more aware that there are two sides of this conversation, there are two parts…..Everyone’s talking in these classes. People who don’t usually talk much, they share their opinions. It feels more participatory. If someone wants to say something, it’s so hard to miss someone raising a hand, and it’s so easy to raise a hand. The social contract is much more clear on video chats.” – Berk Ilhan
“It’s kinda like an on-camera class now. I’m actually getting feedback from Terry I never got from him before. Like ‘Yeah, you do this bug-eyed thing, like I can see this tension in your face.’ It was probably there before but it’s probably more apparent. Everyone’s seeing our faces closer than usual” – Grace Su
“I’m much more aware of my actions in terms of how my body’s moving. When I’m seeing other people work, every moment that they do–you can just see it so much; every movement that their face makes. Because of that, I feel like there’s this level of detail that I wasn’t getting in the room…feels more heightened and as a result I feel more conscious of that. I can’t say it’s like good or bad it just is. It is what it is.” – Jihoon Im
“I feel somehow more seen by the screen, for whatever reason it feels more intimate and much closer. Something about the camera that makes it so specific – I can feel my partner see me when she’s in it. I know that I can easily step out of frame – it adds more to the actor to stay in it, more responsibility.” – Jorge Felipe Guevara
The challenges of the work manifest differently for everyone. Particularly the focus. And each individual is finding their unique way into the work.
Daniel Klimek, talked about the big challenge of focus for him in online class. To engage himself, he designed a simple prank with his Zoom background during roll call.
“I had to get the prank out of my system and then I was just fully in the work; I was fully there. That really helped me.”
“Rehearsals have actually gone really long but we’re both ok with it. Very first online rehearsal was 3.5 hours. And both of us found it very meaningful. Both of us found it very productive. Maybe it was a good distraction from real life.” – Grace Su
“Getting started on crafting something–it’s more or less always a struggle you know. But once I sit down for like 15 min and just say ‘It doesn’t matter what I get done, I’m just gonna focus on one thing,’ that kinda leads to more. And so that piece of it remains a struggle, whether or not I’m just stuck in my house. Maybe it gives me less of an excuse. I don’t have the excuse of like ‘Oh, once I go grab a coffee or like go to this museum then i’ll be in the creative zone.’ No. I just have to do it – here.” – Jihoon Im
Victoria Ré Milien spoke about a new sense of efficiency on Zoom:
“At least for me – I don’t care to be online and on screen all day – I want our rehearsals to move as efficiently as possible so I’m not really gonna be talking about our day. Also there’s nothing to talk about! So that’s the last thing I want to talk about. So it helps to cut to the chase, get to the work, put the meaning in it and be on point from the time that you come in.”
This is Part 2 of a 6 Part series. To continue reading, please visit our Blog