I struggled for a long time to understand exactly how acting was an art form. Not that I didn’t think it was. I knew that it was. I simply didn’t understand how, or how I was an artist within it.
In many ways I’m glad that it was a long and very often painful journey to beginning to grasp it. One of the things I discovered about creating art defied much of my training up to that point.
I thought that acting was something that I did. That if I wanted to create art I had to I make it happen. I believed that I could create something artful through some kind of hard work and sheer willful effort. If failed, I tried harder.
I succeeded very well at getting very frustrated. I knew my “craft” extraordinarily well. I knew how to break down a scene, how to root out the circumstances, objectives, superobjectives, obstacles, stakes, beats, subtext, inner monologue, backstory, moment before, moment after, secret, relationship etc. and used breathing techniques, stretching, gentle massage, sense memory, substitution, psychological gestures, animal exercises, clock exercises, blind exercises, fourth wall exercises, and more exercises and more exercises and on and on and on — I tried it. Still, I couldn’t find the art in my artform but I believed I would know it when it happened.
Where I found it wasn’t in any piece of craft or technique. Not in some trick or tool I picked up in a class or workshop. As it turns out I found it everywhere — right in front of me, around me and within me. It was in the person I was listening and speaking to, and in my surrender to the present moment. That, as I discovered, is where the extraordinary occurs.
All along I was using my craft to try and control and manipulate myself and my scene partner. I was acting at them and not with them. I had been trying to technique my way to a great performance and some kind of artistic experience. I realized that I don’t do it, it does me. My job is to create the space inside myself for creation to occur and get the hell out of the way.
There’s this moment in Meisner work where you find yourself in the middle of a scene and realize that you haven’t thought about yourself for the last several minutes. You were consumed by the reality of what was happening and in your commitment to discovering it, you actually did. You lived it. Selflessly. Truthfully. Until now. Because now you’re thinking about yourself, which is probably where your head has been for most of your acting life.
I cannot tell you how much I love this work that Sanford Meisner created. How transformative it is. How freeing it is.
I can’t say that every role I play is what would be considered art, but I know that I don’t think about it so much anymore. I do my best to truthfully and selflessly surrender to the moment and see what awaits there. Perhaps in that space, art lies waiting to be expressed.
Evan C. Schulte