Student in training Nita Arpiainen talks to AT Coach Ashlie Walker
Why does the AT use Meisner technique?
Meisner used a series of exercises to train the actors instrument and these form the foundations of the training - but the rest is really down to what is happening in the moment between the students and teacher. We use ‘Meisner exercises’ because they work, they get straight to the heart of a lot of the common problems actors face. Including self-consciousness, a desire to be good, habits that stop us from being truthful and thoughts that stop us from listening to each other. I think students feel an immense amount of relief when they are given permission to really be themselves. I know I did when I started working in this way.
To be clear though, we don’t teach ‘Meisner’. The Temple have own approach to acting -influenced by our personal teachers, experiences and evolved understanding. A pit-full of many actors is to try and replicate what they think is 'good acting', this can be a downfall for teachers too. It has to be a personal process, from the inside out. Which is why all our tutors have their own individual style. However, we are united in our ethos and the underlying principles we teach.
What is Repetition?
It is a simple exercise that reveals a lot. It is a learning tool, a practice tool and eventually a helpful rehearsal tool. At each stage, the repetition exercise can look very different as understanding deepens. No two Reps are the same - just like no two performances are the same. Acting can be a very isolating profession, especially in the early days. Preparing for castings alone, moving from project to project, turning up to work without knowing anyone present. But the very nature of acting is about understanding relationships. Repetition brings us into direct contact with ourselves and others and helps to keep us 'in touch'. The only way to really understand the many far-reaching benefits, is to practice.
What are some of the underlying principles that you teach?
I think one of the most important lessons, is that it’s never about you. Actors can be incredibly self-conscious, and who wouldn’t feel self-conscious standing up in front of strangers and speaking someone else’s words, it is unnatural. Going on stage with expectations is a problem many actors face. They want to be interesting, good, liked, important. So we have to acknowledge that, we have to confront these desires. One of the ways we do that, is to learn to direct our attention away from ourselves and onto our acting partner (or what we are doing). When we realise that all the inspiration, the drama, the ‘gold’ lies in the other person, we stop thinking about ourselves. As a consequence, something special happens. We leave ourselves alone. In those moments, the audience get to see the real human being behind the ‘character’. This is one of the reasons we go to the theatre or watch films. We want to see ourselves up there, to recognise our own struggles. We want someone to be brave enough to drop the mask, giving us permission to do the same. Of course, this is very simplified and developing the ability to stop acting is a long-term process. It begins with training our attention.
What do you hope students take from the classes?
Every student brings their own unique experiences to the room and yet on some level, we are all the same. It’s working with this awareness, together, to discover each moment as it unravels on stage. If we can work towards the building of an ‘actors faith’, then we are on track. It sounds simple, but it takes time. It’s not about jumping in blindly without a care in the world. It is the result of dedicated practice and a commitment to working through fear/blocks. It can be incredibly rewarding to see a student start to take risks on stage, to reveal themselves without prompting. Knowing they are acting on impulse, yet with a highly tuned sense of direction.