Get three acting teachers together in a room, pretty much the only thing two of them are going to agree about is that the third one is wrong.
Well, pretty much. But I think there are few things that many of them will agree about, if not all. And one of those is the primacy of listening. Sanford Meisner built a whole technique around teaching people to tune into the behavior of the partner. At Andrew Wood, we go about achieving this attunement in a manner that is quite different from the way a Meisner, but we absolutely agree that listening is critical.
There’s an opportunity to practice some deep listening this weekend that I thought you should know about. Storycorps, an organization dedicated to recording the stories of ordinary Americans, continues a long tradition of oral history in America that includes the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration and the work of Studs Terkel. You may have heard Storycorps on NPR. They usually play an episode on the Friday episode of Morning Edition each week. If you have never listened to Storycorps, I strongly recommend checking out. In these interviews, people often end up voicing the ways in which they matter to each other, doing their best to manifest the significance of a vital relationship in words. It’s usually quite moving to listen to, and I think I steady diet of it can go a long way towards doing what Franz Kafka said that books needed to do for us: to “break up the frozen sea within”, always a good thing of actors. (Here’s a recent one that I like a lot, but there are tons of great ones.) I think hearing people give voice to these things is especially important for actors for another reason, though: what is always vital to understanding a scene is often this personal significance that people have to each other, which usually is seldom given direct expression by characters. I think listening to these Storycorps interviews actually helps us tune into this personal significance in relationships, and can help us understand it in scenes that we work on.
For Thanksgiving, Storycorps has launched something called The Great Thanksgiving Listen. Storycorps is encouraging high school students (and anyone else who wants to participate) to use the Storycorps app to to interview an elder, to preserve the elder’s experience as oral history, and then upload the oral history to the Storycorps archive, to become a permanent part of the “archive of the wisdom of humanity”. I think it’s a great thing to do, and plan to do at least interview this holiday season, and hopefully more. I think it’s a valuable exercise for all of us to engage with those who are most important to us and have had a decisive impact on our lives, and will help us in trying to make imaginary relationships matter to us when we are acting scene.
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