Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blog #61: How the Image of a Tree Can Help Meisner’s Knock-at-the-Door Exercise

           The last few blogs are really ‘de rigeur’ before starting an in-depth analysis of ‘activities’ and ‘naming behavior.’  We’ve spent a lot of time demonstrating that ‘sensory meditation’ reveals our own personal ‘life objective,’ and how this force propels us forward, for better or worse, whether we are aware of it or not. Actors are greatly helped by being able to pinpoint this activating principle. Trauma is always involved, like death of a parent, fighting between parents, abandonment such as a younger child taking the mother’s attention, abuse, incest, etc. Pain and confusion are inevitable fallout from digging into the depths of our being – even through the delicate and safe, and often excruciatingly slow, process of ‘sensory meditation’. But ‘true actors’ will do anything for their art and persevere. I think all real actors go through this journey in one form or another, although the level of difficulty varies greatly. Some boast that they don’t need it, but they may fall into it so naturally, they aren’t even aware that they are doing anything at all. Most of us are not this fortunate…
            One cannot wait for ‘sensory meditation’ to kick in the desired results, hence all the other techniques should be brought in simultaneously; conflict exercises with partners, text analysis, research, body and voice training, etc.
            Next on our list are ‘activities’ and ‘naming behavior.’
            What does an ‘activity’ consist of? This is the general idea:
(a) Accomplishing the activity should involve a certain amount of difficulty.
(b) It is something which needs to be done in a certain time frame.
(c) It is very important
(d) There are personal consequences if it is not finished.
            Let us think once again of the tree analogy, with the roots offering the original impulse to push the trunk away from the ground which we can compare to the actor’s objective – and all the branches, twigs, leaves. etc. are part of the rush toward the sun.
            Where does the ‘activity’ fit into this image.
            Aren’t the roots, themselves, also the ‘activity?’  They ground the tree and keep it from being split and broken apart by an outside force, usually the wind.  This is an opposite impulse from the original urge to grow upward, to be as high and mighty as it can be.
            Suddenly, we can see how a scene is a shared organism.  People in conflict become one tree in a storm. The upper part is pulling away in response to the effect of the wind. But the roots are desperate to ground the organism. In a scene both parties have a tremendous need to express themselves. There is no harmony; one element, the roots, need to resist the negative force of the other – branches, even the trunk in a desperate situation – which is trying to pull the whole thing up into the air. Where there may have been harmony at one time, now a negative situation is developing. The tree is a good symbol because it shows that an argument is of equal importance to the two sides; if one wins the other ‘dies’. This death is often/usually only metaphoric, but at the moment of the argument, it should feel like life and death to the actor.
            In an argument, we are two parts of one organism, one pulls down into itself in order to be safe, or keep things as they always have been, and the other needs to change its situation, even if it imperils the life of the entire communication between the two parties. 

            Like a relationship, if the forces pulling it apart become too ferocious, a tree will crack apart. The victory will never be complete, therefore in a sense both sides will be destroyed. One’s only hope is that the storm will subside before that happens – in other words a compromise will be reached before one side totally crushes the other. It’s important for an actor to deeply consider this analogy. Remember, you will have to play characters with opposite points of view from very different places and walks of life.