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The Elemental Gestures Of Life

Went to sleep last night with powerful impressions after tonight's Chekhov Training on the theme of expanding and contracting.

Awoke this morning and couldn't help but look for more. 

Where to look? 

Where NOT to look?! 

Expanding and contracting are the primary gestures of our daily experience. 

Observe them in the rhythm of your own breathing. 

At another pole, we observe them in the universe.

Expanding and contracting are human and cosmic breathing.


Take a deep breath in.

Breathe out.

Put your attention on the inner movement, the inner gesture, the expanding and contracting.

Allow a relevant image to arise. 

Pay special attention to the transition, the moment of change from expanding to contracting, from contracting to expanding.

Experience the sensations.

Express your feelings.

Say hello to inspiration.

Inner Activity, Human Aura, Actor's Presence

We looked (again) this week at what Chekhov calls "inner activity." Someone brought up the concept of the human aura.

The aura radiates from the human body like the spokes of a wheel radiate from the wheel's hub. Indeed, the Sanskrit root "at", means the spoke of a wheel. 

Alternatively, the Latin term for aura means "air." The aura is in fact a kind of aerial emanation. It is sometimes called the "psychic atmosphere" or "magnetic atmosphere" of a person. 

Michael Chekhov calls it the "personal atmosphere" of a character.

You can find a lot of scientific (and psuedo-scientific) writing on the subject of auras. 

Writing from a strictly scientific point of view, Rudolf Steiner says this:

"The color effects perceptible to the spirit(ual) eye that ray out around the physical human being observed in his activity and that envelop him like a somewhat egg-shaped cloud are the human aura. The size of this aura varies in different people, but we may say that the entire human being appears on the average twice as long and four times as wide as the physical human being.

The most varied shades of color flood the aura. This color flooding is a true picture of the inner human life. As this changes, so do the shades of color change. Certain permanent qualities such as talents, habits and traits of character, however, express themselves also in permanent fundamental color shades."

Michael Chekhov suggests to imagine an Ideal Center high in the chest. A center full of activity (energy-movement-gesture....) Picture it as a golden-yellow sun, warm and light-filled. Imagine the rays shining out - radiating - in all directions. Raying out beyond the limits of the physical body and into the immediate and even infinite space. ...

In this way, the actor develops and strengthens his or her inner activity, his or her inner power. 

And, in turn, the aura. 

Which is to say, the actor's presence.

Michael Chekhov

What's so special about Chekhov?


Stanislavsky said: "Seek him out, wherever he is teaching or performing. He is my most brilliant pupil!"

Find out more at our next Intensive.

Four weeks, you'll have your answer. 

(Truth be told, if you're an Actor, you'll know sooner than that. You'll probably know, or any case have an inkling of an answer, almost immediately. Chekhov speaks to actors.)

Meaningfulness Comes From The Actor

Haley is in this year's Meisner Foundation Training. She (and everybody else) is clearly learning and growing a lot. Now's the time of the season when things really come together. It's a well-earned achievement. Training hard is tough, tougher than you think. Not everyone who began last September is still with us. But for those who've come this far, it's exciting as hell to witness their developing talents at work.

Haley sent me this on-the-money quote from Jodie Foster. It made an impression on her because Haley's heard me say the same thing over and over again all season long.

Foster: "I’ve had a long career; it’s been 50 years... I’ve learned that the meaningfulness comes from the actor. It’s your investment, it’s up to you to really take the material and make it deeper. That’s always challenging."

Sandy Meisner said it takes 20 years to master the craft of acting. I can't tell you he's wrong. It does takes time. Most actors don't want to hear that, but it's the truth. 

Here's the take-away. Find a great teacher and start training now. Plan on keeping at it a good while. 

If you're serious about acting, that advice is a no-brainer. 

The Not-So-Secret Secret Of Olympians

This morning I heard Olympian gold medal winner Ginny Thrasher say that she isn't an Olympian because she had talent. Rather, she said, "I'm an Olympian because I trained harder than everyone else."

And there you have it.

The simple truth is that training hard is the key to success is every field. 

Make no mistake: Acting is no exception.

It seems so obvious, I know. But if you grasp it, really grasp that fact, then you'll act on that knowledge. And that'll mean you're far, far ahead of so many others who merely dream of achieving their dreams.

It's Not Magic

In my teens, I was obsessed with magic.

At that time, there was no school to go to to become a magician. There were no online videos. (There was no internet.) Thank God for television. In those days there was often a magician on TV. The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson was well-known for his love of magic) was a godsend. Harry Blackstone, David Copperfield and Doug Henning had their own TV specials.

And there were many opportunities to see live magic. Hennning brought his Broadway show to LA. So did the amazing Ricky Jay. One of the great card men of all time, I saw Jay throw cards across a stage with such force they pierced a watermelon. (It was in the same period I saw the comedian Gallagher getting laughs for smashing watermelons with a wooden mallet.) My grandfather took me once a year to the Pantages Theater, where I witnessed the greatest stage magicians in the world perform their acts in one gala evening: The incredible Shimada! Slydini! Lance Burton! the always hilarious Great Thompsoni! 

I joined the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians. My grandfather also took me to their annual conventions where I saw more great magic. I watched, I listened and I learned.

Every chance I could, I'd take the bus over Mulholland Drive to Hollywood Boulevard, where I'd spend the day at Hollywood Magic shop, soaking up the atmosphere, learning a new trick, and watching, watching, always watching. Of course I also bought tricks: the Linking Rings, Hippy Hop Rabbits, a deluxe copper Dove Pan. 

Most memorable of all, I sometimes got an invitation to the world famous Magic Castle, a private club for professional magicians. In other words, Mecca. At the Castle, I saw many of the most legendary, old school magicians in the world performning close-up magic with cards and coins, cups and balls. Those guy were the real deal, genuine masters of the craft. Think Clark Gable, James Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney. 

Mostly though, I learned magic from books and magazines. Every autumn (I think it was), I waited for the postman to knock at the door with the brand new Tannen's Magic catalog. It was too thick for the mail box! Tannen's catalog provided me countless days and nights of fantasy. It offered hundreds of tricks – every one of them carefully described and illustratted – from double-headed pennies to the secrets for sawing a woman in half; from a simple fake thumb tip for vanishing a silk handkerchief to the mind-blowing, Zig Zag Lady. I acquirred a pretty good collection of books, including my prized eight-volume Tabell Course in Magic, Bobo's Modern Coin Magic and "The Professor" Dai Vernon's, Stars of Magic. I subscribed to Genii, The International Conjurer's magazine. Every month a new issue, full of tricks and tips and wonderful ads that further fueled my burning imagination.

Back at home, I raised white doves and rabbits. And I began performing, well-before I could drive. My mother chauffeuring, I criss-crossed the valley most weekends, performing as the "Magician Extraordinaire" for children of all ages. (Mostly just actual children, but also their parents) at birthday parties and various events. Between shows, I went over my routines again and again, perfecting my tricks, tinkering with my patter, toying with the sequence of effects. 

During those formative adolescent years, I learned many things and acquired skills and habits that would serve me in the future.

But it wasn't my destiny to become a professional magician. No, it wasn't my calling to bring the art of magic into the 21st century.

The incredible David Blaine would do that.

You probably know Blaine. He's become as much performance artist as magician in recent years. And become something of a household name in the process. 

Blaine brushed aside the the formal elegance (some would say stuffiness) that had long characterized stage magic in the past. Blaine had important predecessors who paved the way, of course. But he  changed the game altogether. Blaine was hip hop. He made the street his stage, spoke the language and rhythm of the new culture, and blew people's minds.

Here's what Blaine said about the art of magic. "Whether you're shuffling a deck of cards or holding your breath, magic is pretty simple: It comes down to training, practice, and experimentation, followed up by ridiculous pursuit and relentless perseverance."

The same is true of great acting.

More than talent, much more than talent, acting "comes down to training, practice, and experimentation, followed up by ridiculous pursuit and relentless perseverance."

Training, practice and perseverence are an invitation for your talent to reveal itself. 

For the actor, as for the magician, it's an illusion to believe that you can get by on natural, "untrained" talent.

In fact, it takes a hell of a lot of work to get good, really good, at anything.

Great acting doesn't come by magic.

It only seems so because we don't see what came before.

Kevin Spacey says that before every take Jack Lemmon would say, "It's magic time."

What Lemmon didn't say was that before the magic came work. Decades of work.

It takes a lot of work – training, practice and perseverence – to make it look like magic.


The Best?

People sometimes say to me, "I'm interested in training. But I'm not sure what's the best way to go. What's so great about Meisner?"

Here's what I tell them.

Meisner technique is a proven approach to convincing acting

In other words, Meisner-trained actors are believable. 

And if there's one non-negotiable quality the successful actor brings to the set, the stage, the audition room it's just that: Believability in the role.

Because Meisner teaches the actor to work truthfully, it's easy to believe Meisner-trained actors.

Their work is simply convincing.

Now here's what I don't say: Meisner's the only way to go.

There are other ways. (Michael Chekhov, for one).

But for nuts and bolts, for the fundamental fundamentals, Meisner's hard to beat. 

If your goal is to master a solid foundation for convincing acting, put Meisner training at the top of your shortlist. 

Don't Kid Yourself

Get real. There's no free ticket to get what you want.

Our new training season starts in September.

Show up. Train hard. Act Better.

For real.

Use It Or Lose It

During the last sessions of The Chekhov Training, we worked with some beautiful short prose pieces from The Madman by the great Lebanese poet Kahlill Gibran.

Researching Gibran, I happened upon a story about his nephew (and namesake), Kahlil Gibran, a Boston-based sculptor. Gibran, the nephew, died in 2008. In his obituary, he's quoted as having said this: 

"I believe talent is a grace. You don't deny it, you don't affirm it. But if you don't work at it, you can lose it. The only sin is in squandering talent."




I don't know if squandering your talent can rightly be called the original sin. But it puts me in mind of a damn fine eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not squander thy talent. (And if you break it, you better believe you'll regret it.)

What else can I say that wouldn't risk diminishing the power of Gibran's simple sentences?

Maybe just this: Copy those remarkable sentences down somewhere and have a look at it every now and again. (Once a day wouldn't be a terrible waste of your time.)

And mark it: #11.

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