Under Pressure

Alright, it's going to be a long one. Buckle up.

This past weekend, at 9am on a Saturday, myself and 17 other ambitious actors (this is not a false claim, read on for proof of said ambition) filed into a tiny, unairconditioned studio on the Danforth. Each with coffee in one hand and a hefty script in the other.

What might surprise you: We had all paid to be there.

And now we come to the proof of said ambition: We were congregating in that sweaty little studio (and I know sweaty. Mmhm, I went there) each with a scene that ranged from 9-17 pages. We received the scene the day before, we had Saturday to dissect it within an inch of its scripted self and then we were expected to put it all back together again and perform it on Sunday as a fully staged scene. SO condensing what could be weeks of rehearsal into 2 days. And all 18 of us were willing, eager and prepared to do it. (If that’s not ambitious please post a comment below and teach me what is!)

We spent Saturday working as a group to pull apart each scene, all went home around 9pm to try and memorize said scene (which equals a lot of coffee, swearing and maybe MAYBE a tear or two…), Sunday morning started at 9am again with more coffee, acting exercises until we were all completely physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted and THEN around 6pm it was time to put it all on its feet. Love. It.

This left no room for second guesses, holding back, or ego (nobody likes ego, who wants that guy around) we had no choice but to throw ourselves completely at the mercy of the scene and our partner.

This experience left me with two prevalent thoughts:

#1: How incredible actors are when they put their all into concentrated, focused work. And have the balls right before ‘action’ to look at each other and know, I trust you, you trust me. Great. Let’s get into it!

My favourite example of this was watching two actors do ¼ of a play seamlessly with 2 days of prep. Their blocking was flawless, their relationship was clear and the scene was dynamic and completely engrossing. And you know what? (I’m going to blow your mind, ready? here it comes) They hadn’t run the scene once before performing. There was no blocking worked out, there were no ‘moments’ built in. They just did a ton of prep, and trusted the relationship and knowledge of the scene would lead them through. The blocking stemmed from what those characters needed in that situation and environment when they needed it.

#2 big thought: How screwed up our idea of success is.

What is success? (yes, I’m posing this over used question) Is it being on a tv series that you may or may not like? And that may or may not excite you? OR being able to move and be truly moved by another actor in any setting? Professional, class or other? What makes me ‘an actor’ rather than ‘a want to be actor’?

I witnessed some of the best work I have ever seen in that class, and I feel like I performed some of the best work I have ever done. Why don’t we let these moments, whether it be in class, an audition or some little short film buoy us as much as booking a major part?

Okay, thems me thoughts (for those of you that actually had the attention span to read this far without videos or pictures to keep you entertained).

In closing, here’s to you, you 17 actors in that little scene study class. It was a privilege to sit in that dark studio with one light bulb until 11pm and watch you all lay your guts out in front of each other (and show you a few guts of my own) while the world went on outside. I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend.

Michelle Alexander