On Acting and Listening

We go to the theatre to believe that people still communicate.  - Richard Robichaux

I've recently started a new acting class, studying what is called The Meisner Technique, under Richard. He gave us that quote on the first day, and associated it with someone else, but by the life of me I can't find the original quote connected with the source anywhere, so I'll just attach it to him from now on. This quote is supposed to set the foundation for what we'll be learning throughout the next nine months.

To communicate.
"Really listen. Really respond."
and "Be in contact."

I won't go into detail as to how exactly the Meisner Technique helps with this particular problem. Those who are familiar with Meisner know that there's so much to learn, and those who don't know would just be dumbfounded at my attempt to explain what we do in class for hours on end. Just know that this is our goal. What Richard is attempting, with our various exercises, is to get us actors to communicate with each other in a believable manner.

However that first quote seemed to resonate with me the most.

It's interesting to think that we as actors are trained to do something that all of humanity should be learning themselves. As Richard put it, when actors use dialogue, they are speaking words that we, the audience, wish we could say ourselves. It's as if the movie experience is all about that connection, that feeling of - "That's exactly what I've been trying to say. I understand this. I can totally relate."

The fact that Meisner isn't attempting to show actors how to deliver dialogue, but instead wants us to react according to our partner, is somehow a freeing concept. Not just as a technique, but as a lifestyle. And, in essence, that's what this technique also succeeds in doing.

Recently I've been struggling with my relationships in trying to find authentic people who truly want to know me. Friendships as of late, have become stagnant or robotic. We do things as we know we should do them, or as we think should be appropriate, but rarely do we just be ourselves. We're so worried about being nice, liked, or accepted, that our interactions have become tailored to fit these generic structures.

What would it be like, though, if we really responded as our instincts first prompted us to? What if we didn't inhibit our reactions? What if our behavior wasn't modified for equal acceptance?

These questions have been asked before. I'm not trying to upset the status quo. I'm just attempting to dig deeper into this problem, our reasonings for turning to theatre/film because we don't communicate anymore. In this age this is more than a valid issue.

So what is a possible solution?

In our class, it starts with listening. "REALLY...listening."

It is not about the words someone is speaking, but what are they saying? How did they say it? and, eventually, how does that make you feel?

Truthfully, what would happen to our friendships if we decided to really listen to one another. To be in contact in such a way, to illicit authentic responses that, at times, could potentially cause collisions, but wouldn't that be better than the manufactured way of thinking?

In Christianity we talk about the idea that the desire of every human being is to be fully known. If this is true, then listening is one of the most important gifts you could give to another person, and not just that, but authentic interaction on top of it would be the most precious thing of all. To be fully known, it requires a certain type of communication, and one that, somehow, doesn't come to us naturally, but must be habitualized.

An important thing I learned about arguments a while back (thanks to Bruce Gilson) is that when two people are fighting, what they say rarely reflects what is really going on inside, and that if we could get past the defense mechanisms, to determine what the other person is really trying to say, we'd find that, in actuality, they are trying to reach out. They are expressing their inner selves. They are becoming vulnerable - exposed even - and though our natural reaction to our vulnerability is to pull back, close off, in fear that we won't be accepted or that we'll be hurt if we leave ourselves in such a predicament, if we could learn to embrace that vulnerability, we might actually get closer. This starts with listening. Cause it's all an attempt at being fully known. To be in true contact.

So what would happen if we began with listening? Really listening.

More thoughts to come...