My Masterclass at The Actors Bothy

My Masterclass at The Actors Bothy

Thanks to Jimmy Watson and everyone that made me feel so welcome at the Actors Bothy on Saturday evening. It was a delight to be able to offer an acting masterclass, although it was only a glimpse into what I teach. The participants and observers were kind, generous and seemed to get some of what I was talking about, which is great.

The theme for the masterclass was my old favourite ‘The Other’ – or as I like to put it to actors, ‘It’s not about You’. It was a little difficult because of the amount of people that were present, so it became something of a show and tell, rather than the practical experience that I usually offer, but I think I was able to communicate many of the core ideas of Practical Aesthetics.  The thing is that Practical Aesthetics is practical, not really a lecturing topic, so it always upsets me when I have to talk at length about it. Whilst I love discussing it with a couple of people over a diet cola, I don’t enjoy lecturing.

It also reminded me that often I’m confused with being a Meisner teacher. I’m not a Meisner teacher. I teach Practical Aesthetics as a hybrid of many ideas.

After the session, I had a couple of fascinating conversations with various members of the Bothy and agreed to mentor one of the members who is currently doing a postgraduate acting course. I met Mark Coleman, who himself is a fairly riveting chat. He had most experienced actor’s concerns about Mamet’s ideas, but I think I explained myself fairly well. My job afterall is not to defend Mamet’s True and False, or Practical Aesthetics, but to help enlighten people to see the ideas differently and see if they can improve their chances of working regularly. Take a look at Mark Coleman’s blog if you get the chance, it’s a great insight into the life of a man with a passion for the career of acting.

Part of my acting masterclass yesterday was a little perturbing. I was demonstrating how repetition changes to ‘As If’ and how listening and watching the other person allows you to know what to say in order to affect your partner. We were looking at how you use various tactics to alter the actor in front of you. After the masterclass, one of the members revealed that she had been very upset by this part of the session because she felt that she had been personally attacked during this session, when her exercise partner had been required to insult her. She had taken what the person had said very personally, as if it were the truth, but the exercise is part of an improvisational game aimed at changing the behaviour of the other actor, and so, you can say whatever you think will get the result you need. Yes, it’s challenging, but within the context of the game, it’s no more challenging than the average acting scene where actors might say rude things to each other. The actor confessed that she hadn’t heard the lead up to the exercise, but it was still troubling to me: Was this some horrendous psycho-nonsense that I was teaching?

I’ve thought about it and concluded no. In order to practice playing tactics, one needs the bravery, toughness, courage, and vulnerability. It was a demonstration of how someone playing a tactic could really affect another person, and it worked. Perhaps it worked too well, because the person took it personally. If the tactic hadn’t been ‘insult’, there would be no such reaction. If it had been ‘praise’, there would be no problem. Repetition is about learning to listen. If we don’t truly listen, we lose connection to what’s happening, to the other actor and to the moment. If we want truthful acting, we must learn to hit and take hits. We must learn a toughness that transcends Ego. The theme of the acting masterclass was after all ‘It’s not about You’. Still, a fascinating encounter, and the actor that mentioned it had the bravery to discuss it with me afterwards.

Thanks again for a wonderful evening and to everyone I met. I really enjoyed myself. I hope to see some of you at the Edinburgh masterclass and other events in the future.

Best Wishes

Mark Westbrook

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