What’s the Repetition Game or Exercise?

What’s the Repetition Game or Exercise?

The Word Repetition Game is about learning to work spontaneously and with a sense of play and fun. It was invented by Sanford (Sandy) Meisner while he was recovering from illness in hospital. Meisner’s interest was on tapping into the actor’s authenticity and immediacy. All acting is improvisational, based on the truth of the moment and this type of immediate and unplanned approach requires the actor to work instinctively within the moment. It shares many commonalities with the best improvisation because the repetition game, encourages playing with the discomfort of making it all up on the spot – in the moment.

Meisner said “to eliminate all intellectuality from the actor’s instrument and to make him a spontaneous responder to where he is, what is happening to him, what is being done to him.”

In the Word Repetition Game, two actors face each other and loosely and with a sense of ease, they lightly place their attention on each other.

The aim of the game is two fold, to make a connection to the other, and to be able to call the other’s behaviour in the moment. Without time to think about it, they name the behaviour that they see in the other actor.

ACTOR 1: You’re calming yourself.
ACTOR 2: I’m calming myself.
ACTOR 1: You’re calming yourself.
ACTOR 2: I’m calming myself.
ACTOR 1: You’re calming yourself.

Without exceptions, actors always struggle. Struggle is good, it means you’re learning something. Skills are developed only through struggle against the resistance caused by learning something new. Mamet says that learning a new skill will inevitably feel ‘awkward’ and ‘wrong’.

The next thing that the actor realises is that although they can see it, they can’t say it. Each actor complains of this, as if they are alone in the world among those who find the moment an easy place to exist. It’s not.

The thing that most players of repetition don’t realise is that the moments of being lost, the moments of being unable to name it, the moments when the other person makes you laugh so hard that you could pee, those moments ARE the game, the naming of the other person’s behaviour is a subsidiary benefits, it’s important, but secondary to the sense of play and fun that is maintained as the actors lose themselves in the spontaneous moment.

In the studio, on the wall it says in large writing THE MOMENT IS A TRICKY FUCKER. It is. It’s no joke. If you were to have a few minutes to think of the behaviour, you can easily call it.

The Repetition Game confronts you with self-consciousness in the moment. It helps you to deal early on with being watched, under the pressure of the moment, being truthful, not performing, but living truthfully. Under this stress, you learn to place your attention onto the Other and enjoy this crazy state of spontaneity. But it isn’t easy.

It’s going to go wrong, regularly, you’re going to be stuck for something to say, you’re gong to mishear, you’re going to fail. Love it. Lap it up. It really doesn’t matter, you’ll be exercising your moment to moment skils. And don’t just call what you SEE, but TONE of voice and of course SILENCE. Meisner used to say “silence is an absence of words, but never an absence of meaning”

And there’s the calling part of the game. Although you should not concern yourself with being perfect (perfection is a route out of the moment to a happy, controlled place called DEAD ACTING, in which everything is carefully planned), you do want to grow and develop your accuracy.

There are rules too:

DO
*Repeat what you hear or say something new about the other person’s behaviour.
*Make it about the other person.
*Speak up and clearly.
*Repeat their mistakes.
*Feel free to mess it up, to show just how in the moment you are.
*Repeat EVERTHING that they said.
*Embrace your own mistakes, be proud of them.
*Keep your attention on the other person.
*Flip the calls about you to I, rather than You when you repeat.

DON’T
*Don’t refer to time, STILL, AGAIN, NOW, YET, you’re not in the moment!
*Don’t try to own the calls you make, once you’ve said it, it’s not yours anymore.
*Don’t say what they aren’t doing! They aren’t dressed like a Christmas Elf, say what they are
*Don’t repeat their non-verbal ticks, coughs, sneezes, etc. Just what they say.
*Don’t talk about yourself.
*Don’t edit or censor yourself or the other person.
*Don’t start talking about yourself.
*Don’t Break out of the moment, state loose and follow it, you never know where it will lead.

With this game, you are learning to accept the total fallibility of working moment to moment. You could fail at any time. If you work this way, you will not be comfortable, but you will be very much alive. Sometimes, you will try something and it won’t work, that thing you did yesterday, won’t be as good as it was, but that other thing today is better. Working this way requires a rethinking of what the actor has to do, there is no desire to ‘get it right’.

The more you can let go of trying, the more open and receptive you become, the more easily you will know what is happening. Stay in the present, the present is more available than either memories of the past or fantasies of the future. So attend to what is happening now. – John Heider

Failure isn’t particularly pleasant, but when you work with repetition, you start to get excited by how many ways you can actually fuck it all up. For every 10 moments of total BLAH, you will have a corking moment of pure instinctive joy, a moment that comes from nowhere, is entirely unrepeatable.

This is repetition. If you’re playing a game that’s only about reading and calling another person’s behaviour, perhaps the Behavioural Sciences is for you. If you want to live in that thrilling but terrifying place beyond control, then Repetition is your first step there.

It’s worth remembering David Mamet’s wise words “Invent Nothing, Deny Nothing, Accept Everything”. In other words, you don’t need to make or create something for the moment, it will be there anyway, if you can learn to see it. Don’t deny things that come up when they do, they are likely to come up when you least expect it and when you’re least well prepared.

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