Gin Hammond and Alyssa Franks are Freehold faculty, and creators of the MFA: Meditations for Actors app. Here Gin and Alyssa talk about the app, their collaboration, and how the mental and emotional preparation that goes into artistic craft is often neglected.
Q: Can you describe what the MFA app is and how it benefits actors and other artists?
Alyssa: Meditation for Actors is a mobile app for actors and artists in general who need to warm up, cool down or stay in the zone. We have meditations for all types of actor-specific situations, organized by when you might need them. So, for instance, there’s a pre-audition category, a post-audition category, a performance-ready category, a daily category, a sleep category, and then a special category–which has all kinds of really peculiar situations you might find yourself in as an actor.
Gin: Like getting out of character after doing a horror movie role or something like that. There’s about 60 meditations on there now, and we have a list of about 60 more that we want to create.
Alyssa: There’s also a pre-audition checklist, so users of the app can create a checklist of all the things you want to remember before an audition. That could be an in person audition, or a self tape, or voice-over at home. So making sure that you have all the tech set up so you can really fully transition into creative mode. We also have an audition journal which is a really excellent practice of keeping a log of the auditions you’ve done, making some notes about who you met, noting what you wore, who you met along the way, keeping track of your expenses for tax time, and making some notes about how you felt about it and what your goal might be for your next audition.
Gin: We’re trying to make it comprehensive so that people keep coming back to our app!
Alyssa: Which is one reason we have daily meditation as well–so instead of having six meditation apps, you can just have one that’s built for you as an artist. And the daily practices are pretty comprehensive as well. In fact, several people who have reached out to me are not actually actors, but people who are like “Oh, my kid loves falling asleep to this.”
Q: Can you each describe how you came to collaborate on this project?
Gin: It started many moons ago. I was working in the Netherlands with Myra Platt, who is founding co-artistic director of Book-it Repertory. I was doing dialect coaching for the show and she said: “There are a lot of heavy things in this show. Could you make some meditations for the actors to listen to and move through as a group to get everybody in the right gear? Especially if they’re having a hard day and having to go into this hard work?” I happened to have a friend who was visiting at that time who I enlisted as a guinea pig, so as I go through the breath and movement, I can time it out as well. After it happened, I was like: “This must already exist in the App store,” so we looked in the App store and there was nothing that existed that was specifically for actors. I thought “I need to do this,” and then I thought “This is a lot of work, I need a partner! But who? Who?”
Then there was a Freehold Open House, and when I heard Alyssa describe her class, it included techniques for getting out of character, where I’d only been creating ones to get into character. I thought “Of course! It’s so obvious.” But we don’t do that–a lot of times we skip the cool down altogether. I thought, “There’s a genius right there. Let me talk to her and see if she’s interested in taking on this massive endeavor.” Just looking at Alyssa’s background, she brings so much to it personally, with who she is. I like that we have a decent age difference between us, which helps us cover the spectrum of actors that we want to reach out to. And we started working on it little by little, and learning a hell of a lot. We’re still tweaking some features, but we’re very happy with where we’re at. The happiest thing of all is just the feedback we’ve been getting from people.
Alyssa: I got a text this morning: “I’m so enjoying your meditation. Hearing your voice and experiencing your wisdom is so healing. Thank you for you.”
Gin: I got one that’s a little bit longer: “Just want to thank you for your actors meditation app. I had a big day planned getting ready for next week’s performances and was emotionally derailed by some hurtful and hateful texts from a family member. I went for a walk and listened to your meditations and it calmed me down.”
Q: How do your experiences as instructors inform how you approached your work on the MFA App.
Gin: Just listening. Listening to what students’ concerns are, in the moment. Listening to what experiences they’ve had in the past that make it difficult to move forward. And getting their feedback about putting some of these techniques to use.
Alyssa: I think another beautiful benefit of our partnership is Gin has a pretty eclectic history as an actor and a teacher, and I’m certainly more specialized, teaching Integrated Alexander Technique (AT), which draws on a lot of the same skill sets of building a practice, of having constructive conscious kindness towards yourself, in service of making better work, or in service of excellence in whatever you care about. When I’m not teaching AT I teach yoga, and I teach mindful movement, and I teach meditation, so that’s been kind of a nice meeting of our backgrounds. I have all this stuff that up till now has felt separate in my actor life and my life outside, offering these more Eastern practices. The App has really been the first opportunity to clearly mash the two together into a new creation.
Gin: The meditations are mostly short and sweet. There are a few exceptions, like the sleep ones. We want to fit it to the lifestyle.
Alyssa: So you could listen to it on your subway commute to the audition, and get ready.
Q:How does one sign up?
Alyssa: Head over to your app store, and type in MFA–Meditations for Actors, you can download it from the app store. It’s 7 days of free trials, so you can use the App all day long, as much as you’d like, for 7 days, to really get a feel for it and really see if it’s serving you. At the end of the 7 days you get the choice of becoming a monthly or annual subscriber. A monthly membership is $4.99/month and the annual membership is $30/year.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Gin: In the future, we plan on having guest artists who specialize in things that we don’t specialize in. For example: stage combat. Getting your head in the game for dealing with that, or getting out of it if it’s a particularly Caligulan scene. We’ll also be working on accessibility this year related to vision. There are different options for resizing text, respacing text, highlighting the first couple characters in a way that makes it more dyslexia-friendly, things like that.
Alyssa: We’re also interested in including transcripts of the meditations for those who are hard of hearing.