This past Sunday was the final day of the nine-month Meisner program I took at Freehold Theatre. This work changed me in ways I never imagined or anticipated. There is a lot of self-exploration involved that can sometimes be hard as you dig into places in your memory or psyche you may have avoided all your life. Along the way, you explore your fears, despair, anguish and anger, but you also get to understand what brings you or has brought you so far in life joy, pride, pleasure, and thrill. You also get to play, break out of your mold and safely experience being different in ways other than what you are used to. And finally, it’s also a drill in daydreaming. Daydreaming in the past, the present and the future. Allowing yourself to imagine, vividly and without any limits, what should have been or could be. You go tell your high school bully she sucked. You tell your long-lost nana she meant the world to you. You smell the food in your childhood home’s kitchen, you imagine a future where you have broken free of what holds you down and you understand in your head and heart but also viscerally what all that means to you and feels like.
The final quarter concentrated on scene work. The character work was one of my most favourite parts of this project. Harper is an agoraphobic, valium addict, who is married to the Mormon, Republican Reaganite and deeply-closeted gay man that is Joe.
There were plenty of exercises that helped me explore and understand Harper’s world. Some were fun and some were painful. I often grappled with the question of where Azadeh ends and Harper begins. I still do not know if it ever does and that may be the beauty of it all. The Harper that lived through me will always be different than those enacted by other actors; not because I look different but because of who we each are at our cores. Perhaps that’s what makes remaking a play worthwhile: the unique identity of the entire ensemble that inevitably shines through.
If you have talked to me over the past couple of years, you have heard me say everyone needs to take acting classes and I may have offered you different reasons why: the self confidence this work offers, the opportunity to explore your identity deeper, the ability to find a voice of your own through exploring imaginary circumstances… the list goes on. Today I say, please take an acting class because at the core of this work you will learn ‘empathy’ and you will find more ways to exercise compassion. When our world is filled with so much fear of ‘others’, with racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia, fear of the disabled, the list goes on… what is a more important tool than empathy? To learn ways to understand and accept ‘others’ before judging or hating them. To break out of the various learned biases instilled in us all. To understand our shared torments, joys, and sorrows as humans regardless of our gender, race, or school of thought. I know this fight is hard and complex and the journey to the world that is free of such fears is long, but I believe empathy is the first step. That’s why you will forever hear me encourage you to do this at least once in your life! Not just for you but for humanity.
I owe all I’ve learned to the wonderful master Robin Lynn Smith and to the generosity of each and every one of my classmates at Freehold who held this amazing space patiently and ever so passionately for each of us to grow. (and did, despite all the various 2019/2020 disasters). And to Meg McLynn who taught me the first steps and encouraged me to continue, and to Jessie Underhill who opened this never imagined before door for me two years ago and introduced me to Freehold. Thank you. I am forever grateful.
p.s. my class travelled to a small island outside Seattle that is in a different COVID regulatory phase. We were able to rent a small theatre and perform our final scenes for each other. As you can see, Kowan and I are wearing face shields and my classmates were all in masks sitting plenty feet away from each other in the audience.
The 9-month Meisner Progression runs every year beginning in the fall, taught by Robin Lynn Smith. Interviews typically happen in the summer. If interested, contact the Freehold office at 206-323-7499 or firstname.lastname@example.org to be put on an “interested” list, but be aware things may happen differently this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.