I took part in my first Method with Mike session recently. The venue was small and made me think of the classroom where I studied dramatic arts in high school. It was a small group of people, actors and actresses represented by the Meus Talent Agency. Our instructor, Mike, is a pleasant man. He got down to business; he stressed the method as he learned it at the Actors Studio in Los Angeles. He shared numerous anecdotes about his experience as a stage and screen actor in Toronto and Los Angeles. The session was informal; it did not have the structure of the classes I took at the Screen Acting Academy.
His recollection of how he started in the entertainment industry resonated with me. He began at Ottawa U as a drama major. However, he became disillusioned when he found it was about academics, not acting technique. Similarly, I had the same experience when I enrolled at Queen's University as a drama major in 1980. I arrived at Queen's thinking I would train as an actor, only to find it was strictly textbooks, term papers and exams. I think Mike and I got lousy guidance in high school. My guidance counsellor and drama teachers never mentioned theatre school or a Bachelor of Fine Arts program for an aspiring actor. As a result, he left Ottawa U after the first year. I stayed at Queen's, where I got a degree in sociology.
He returned to acting sooner than I when he left Ottawa for Toronto to seek his fortune. He moved to Los Angeles eventually and worked as a background performer and actor in feature films. He experienced the casting couch with a creepy talent agent; he recounted his experience as a warning to the class to beware as we make our way as performers. He survived hard times when he was out of work. His experiences had a familiar ring. I recall the summer of 1988 when I made my way through the ByWard Market during cocktail hour to line up at the Shepherds of Good Hope soup kitchen for a stale baloney sandwich and a watery cup of tea.
The session taught me the importance of ridding yourself of tension before performing. First, Mike spoke at length about the pitfalls of mannerisms and tics. Yes, I know too well about that; when stage fright takes hold, I flail with my hands, swallow and look down. Next, he discussed what I learned in the Screen Acting Academy about acting for the camera. The camera picks up every little movement; jerky movements and leaning make you out of focus. He also said we should take improv classes. I think the monthly sessions with Mike will help me keep a lid on the stage fright. That said, I will continue the classes with the Screen Acting Academy. I hope the Screen Acting Academy will offer its improv classes in the future.