Elliot B. Quick teaches Theatre History for Actors at the Maggie Flanigan Studio. Here, Elliot discusses the importance of authorial intent for actors and playwrights.
This past May, much was written about the slippery concept of “authorial intent.” When a small theater in Oregon cast a black actor to play the role of Nick in a production of Edward Albee’s 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the Albee estate exercised the legitimate power granted by US copyright law and withdrew the rights to the play. The estate claimed that Albee (who passed away in 2016) wrote Nick as a white character, and their decision was affirmed by a statement from the Dramatist Guild arguing, “it is a playwright’s fundamental right to approve of casting choices to ensure they reflect his or her authorial intent.” In response, certain corners of the internet exploded, with some defending the preservation of Albee’s specific vision and others advocating for the importance of new productions that reshape this vision and expose new layers of meaning.
Authorial intent is a uniquely thorny issue for an actor. In many art forms, a single person holds complete control over both the vision and execution of his or her work: a painter mixes the paint that the viewer sees on the canvas, a novelist types the words that the reader sees on the page. But performance unfolds through the simultaneous work of many artists. Rehearsal is a process of investigating how a particular group of creative minds will interpret and communicate the ideas embedded in a dramatic text. Outside of the new play development wing of the industry, playwrights are rarely on site for the rehearsal process, and so the text becomes a map to a mind not present in the room with you. As actors, you are agents of an elusive intent that can seem obtuse, obscure, remote.
Yet a study of theater history reminds us of the pitfalls being too precious about an author’s original vision. Shakespeare never intended for women to act in his plays. Euripides never intended for his work to be illuminated by electric lighting. If we hue too strictly to a reading of authorial intent, much of the dramatic canon would exclude the collaboration of the greatest artists alive today.
The world changes and the great joy of performance is that it can be more nimble than other arts in response to its present moment. A painting in a frame is static—the brushstrokes are the same each time you view them. But a play springs to life anew each time it is performed. As an actor, you make choices suited to your own unique body, and your training equips you to integrate the work of other artists (some of whom died hundreds of years ago) into a performance that is truthful and alive. Robert Brustein once cautioned that “the subtext can be a stratagem by which the actor ignores the playwright’s meaning, substituting the feeling he himself finds to be more compelling.” Your training has great power to shape and reshape the intentions of other theatrical agents. But as Spiderman reminds us, with great power comes great responsibility.
Theatre History Class for Actors
Broadly speaking, the theatre history and playwriting classes at Maggie Flanigan exercise an actor’s ability to discern and embody authorial intent. In Theater History, we read plays and study the evidence of past performance practices to surmise the intentions of authors who are long dead. Yet we also consider how to breathe life into those intentions with aesthetics, technologies, modes of thought, and modes of training that the author could never have imagined. And in Fundamentals of Playwriting, you get the chance to peer at the creative process from another angle, investigating the techniques playwrights use to communicate their unique vision to future collaborators.
To learn more about the classes that Elliot teaches at the Maggie Flanigan Studio website or call the studio directly at 917-789-1599
The post Who’s Afraid of Authorial Intent? appeared first on Meisner Acting – The Maggie Flanigan Studio New York NY – 917-789-1599.
Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was one of the best reviewed films in Venice this year http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/martin-mcdonagh-his-venice-award-winner-three-billboards-ebbing-missouri-1037532
The Two Year Acting Program at the Maggie Flanigan Studio is a professional actor training program based on the Meisner Technique. In this interview, Candace Maxwell discusses her decision to transition from a professional dancer to an actor and what led her to choose the Maggie Flanigan Studio.
Q: Did you study the Meisner Technique anywhere else and what was that like for you?
A: I was studying the Meisner technique briefly at a studio in Atlanta. It was a good introduction to Meisner training but it was nothing like what we get here. I feel we get every single step that’s like making a cake, there are the eggs, there’s the oil, there’s the banana bread, bananas. I feel what I learned in Atlanta was just thrown at me. Here, Charlie and Karen give it to you step by step by step by step. So specific and so detailed and I didn’t understand what that was.
Q: What were the specific problems for you that made you decide to seek professional training at the studio?
A: Well, the same way that I was a dancer and had an agent who — I let them know that I wanted to act. They would send me out on auditions and I’d get these lines and I didn’t know how to take these lines and turn them into something real. I had no idea, and again, I thought that I could just walk into a room and charm someone. Charm is great. Charm and charisma are awesome but that’s not all that it takes. There’s so much more. My problem was I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no process, I had no understanding of what I was doing. I just knew how to get in front of a camera and get in front of a room of people but I was bringing nothing to the table to be quite honest.
I was embarrassed with my work. I wasn’t proud of my work and that made me take a lot of step backs, take steps back because I wanted to have a real approach. I have such respect for actors and for what they do and I felt like I was completely disrespecting the art by doing what I was doing by auditioning the way I was.
Even seeing other dancers in auditions who don’t take it seriously or who don’t have the proper etiquette or the execution or the specificity that it takes the same way it does as an actor, they peeve me. They upset me. I want to use another word. [laughs] They upset me. I didn’t want to be that actor to other people, and not just for other people but for myself.
Q: What were the steps that made you finally make the decision to train professionally?
A: I just made a decision that I wanted to shift my career. I wanted to fully transition from a dancer to an actor, but I needed tools to do that. I was going on auditions and failing [chuckles] miserably one after the other and getting amazing opportunities but not following through, not having enough tools in my toolbox to be able to execute. I was taking a class in Atlanta, a Viewpoints class, which for me was a great starting place for someone who has a movement background for an acting class.
I was just doing that, and I met a girl who graduated from NYU – she was in the Meisner Program there. And I’m having this heart to heart with her because I’m like, “I really want to do this. What do I do? Do I need to apply to NYU? Do I need to apply to these four-year universities even at my age?” I’ll say I’m over 25 [chuckles], “Do I need to put myself in undergraduate position to really learn. Because I need to be immersed in something to fully get it.”
She said, “I have the perfect place. You should go to the Maggie Flanigan Studio,” flat out, that was it. She said, “No need to go to NYU and spend all that money. And that tuition is– I mean, it’s an amazing school and it’s outrageous.” She said, “Go to Maggie Flanigan, it’s two years,” she said, “you’re going to learn everything that you need to know about acting.”
And hearing that from someone who graduated from NYU was like, “Oh, okay, cool.” I waited a whole year [chuckles], and I don’t regret it. I believe in timing and everything happening for a reason. But I waited a whole year to come to the school. I was researching other places. I was still dancing, I was taking classes in Atlanta at different workshops. I was studying a Meisner Program there, and I finally decided after the end of the year came around, it was like November, December, I was like, “I’ve got to make some action.” It’s another year that I’ve waited and not taken a leap with my career. So I said it’s just time.
And I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the school, I didn’t have anything planned out. I think I emailed and called the front office and I was like, “I got to get in this place, What do I do?” And I was actually on vacation out of the country talking to Karen on the phone, interviewing with her, and she wanted to meet me. She was like, “I need to meet you.” So as soon as I finished my trip, I came straight to New York to meet her and talk to her. And that was the end of November. Again, I still didn’t know how I was going to pay for it. I just said I’m doing this, and I always think that when there’s a will, there’s a way. I really believed in putting yourself on the line.
I did that for dance, and I feel like it worked for me. I’m always a balls to the wall kind of person. Again, I don’t know if I can say that. But if I want something, I’m going to completely do it and figure out how to do it. I was terrified to move back to New York. I was terrified to not necessarily have family support, to not necessarily know how I was going to pay for it, but I just said, “I’m going to do this,” and that’s it. I’m so glad that I did, though, because I think it’s made a difference in who I am as a person and even in my acting.
I’m glad that I made that decision because I’m getting well-rounded acting training. Not just acting but movement, and speech, and voice, and all that, so important. And understanding how all of that translates into a character and telling a story. So it’s actually really exciting for me. I get geeked out talking about it [laughs].
Q: Since you’ve been here almost a year now, how have you changed unexpectedly as an actor?
A: More confidence. Because to get up in front of a room and be able to do half of the stuff we do is terrifying. Just pushing myself a little bit more every day to try something different, and to be a little bit more vulnerable, and to be a little bit more present is amazing. Also, just the environment that we’re in. My classmates are amazing. Being around other people who work really hard inspires me. My teachers here, they’re the best of the best. Whether they brag about it or not, whether people understand it or not, they know what they’re doing, they know what they’re talking about.
I believe that they really get to know you. They know how to push you, they know how to talk to you. They know how to get the most out of you. I appreciate that because it’s not one-size-fits-all training. It’s like, “I’m going to make this specific to Candace, or to Katie, or to Tiffany, or Tony.” I feel like they really try to understand. Well, it’s a small school and I like that. I like that I know everybody who walks in and out of this place.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming an actor but felt they can’t commit to two years of training because of time or finances?
A: I would tell them that if they were serious, they would take the two years to train. I think two years is such a short span in the full aspect of things. The kind of work that you want to do, committing yourself to two years is nothing. You really need to get into a place that’s going to serve your artistry, and really nurture you, and help you have tools to build. I think I would tell them that if they were serious that they would come to the Studio and that they would train.
If finances are really an issue, I would say, “Go Ala Carte”. You can just start with Acting 1 and you can build upon that training. You can add in a voice class, you can add in a movement, you can add in theater history.” I think it’s great that they offer that to students who may not necessarily want a job and then make that commitment right away because it can be scary. But again, I’m balls to the wall. I’d say, “Just go for it.”
Q: What is the single number one reason to study at Maggie Flanigan Studio instead of anywhere else?
A: That individualized attention that you get, the small class sizes, the community that we have. I believe that we really actually have a community here – people who are working, people who’ve never worked before. There’s just an array of students from all walks of life – that’s exciting – and just getting to watch your classmates. I don’t know. I feel safe here and feel natured here. That allows me to push a little bit further each day even though it’s uncomfortable. I get a chance to try something new each day.
And I have teachers who see me, as scary as that is, they really see me and they cater the work to me to be able to get my best out. I totally appreciate that because I don’t think that’s the case everywhere. It’s definitely not the case.
Learn More About the Two Year Acting Program
To learn more about the Meisner technique and the acting programs at the Maggie Flanigan Studio, visit the website or call the studio during normal business hours at 917-789-1599.
her dinners and food-based works are usually more like treats https://www.wmagazine.com/story/marina-abramovic-has-reincarnated-herself-as-a-macaron
Q: How have Charlie and the other teachers at Maggie Flanigan Studio supported your individual growth? http://www.maggieflaniganstudio.com/two-year-acting-program/two-year-acting-program-xandra-leigh-parker/