July last year Nicki Davy cautiously made contact with me (we knew each from another life time) saying she thought she wanted to be an actor. She'd had zero training, just a suppressed hunch that this is what she should be doing.
After discussions she signed up to our Foundation training and by the end, despite being terrified of this giant leap she had quit her job, booked headshots and started to apply for roles. Lucky for us she's done almost every course we’ve ran since and been mentored by me along the way. She has not floated into this industry, she has bulldozed her way in. She has worked hard. She knows the development of her instrument and craft is essential to her success. Alongside our training she’s gone to dance classes, voice 1:1s, Play With Fire Productions’ Scene Studies and probably more.
Over the last 18 months she's done loads of script in hand nights, research and development projects, Slung Low Shorts, done student films, worked with Northern Film School, the bread and butter school theatre work and no doubt loads more that my baby brain has forgotten. Over the last couple of weeks she's been in her first two full length plays.
I managed to drag my sleep deprived self to King John by Cream Faced Loons on Sunday night in Manchester to see how she was getting on and I'm so glad I did.
I have a funny relationship with the word "proud" because it rings of ownership, maybe that's just a weird hang up I have. But it is the only word I can use to how I felt driving back home to Wales. She was unapologetic for taking up space in the room. She watched attentively. Listened acutely. Her huge chunks of text were powerful and human. She was present and honest and raw and unafraid.
Is she at The National being reviewed by Time Out? No. Not Yet. But she will finally be on Spotlight in the new year and then she can get an agent so she can be taken seriously as an actor (don't get me started on that entire statement).
I put this in a blog because she's an incredible example of what actors should be doing. I see far too many actors floundering and/or waiting or being too scared of failure to be all in. Be all in. No excuses. You might just be brilliant.
I am not taking ownership of her "exceptional" performance, as I said above, she's jumped into other training over the last 18months but I do feel like Adam and I have had a decent amount of input into the tenacious and open actor she has been developing (and continues to develop).
Recently I've had a few students who have now started at some of the top Drama Schools in the UK/world get in touch to thank me for the training we provided them and how thrilled they are that Meisner is being taught where they now are. This makes my heart sing.
For as long as I've been training in and teaching this work it has felt quite underground. The majority of actors I met along the way (The North being more behind than London) either saying they'd never heard of it or they'd heard the name but didn't know what it was. But recently there's been a shift which is seriously exciting.
There could be many reasons for this but my reckoning is based on the rise of mental health awareness.
Everyone teaches this work differently, of course they do, because no one is Sanford Meisner apart from Sandy himself but there are some key principles that I'd like to believe go wherever the training is:
Until I discovered The Meisner Technique I believed the only way to be truthful as an actor was by experience, therefore I relied heavily on emotional recall - because that'd what I'd been taught, even from a very young age. But here's the thing, if you've not had the training and grounding to trust yourself and be safe in the knowledge of all those beautiful emotions you're full of, how could recalling the most traumatic event of your life (for example) for the good of your role be good for your mental health? My mum died in 2014. The last week, the last day, the last hour, the last breath was horrific, I had nightmares for months. Is it a good idea to replay that over and over again in order to bring sadness or rage or guilt or relief to my character? I don't think so.
The fact is, I am made up of hundreds of thousands of experiences and memories and they fill me. Someone could stroke my face how mum once did and that feeling would rush through my veins like lightning. Because it's always in me, it'll never go away. I don't need to go digging for it, it's all there, available to me, if I let it.
My priority when I'm training actors is for them to be safe. That's why I love using The Meisner Technique as the basis of my coaching because we're exploring what it feels like to trust ourselves implicitly, to know that emotions never stop moving. That in a single moment sadness can turn to laughter because as an actor you've put your attention away from yourself and you're responding to the person in front of you with all the ease and availability of a child.
The Meisner Technique teaches you how to work in the moment. Once you discover the power of the moment you'll discover what it really is to be free. Free of expectations. Free of your inner critic. Free of your fear of failure. Free of your fear of judgement. Because as quickly as the moment arises, it's gone and we're into another moment.
Discovering this technique can also have a profound affect on how you view yourself and the world around you. When I discovered it I was also training in Neuro Linguistic Programming, something I was doing purely because I'm fascinated by the human being. During that time I learnt about me, about how I learn, how I am programmed. The more I learnt about me, the more I learnt about other people. Meisner trains you to see deeper, to listen closer, which in turn, I believe, makes you a better human and therefore a better actor. Surely if you're an attentive and open actor you're going to be far more employable than someone whose ego or fear stops them from being present?
Statistics from Arts and Minds 2015 research show that one in five people in the arts sector actively sought help for their mental health. There's also evidence that people in this industry experience symptoms of anxiety ten times higher than the general population and depression five times higher. Actors are often expected to expose themselves emotionally, often with little regard for how it affects their mental health. Add this to the overwhelming lack of self worth thanks to the financial insecurity, often poor working conditions and crazy high expectations set by themselves, the critics and the media it's easy to understand why actors are so vulnerable.
Actors need the strongest of foundations to base their work on so they can live truthfully under their given set of circumstances safely in the rehearsal room, on stage or in front of the camera and then go home at the end of the day leaving work at work. Drama schools owe it to their students to give them the tools to do this. That is why I believe every actor should get a firm grasp of this training. Once they have it, they'll be set for life.