Author Archive for Shira Gregory

Devour Power

You all have either heard it from Cay or have been the unfortunate if likely deserving recipient of the comment, “Guys, the least effective use of me is as a police woman,” meaning, you didn’t do the work, you know you didn’t do the work, and she’s calling you out. Blech.

But what about Cay at her most effective?  After observing Tuesday’s day class, I don’t wonder what that looks like, and I don’t need a pithy quote to summarize or remember it by.  And it also happens to make perfectly logical law-of-creativity sense: When even one person dares to really bring their fullest selves to the rehearsal–to dare to fail, to reveal themselves, to admit their truth and express it, they tacitly give others permission to do the same, and the chain reaction to that is a marvelous thing to behold.  When a whole classroom does it?  In Cay’s words, and I agree with her, they were on fire.

It’s so easy to take our smallness as a matter of course.  To make it precious even–our personal struggles, the things we have to overcome in our work in order to deliver.  But our big-ness?  Our power?  I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson here:  “We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” The best actors I think either instinctively get this or have consciously worked to internalize it.  In class Cay referenced what a friend once observed about Meryl Streep on stage: “onstage, she eats the space.”  She steps into her power, she owns it, she claims it. Because this isn’t just about liberating your fellow classmates to do their best work (although obviously in the studio’s context this is vital)–it applies to what we bring to the world when we work.  You have no idea what kind of creative spark you may have just ignited in audience member number thirty-seven, film viewer number seventeen who just came more alive because you came more alive.  And the world needs more people who come alive.

When we bring our A game, Cay is at her finest.  When we do our bravest work, she does her best work, and we get the most out of her.  It’s a symbiotic growth process and everybody wins.  So as a PSA, please know that you, yes you, have what it takes to fire it up.  Your light is a great service to the world.

So by all means, bring it.










Why do you act?

Obviously this is such a personal question.  But I really want to know why you, (yes YOU, actor-reader!), why do you act?  And more to the point, why are you still doing it?  Still, as in, you had your chance to cut out, you’ve thought it over long and hard and you’re still at it.  I really want to know.

Because I can guess well enough why you got into this in the first place.  Some personal need that was met more effectively here than anywhere else.  Something that often feels unique to us but isn’t: maybe we needed attention, or we discovered a narcotic that didn’t have to involve needles, maybe our need to be liked spiked a little higher than the other normals.  Perhaps we needed to prove something, be better than, best at, belong, what have you.  Or we needed a way to examine and/or expiate the dramas we grew up with.  And better yet, maybe along the way we found a sense of belonging and community, maybe found some catharsis, a connection to something outside of ourselves, a safe place and medium to express and even surprise ourselves.

But that’s what got you into this.  And I know from my own experience, it is in no way enough to sustain you.  Once the often cruel demands of the business sink in, once the demands of what it takes to do deep, honest, truthful work sink in, the financial investment, the personal toll, the risks, the reality that to some degree or another the hustle never stops, it occurs to you that other lifestyles and art forms exist outside this maddening grind –these things that got you into it cannot and will not hold.  Every actor comes upon the precipice (some of us more than one time), in which we have to reconcile what got us started, and either drop it and find the thing that’s worth staying for, or drop it and find something else.  Either way, some sort of death and birth occur, and for those of you whose rebirth involved staying, what had you stay?

What keeps you going?  Why do you do this?

It’s such a personal fucking question.  But since I’ve asked, I have to answer it myself.  So here goes.

When I observed the Monday day class last month, something about watching Lesley work reminded me  of myself in earlier incarnations of my actor-hood.  Cay talked to Lesley about how smart she is, that she makes smart and accurate choices about her character, that she obviously understands the material, but that the access to her work was still largely cerebral and I thought, “Hoo boy but I know what that fucking journey is all about.”  And if they’re gonna deliver the goods, every heady actor has to find a way to engage the whole system–not just the computer, as Carol Reynolds* so affectionately refers to the expensive machinery above the neck.  Cay in her wisdom and experience offered Lesley some gentle ways to begin to do this for herself.

Then I remembered.  I act because this is the place I get to choose to deliberately let go of control.  That sounds super lame, but I think it’s a little more than just, “ah, letting go.”  It’s passive at a certain arrival point but the space of passivity, and how it is arrived at is an entirely deliberate act; a choice, and that feels worth mentioning.  I actually think I’m pretty chill about most things in life (apart from the toddler regimen–Mama runs a tight ship. Also my eyebrow upkeep–very type A).  But I guess the logistics of plain living, to-dos, surviving, budgeting, the day to day grind–it’s a lot of upkeep just to do the regular things in life.  And when you get good at the juggle, there’s a kind of addictive high to productivity.  But that’s a lot of left-brain-in-charge activity.  When it’s time for me to act, I have to–no–I get to–stop, get very quiet with my chatty mind and body, and actively, deliberately choose to allow access to the murky waters, the dark Jungian jungle of the underbelly of what is or isn’t there, be available to the unpredictable ever alive present moment, to throw the spear into the proverbial darkness and send my own internal troops to retrieve it, to engage the atavistic, the inner child, the inner crone, the feelers, to let the right cortex take over for a while.

Acting calibrates me.

For a time asking this showed up as bad news in one way or another, but I’m confident now that this is a good and necessary question to that will be asked throughout ones life and career.  I’m confident this answer will grow and change as I do.

So I showed you mine.  What about you?  Why do you do this?  You can comment below!


* Carol is the Body Dynamics teacher at the studio and general all time exquisite human being–if you haven’t taken her class, what the hell are you waiting for, seriously.




What’s on the other side?

In keeping with the inimitable Tim Bell, I also love a quote that is on Cay’s wall, one by Robert Frost. I realized after having taken an extended hiatus from Cay’s class (life, gigs, pregnancy, a baby), that I have been perpetually misquoting it.  Like, a lot.  I’ll meet a young actor with young actor stuff going on and if we get into it I’ll churn this puppy right out.  So as someone who has a deep reverence for words (and for Frost, no less!), I’m embarrassed now that I have gotten it wrong so much and to so many.  It reads, “The best way out is always through.”  But I remember it, or more accurately, I cannot undo it in my mind to be anything other than, “The only way out is always through.”

And you know what?  I’m keeping my revisionist version.  Because in my experience, it is not a matter of degree–good, better, worse–there is simply that you either choose to go through, you choose your fear as your co-pilot, you choose to lend yourself to the work, you choose courage, or there’s no going through. Not really. Don’t get me wrong, you can get a surface result, and if you’re very crafty you can even make it look pretty darn close to the real thing.  But we’ve all been there when it actually is for fucking real in front of your very eyes and that kind of power doesn’t need equivocation, it doesn’t even merit a conversation about itself because it is undeniable.  And for that stuff?  There are no shortcuts.  There is no hiding, there is no going around it, there is no access to the truly good stuff by playing small and staying safe, and the really bad news is that in the end no one can go through it for you.   You go it alone.  And if you’re very lucky, you get a teacher like Cay who says, I know it’s dark, I know it’s scary, but here’s the door.  Here are a couple of ideas on how you might want to open it.   Here are a couple of more ideas on how you might want to walk (stumble, sprint, scream, dance, leap) through it.

But she won’t do the walking for you.  I should know–there was a period of time in my young actorhood that I tried–oh Lord in all sorts of ways direct and indirect, subtle and overt, aware or subconscious–that I begged, borrowed, pleaded with Cay to please just walk through it for me.  I don’t want to do it.  I don’t want to do it alone.

I have had the great privilege of having Cay be my teacher on and off now for over ten years (!), and to look back on that scared kid versus the grown ass woman I am now proud to have become, I see this is one of the great gifts Cay ever gave me and it is also what distinguishes her from other teachers.  Every other teacher I had had to that point was willing to direct, show, puppeteer every beat and squeeze the life out of the work and the actor in order to make a piece work.  And yes, sometimes that was effective…but only for that particular scene, in that particular class.  Cay was the first one to essentially posit, when you’re backstage, when you’re on set, when you’re in the green room, when you’re about to make your entrance, when you have no one to lean on but your bad self, what then? Other teachers tell you which questions to ask.  Cay teaches how to ask the right questions.

This came up in Monday night’s class.  Caroline was working on The Norwegians with Athena, and Cay asked her about who Athena’s character was to her.  And Caroline, being a very savvy actor, asked a good and legitimate question: who do I or have I had in my life I’d want to out a dark secret to?  Like I said, good, legit, smart actor question.

But Cay said, see I’d ask something like, who do I like and always want to be like, and no matter what, they’re always mean to me?

Let’s talk about what’s behind these questions.  Caroline’s question belongs, for sure, and it might even serve as a hook into the scene, but it is just a piece–how that character feels just that night, that moment.  Cay’s question comes from examining the nature of the essential relationship between these two characters.  It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s with these examples that we learn, oh here’s how I can excavate more efficiently, ask the questions that get me to the root of it, to what’s actually happening.  I guess what I’m saying is if the scene is a tree, Caroline was asking a branch question (a steady, hearty branch–a branch one would miss. say, if it was sawed off or zapped in a lightning storm), but Cay’s was a root question–grounded in the deepest dirt and earth of the relationship.

Caroline knew nearly instantly who Athena was to her, and the scene came to life.

Why do I point this out?  Because here, Frost’s original quote holds: there are good and then better, more efficient ways of getting at the thing.  But then as Ann Lamott writes, all truth is paradox.  There might be weaker and stronger ways of getting at it, but the willingness to go there, to go through, there are no degrees, there’s just the leap in the dark.  I wrote above that that is the bad news .  The good news is that this eventually becomes the thing you welcome.  Doing it, going through the woods yourself is the most vital, life-affirming, challenging and rewarding thing you can do as an artist.  You discover you, (yes you!) actually have something to offer this universe.  And that to your astonishment and relief, you still exist after having risked your emotional self so fully. So then the following risk-taking is microscopically easier to entertain than the last.  And the next easier than the first.  And before you know it? More good news: it gets easier.  OK it definitely doesn’t.  But you get better.  You start to even look forward to the challenge, the engine revving, the burn.  It’s emotional weight-lifting to have to confront your own crap on a regular basis and channel it and express it through this bizarre, ingenious medium.   And like any muscle, the hardest part is the beginning, and then you learn to like the burn, and then you learn to crave it, and then your body learns how to burn faster and more efficiently.  You just gotta keep at it.

Keep at it.

Lookit them acting guns.