New Class, New Year!

For some reason Autumn always feels like the start of a New Year for me in the city. Maybe it’s that I was conditioned to look at it that way by years of Summer break followed by the start of school. Or maybe it is the ability to finally use the word “autumnal” for a little while without everyone looking at me like I’m totally crazy. Whatever it is, the changing of the season, the cooling of the days and the anticipation of the cold while trying to absorb the beauty of the colored leaves in Central Park, I feel more open to things this time of year. More open to change in myself, perhaps. It might not be entirely coincidence that I started Cay’s class in September of 2012.

Two years at the Caymichael Patten studio now. Easily the longest I’ve ever stuck with a studio, the longest I’ve ever sat under the eye of any teacher in my entire life. I’m fond of quoting Chris Fields’ “actors go to class, actors go to class, actors GO TO class.” Well Chris, I’ve been going to class every Tuesday for two years now. Growth is hard to feel. Like the trees in the park adding their rings I think we actors do the same with every year of auditions, workshops, seminars, classes, performances, even breakdowns. And those rings are difficult to see in the moment. But looking back on them, on each triumph and tribulation, and even more realistically on each month where sometimes the classes blended together in a blur of “I should have worked more on this” and sometimes erupted in a shower of “oh THAT’s what this scene is about” and each job booked and each rehearsal struggled through or powered through or just plain rehearsed through, looking back and counting the rings starts to help me see that growth take shape.

On Tuesday we added three new people to our class, along with several returning vets. We also lost Christina to the Monday night class (from whence they never return!) One of the newer members of our class, a young man who has only been with Cay for a few months, sat down across from Migina and they read from “The Wager”. When they finished Cay asked him how it went.

Actor: “It’s dense and verbose and I’m working it out.”

Cay: “Is that what you need to be doing on this?”

Actor: “Yes, on this piece.” Pause. “And you don’t agree.”

The thought crossed my mind as I watched their interaction that I remember this.

Actor: “I have trouble connecting to a piece before I know what I’m saying.”

Cay: “Here’s the thing; what you’re saying to the person comes out of your connection to the person.”

I remember this. Because this is me. Or was me. Or somewhere in the middle. I remember sitting up in that same chair, probably across from Migina at one point, and having this same argument discussion with Cay. I remember doing it so often that is has blended together into what feels like one big memory of Cay’s instruction gently or forcefully bumping up against my interpretations.

Cay continued.

“What’s the first thing a baby needs to do in order to thrive? They need to connect…”

(This is true, I remember hearing in my Sociology class about a horrific experiment by a European Scientist in which he tried to raise infants from birth with no human contact outside of basic food and water. The infants had plenty of light, nutrition, and shelter, and without human contact they all died)

“…The development of art mimics the development of life. You think you need these things, this pre understanding of the character to make the scene work. I think, on the contrary, you are enough!”

The actor looked hurt.

Actor: “You always like what I do by the end.”

Cay: “And have you not changed?”

Cay had them sit down with the intention of doing their read one more time before class ended. I got up to do my monologue, a piece picked out for me by a dear friend from the play “Now Circa Then”. When I finished Cay and I talked about the growth I have found since working on Hedda with Migina before the break. We laughed about our own fights during that process.

“Tim also disagreed with me!” She shouted.

“I did,” I smiled at the memory, “we battled.”

“Oh, did we battle!” said Cay. “But Tim found something in George Tessman. He found that he had come home drunk, and that Hedda was sometimes terribly attracted to that and sometimes terribly not!”

We had battled. And I had found that. And Cay had helped lead me there, but I had found and done it on my own. And I am proud of that. The rings on the tree.

When Migina and the Actor got up later to read again Cay asked them how they felt.

Actor: “I want to ask what you thought first.”

Cay: “Honey, you know I’m going to tell you anyway. But I want to hear how YOU feel?”

Actor: “I found a lot of hurt. It felt more truthful.”

Cay: “It was.”

Actor: “Because I didn’t have anything to hold onto, it felt like it was using me. I thought that it was successful.”

Cay: “I did too. My hope is that you take the things that you found and the things that you said and let that lead you.”

This student blogger hopes he can take the things that he finds and the things that he says and let them lead him also. And the same for every “actor going to class” this year. Drop the ball, pop the champagne, and turn on the Tournament of Roses in the morning because thus begins the New Year at the Caymichael Patten Studio.