On committing to a moment

“Okay, hold it there.”
Migina has just walked into the scene. Max is sitting on the floor, cross legged, up center, and she stands over him. They are on the second run of this scene, and Cay has stopped them roughly half-way through, and not for the first time today.
Cay: “Okay, Migina, I want you to crouch down. Get closer to him. And now Max, reach out and grab her. And I want you to hold onto her, alright? Don’t let her get away. What line do you want to take it back to?”
They start again, this time Migina is crouched very near to Max. He reaches out and wraps his arms around her neck. Migina holds there for a minute, and then gently starts trying to pry his arms off. She succeeds, stands up, and backs away, leaving Max on the ground.
Cay: “Stop, stop. Max, why did you let her get away?”
Max: “I held her, but she pulled my arms off.”
Cay: “Yes, and then she got away. Why is that?”
Watching from the seats I can empathize with Max. He looks exhausted, hot, and unhappy that he will have to redo this again. As actors we have all been in this moment. We make a bad choice, we drop a moment, we don’t commit to fully connecting with our partner. And then we are told it’s wrong, but we want so badly to BELIEVE it’s right. We start getting tired and agitated. This is always a dangerous moment in class. You pause for a moment to take a deep breath and channel all of that agitation into the scene, or you can get frustrated and shut down emotionally. I have experienced both myself and I have seen both happen to very good actors. The first usually results in an excellent learning experience; the second in an afternoon of self-pity.
And as much as I would like to be on Max’s side in his frustration, I can also see that Cay is right. The moment was good but somehow it wasn’t RIGHT. Which can be perhaps the most frustrating part of being an actor. Going back and watching a project you have completed and then realizing afterwards that “oh man, THAT was the choice I should have made” or “why wasn’t I connecting with her when I said that?” It’s enough to drive you crazy.
Cay: “Okay Migina, do the same thing. This time Max do not let her go!”
They take it back again. It starts much the same way, Migina crouched, max desperately holding her neck. And then she pries one arm off and it immediately goes to her knee. He hugs her knee first with one, then with both arms, his faced pressed against it in desperation, and Migina pauses for a second to roll her eyes.
Cay: “Yes! Yes, that’s it!”
And she is right. We all laugh at the moment because it is so REAL. Max, sobbing against Migina’s knee, Migina trying to play the balance between delicate and forceful, and this scene is suddenly as funny as it is pathetic. His lines are touching, her’s are hilarious, and it’s right.
Cay lets them play through the end of the scene, and we all breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over because it is now obvious why she stopped them so many times. Afterwards she asks Max how that felt, and he tells us what we were able to see which is that it changed for him. This is the moment that actors live for. The stage suddenly isn’t a stage, it’s an apartment, or a park, or a dining room, and for a performance the world outside doesn’t exist. All that exists is the moment, the connection with your partner, and the inner life you feel sitting across from them. And he was led to the change without being told about it, left alone to discover it for himself. Which is why, as she would say herself, Cay makes the medium money.

Leave a Reply