I met with a prospective student the other day named Elektra. Elektra is Greek, and had recently completed her studies at a piano conservatory in Paris. Such schools are extremely difficult to get into, and even more difficult to survive. The French have an obsession with flawlessness, and their relationship to music is no exception. Elektra felt drawn to San Francisco as a place to decompress after all that French intensity about being flawless.
I was explaining my class to her (which the marriage of her sister will prevent her from attending this cycle, but which she plans to attend in the cycle starting in June), and I was talking about how I don’t get everyone up in class every week, largely so that I can spend real time with the scenes I do look at. And before I could say it myself, Elektra chimed in with “Yes, and you learn so much from watching!” Which was, of course, music to my ears. But she went on to say that this was especially true in classes with beginners, because as en experienced student you are often thinking of the more complicated issues in your work, and you can lose sight of fundamentals. The presence of the novices in the class meant, in Elektra’s experience in master classes at her piano conservatory, that she got reminders about fundamentals that she had lost sight of in her concern about the more sophisticated aspects of her work.
I told her I wished I could have her saying all of that on video.
When I was assisting Evan Yionoulis with the Yale Summer School Acting Program, Evan, who went on to chair the acting program at the Drama School of five years and win an Obie for her direction of Patricia Clarkson, among others, in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, would often remark on how vital it was to revisit the fundamentals in conducting the technique exercises, how this revisiting had a renewing effect on her and her work. Or, as a wise man once said: Zen mind, beginner’s mind.
I know that sometimes experienced actors decide to forego my class because I allow beginners in the class, and I think that is a crying shame. The lack of humility aside, this attitude displays a lack of understanding of creative practice in general, which calls for revisiting the basic issues involved in the craft in question, often and with curiosity. An actor who believes he has nothing to learn from revisiting the basics has lost his way. To quote another wise man, anybody not busy being born is busy dying.
There is a place for working with peers who have achieved some comparable level of facility or mastery, but there is also always a place for keeping company with those who are at the beginning of their journey. Their passion and enthusiasm can be infectious, and they have some surprising ways of looking at things that challenge the seasoned actor to reflect in some pretty valuable ways.
Ask Elektra. She knows.