Under their influence

Kamil has taught me acting since October. We still have months to go before the whole three class blocks are completed. But something peculiar happened. Kamil vacationed in Singapore over the holidays. He was super stoked to reunite with his family. Yet at the same time, he was balling out here, picking up bigger and bigger opportunities in what seemed like a rapid climb to the top. Over the holidays, his friend’s Facebook walls would be continuously papered with his posts, obsessively capturing everything he would be eating; a journey told in food. I remember when we were talking about addiction in class and what sorts of behavioral ticks might capture being addicted – he used food of all things – as his own, personal trigger of addictive desire. He even went so far as to lose himself in feeling sweat upon his upper lip at the thought of food and probably all the delicious food he was going to drown in when he got to Singapore.

And low and behold, there were all those posts on his and everyone’s walls; colorful arrays of bowls of curry, soy shakes, spreads of entire dinners, and for weeks on end, nearly every day! I came to know the full extent of his food addiction.

And then we got the email. Kamil was not coming back to finish up the second block following the holiday break due to a family emergency. As usual, we were prepping  a laundry list of homework for class including our scenes. And then, nothing. Admittedly, a pang of relief crept up within me. I mean, I strive to finish what I begin, but at this stage, I was beginning to wonder if I had veered to far in the wrong direction with his instruction.

Yet, it had been a glorious fall. He had an intensity about him, every time, when someone is dedicated like he is. Much of going back to class in some sense, is redeveloping your social connective tissue. Many of us, new to this fold, were probably looking to reconnect with ourselves. But in the process, it became before our eyes, an experiment in group social interaction. We had to let go of ourselves. Say what was on our mind. Turn our feelings outward. Doing that with a group of people you just met is both exciting and uncomfortable. How this came about was special. A lot of bonding took place. So in essence, you’re tight with these people. It is so….tribal.

I knew I was ambivalent upon returning to class. I was wearily tired from a holiday season that seemed to be herky jerky in terms of flow between activities, work and friends. Knowing that there’d be this discontinuity of teaching and changes in how the class would be taught, and how we would resume  – or if we would – I was a little worried because at orientation 4 months prior, I’d gotten a bad impression of Dom, who was taking over. He struck me as unfocused, all over the place and without an ability to give direction. He seemed weak. It was almost as if he were looking for our approval. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to this class and interacting with his nervous energy, but there were also, only two more classes to go. And how this transpired baffled me.

Class #7 of 8

In walked Dom. I was immediately in a strange mood. I was relieved on one hand, that much of Kamil’s intense classes were over. In some ways, it felt like someone trying to beat you over the head in order to get you to relax. It was Kamil now that it was over, who’s nervous energy I realized was not jibing overall. But in other ways, I was still upset. In my mind, no teacher could just come in expecting we were going to be comfortable enough to let ourselves go, and also, to try and connect what we were working up to, with another plan. It turned out, we were not going to be doing our scenes. I just didn’t get it. As the first class with Dom ended though, the bluster of feelings running rampant inside of me had transformed to good will. I saw that even though Dom had not the punch and energy and passion as Kamil, he was freaking seasoned and that was why he seemed to have a lot less of the three up front. In other words, he can deliver bits of wisdom at random in a single breath without batting an eye. How was I going to be against his own good will? That would be stupid. I decided to stick around. I get caught up sometimes. I will admit that.

The material we explored with Kamil, the “school” of thought we were a part of, opened me up, invariably to the luster of this kind of acting. Like the difference between seeing Lincoln and Django. The former puts all its chips so much on the characterization of Lincoln himself. Everything else is almost secondary and supporting. Here, Lincoln – or D.D. Lewis, goes so far into himself, to connect to Lincoln, that he becomes Lincoln, and becomes self-possessed. To me, this approach is pretty dry, but from this class I’ve learned this different way and the techniques that amount to building a singular character. This cerebral approach won’t be found in Django, which is rooted in an intellectual and actively social approach. Each character in Django embodies a world rife with it’s own history and culture and agency. In effect, Django, like all Tarantino films are about people and people’s motivations. His characters are all caught in questions of their own life paths. Lincoln is a different kind of performance altogether. In it, the narrative is the main character, rigidly so.  The actors bend themselves around the lines. There is never a question of what takes precedent. The words. Take. Precedent! : )

Anyhow, my horizons have been broadened to learn about working towards the script. I would never naturally, have gravitated towards this approach. I would have been more naturally inclined to explore myself and those in the scene and to let human nature dictate a performance. Django does this with aplomb. I will never forget what we learned with Kamil though. His attention to specificity has gotten me to think a lot more about details. I am thankful for his class. Being the young guy he is contrasts greatly with a veteran like Dom. Kamil has a lot more to prove. Dom, has proven himself. Kamil is just a little bit like watching the Chicago Bulls under Tom Thibodeau. He is new and somewhat winning to this game, enthusiastic but has a lot to learn that only life experience can impart, or maybe it can only impart so much. Maybe he is just a worker plain and simple. I don’t doubt he will go on to better things though. He is as determined and steely as they come. It is a huge difference to watch this dynamic of somewhat-experienced vs. experienced unfold these days in class with Dom.  It is a night and day difference to work with someone who comes to class without an agenda, and one who just comes, truly relaxed enough to make everyone else feel relaxed enough to be themselves. It feels full. That is the goal you know. To feel full.

I just gave a critique of two teachers, both whom I respect, but one who I gravitate towards more. I can’t believe Dom is actually a lot different than what I saw. I hope I can help him with this because I wonder how many judgmental people there were that day in orientation who got the same impression and chose another teacher. I know I did, when it should have taken a drastically different turn.

Now in the end of my post, I realize a happy, fulfilling life is all just a matter of compatibility. Having better compatibility will always get you better results. I am happy and even rewarded to have worked with Kamil. He built us up nobly and made us work damn hard. But still, I wanted  meaningful dialogue in addition to the work I was putting into this. Again, I wanted to feel full. Now I do. I am glad to be under the wings of this seasoned veteran now.

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3 thoughts on “Under their influence

  1. i’ve been wanting to read this post for a while, but seeing how meaty it was i wanted to give myself the proper time and mindset to really get into it.

    we demand much from our teachers, and rightly so, b/c they can change our world view and point us to self knowledge. but they teach us not just from their words or lesson plans, but from the clash of our interactions. great to hear your experiences and thoughts pranay.

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