I’ve had many new experiences in the last few days, several of which involve interesting encounters with interesting people.
I had my first New York audition! It was for a student film at the New York Film Academy, a kind of dystopic thriller without dialogue. It was a dark night and as I exited the subway, on the southern tip of Manhattan island, I excitedly looked around for the building. I was running late by the time I found it, and was slightly put off by the fact that there were security guards and access passes to get inside. I was a world away from our laid back Montreal universities! However, once I got into the room and introduced myself, I realized that whether you’re in New York or Montreal, film students have one thing in common: most of them have no idea what to do with actors. There was no dialogue to audition with and I received no instructions, so I prepared and presented a physical reenactment of one of the escape scenes, which turned out to be pretty fun to do! The whole experience lasted about five minutes, but it was so invigorating to be acting and to be auditioning!
Afterwards, I was invited to an evening of spiritual discussions led by someone who had just recently had a transcendental experience and had seen the light, so to speak. His stories and the ensuing discussions were fascinating on many levels.
The next day, I had some more unique experiences, when I took a longish walk to go audit my first acting class in New York! I was very excited and arrived two hours early, just as it was getting dark and chilly. I decided to take refuge in a quiet bar where I could read my acting book. I never picked up the book. The chatty woman next to me started telling me what a wonderful neighbourhood we were in and how much she adored it. Unfortunately, she was moving. When I asked why, she said “Well, you asked…” and responded that after 25 years of marriage, her husband had had an affair and that she was leaving both him and her beloved apartment. She indicated the bags at her feet. I was the first person she had told.
During the conversation, she asked what had brought me to the city, and she told me I absolutely had to stay and “make it” in New York, no question about it. I was a little troubled by this statement and it isn’t the first time I hear it. People here seem to think that if you take your art seriously, you have to stay in New York. I wonder about that. It’s an exciting place, to be sure, and there is a lot happening, but does it mean that one has to endure the hardships of the big city in order to be an accomplished artist? I certainly don’t have the answer yet.
After she left, an elderly homeless man sat next to me and immediately informed me he had been put away for cocaine possession and asked me if I did cocaine. When I said no, he went on to say that I surely take Tylenol and Advil and that we are all drug addicts. He was the sort of person who speaks incessantly and without any filter. When he found out I was from Quebec, he informed me he had spend several years at St-Benoit-du-Lac, near Magog, as a monk. He went on to tell me about his many other experiences, good and bad. Upon learning that I was an actress, he told me all the roles he saw me as. We both agreed that I should play Antigone. He was impressively knowledgeable about theatre, science and literature. But it was also sad to see a man of his age without any resources or anyone taking care of him. He would surely have chatted my ear off for hours, but I had to said goodbye as I didn’t want to be late for class.
My friend Emma had invited me to audit her acting class at HB studio, the school of Herbert Berghof and the venerated Uta Hagen. The acting class was extremely fun to watch and not too different from the class I spent years in in Montreal. People of varying levels of skill performed their scenes and then were coached by the enigmatic, philosophical and incredibly “new yorky” coach, Michael Beckett. I found him delightful to listen to.
Today, I went back to HB studio for a workshop I registered for before leaving Montreal. It was taught by Carol Rosenfeld and based on her book: Acting and Living in Discovery. The group was made up of about 10 people of all ages and from all around the world, who were at a point in their lives and careers where they were asking: now what? Every person was on a fascinating journey. The first woman who shared had moved to New York as a teenager and had booked her first Broadway audition. She never had to audition again after that and worked steadily for years. I cannot even fathom that kind of life. After moving away from acting for many years, she is ready to give it a go again but finds herself plagued with anxiety. The girl next to me had just left the theatre troupe that she had founded and acted with for ten years in Brazil and was now looking for answers and a fresh start in New York. Every personal story was interesting and all we did was discuss our goals and what stops us as actors. It was a wonderful discussion and I look forward to going back tomorrow for the second instalment. Tonight, I have homework to do.