I posted recently about having the opportunity to watch Tracy and Mark Pellegrino teaching at Playhouse Paris. In this post I talk a little more about my impression of the classes.
The classes started with a warm-up — the famous repetition exercise. Contrary to what you might expect from Meisner classes and workshops elsewhere, there’s a LOT more to Meisner than repetition. After warm-ups, students worked on doors, activities, scenes, impediments, and speeches. I had a basic knowledge of some of the Meisner Technique exercises, so it was wonderful to see those exercises brought to life.
It was interesting to compare students in the beginners’ class and the advanced students. As well as differences in the type and complexity of the work, the advanced students seemed to take their time more and let things happen naturally. Silences and pauses were comfortable, and it didn’t look as if the students were trying to act. When Mark joined the warm-up, he looked like he’d dropped by for a chat. It’s great to watch when actors look like they’re just going with the flow rather than thinking about what they’re going to do next (something that happens at the acting classes I’ve attended as a student).
Truthfulness is a theme in the acting and teaching. Criticism is given in a kind and constructive way, and there’s plenty of feedback to help students reflect and improve. When Mark was on stage working, Tracy gave him feedback too. And though Mark and Tracy were on the same page, they offered different perspectives and didn’t appear to be trying to agree or say the same things. They just said what they thought. I was hugely impressed by the quality of teaching.
Teaching at Playhouse Paris is very different from the teaching I’ve experienced in acting classes back home. In particular, it includes specific, personalised advice before, during and after the student performs on stage. Tracy and Mark give lots of individual advice that seems extremely helpful as it cuts right to the heart of what each student is doing and where they are in their learning. It’s a great approach.
Tracy is brilliant. She checked in with each student at the start of the class, gave advice throughout, and asked the class questions too. One thing I particularly liked about Tracy’s teaching style was how she asked students, ‘what did you get out of that?’ before giving her own feedback. Tracy seems really sharp, very kind, and is obviously well-liked by the students and her comments were obviously relevant, specific and actionable. Mark complements Tracy’s teaching perfectly. While Tracy seems to provide the main core of the teaching, Mark is also very engaged and observant, frequently adding insightful comments. Neither of them seems to miss anything that happens on the stage. Mark and Tracy both freely criticise students when there’s room for improvement, but it’s done with warmth, and it seems like a super safe environment for everyone to develop and grow. Mark also gets on stage and works with the students. Being able to work with an actor of Mark’s calibre as well as have such excellent teaching from both Tracy and Mark is such an incredible opportunity for these actors!
The Meisner Technique itself is very appealing; I’m certainly a fan of its results from watching Mark and others who’ve trained that way, and everything I’ve seen makes me think it’d be a great way to learn and practice the craft. It’s hard to find someone genuinely qualified to teach it — Playhouse Paris is an amazing opportunity for actors who can study in France! I’d recommend a book called ‘The Actor’s Art and Craft: William Esper Teaches the Meisner Technique’ if you want an overview of the basics. I read it a few years ago, and it gave me a bit of context for what was going on in class.
The students at Playhouse Paris are great! They were at various points in their training and working on different things, and the variety made the session even more interesting. I knew students could join classes at any time and wondered how that would work; having watched, I think it works better than the classes I’ve attended where everyone does the same thing at the same time. I imagine it gives students more flexibility to work at their own pace.
Any actor or student would be lucky to work with Tracy and Mark Pellegrino! I think experienced actors would get a lot out of the detailed and specific feedback (I think Tracy also offers one-to-one coaching), and it’s easy to see how great these classes are for beginners and improvers. The structure seems to filter away a lot of peripheral concerns and focus students’ attention on something that’s understandable and achievable, adding layers of mastery over time. The quality of teaching is exceptional.
I’ll post again soon about some of the specific exercises, and the experience of watching Mark on stage. (Spoiler: I got to see him do a bit of Hamlet!)
If you’re interested in studying at Playhouse Paris, check out their website: https://www.playhouseparis.org.