The Russians are kicking my ass, and I can’t wrap my head around why.
I’m fortunate enough to be studying in Moscow right now. At GITIS. Where acting- or what is now today seen to be the art acting- was born. Stanislavsky baby. It’s kind of a dream! I’ve been dreaming of this four week field trip since I first auditioned for East 15. We perform on the Globe Theatre’s stage and we go to Moscow, that was the sales pitch! I’m with people I’ve grown to love like family and I’m studying my craft at its source. Why do I feel like I’m floundering?
My director here is what I wanted from a Russian teacher. “NIET!” she’ll yell after you speak one line. “NIET NIET NIET!” she’ll yell if you step the wrong way.
It’s all part of the fantasy that I had! Someone so tough that she makes people run out of the room in tears.
Of course, in my fantasy, she yells at me, and then I take her notes and am feeling such raw emotion from the exhaustion of Biomechanics classes every day and her tearing people to pieces every day that I give a heart wrenching, tear jerking performance as one of Chekhov’s romantic heroes. The class is silent. I’m left on the floor still shaking and trying to gather myself up. Then she says, “da.” And the crowd goes wild. She comes onstage and helps me to my feet, gives me a hug and kisses me on the cheek. Just like that, I’ve mastered the Russian system.
Reality check: it’s not that easy.
They want me to be myself onstage, and I can’t do that. I understand what they want. The idea is to put yourself in the given circumstances and just feel your way through the scene. Don’t act, just react. Open yourself up to yelling, crying or storming off. I can do that, but I don’t want to do that as Sam. I want to do it as my character! There’s a reason I’ve pushed those emotions down in myself.
I know that what I’m referring to is actually a huge debate in the acting community; is it safe to use your personal life onstage? I don’t mean to start a debate here, only to express how absolutely frustrated I am that I don’t feel brave enough to try it.
One of my classmates is beautiful in every way. She wears her heart on her sleeve! When she went onstage today and exploded in every color of emotion… well, she basically lived the fantasy described above. Why can’t I do that? Maybe it’s not the method for me, but I at least want to try it. What if I just have a huge block and will never be as good as I could be? What’s worse, I don’t even know how to try.
They don’t want you to hide behind a character. I also understand that, but I don’t feel that I ever did that! Do I use personal experience to find what it might be like? Sure. You have to level with your character somehow.
But there’s a difference between exploring how your character might feel given what you’ve experienced versus relying on what you feel to create the scene. Or maybe I’ve been faking it the whole time. I am a fraud.
I thought I would come here and be able to take my craft to the next level. Instead I feel like a child starting from ground zero. A complete amateur. How can I turn this around…
I have two weeks left to figure out what all of this means. Vera, our director, says that acting isn’t interesting onstage. Personality is. I’ve seen it in practice, I just have to put it into practice!
This isn’t much of a post, and I’m sorry it’s so unfocused. But I feel unfocused. I know it’s also very short, but I think I just have to leave it there for now… I promise next month, when I don’t have to borrow someone’s computer and hope that Russia can offer me internet access for five minutes, I’ll give you a better picture of things. Maybe I’ll even be able to offer some insight into this problem… how do you keep you and your character separate while still keeping your character grounded in reality? Where are you supposed to find what that reality is outside of yourself?
We’re all human beings. We all have all sorts of feelings, loves and sufferings in us and our experience. But, from where I’m standing now, it’s better to conjure up some wild fantasy and live it onstage than to dredge up all sorts of rotten feeling and reliving that…. To be continued.
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