The New York summer acting programs at the Maggie Flanigan studio train professionals actors based on the acting technique that was created by Sanford Meisner. In this interview Angie Elliston discusses how Meisner training during the six week program was different than she expected.
Angie Elliston Interview: New York Summer Acting Programs
Q: Angie, what did you think it meant to train as an actor before you started the six weeks summer intensive?
A: What did I think it meant to train as an actor? I suppose that I knew it had a lot to do with not just getting in tune with your emotions, but also it had things to do with movements and voice. I know it had a lot to do with a lot of other things. Sometimes I thought when I'm growing up; I would watch on TV how actors would train. It's just like looking at each other like marrying what you're doing and stuff, and you got this cliche about it.
When I first got here, I did not expect that it would be this way because I remember Charlie came in the first day and he didn't even tell us how it was going to be. He just started telling us that you're going to repeat what I'm saying, but you're going to change the plurals. He does like that first Meisner technique which is the repetition. We were all just in shock. We were all amazed at how it worked so well. We learned how to hear, how to pay attention to the other person.
We started realizing that in everyday life, these are things that we think we do, but we don't. You also learn a lot about yourself and the behavior of other people. I guess I did not know much about acting mostly because of where I come from. Then, coming here I thought it would be more about movement and expression, but it was not. It's more about internal. When you work with what's inside, you start working with the outside. It just automatically it starts showing the outside and that's the acting process. I just had to say that it was very unexpected everything I've learned.
Q: What do you think training as an actor means now?
Angela: Training as an actor now, after everything that we've learned and just these six weeks, I've determined that training has a lot to do with the relationship you have with yourself and accepting your emotions and learning how to just dive into different types of-- I don't know how I could put this. I would say like the relationship that you have with yourself and understanding how you work and accepting any emotions.
Charlie made an example like suppressing your feelings. I had that problem at the beginning with certain emotions. I learned to accept those emotions and told myself that it's okay for them to come because it's me. It's my emotions. I'm entitled to my feelings. That's something that he kept repeating along through the semester and the summer. It stayed with me.
I learned that it's just more about the relationship you have with yourself and observing other people. People watching is essential, listening and just paying attention and just trying to see and read the other person. That's like a ride. He used this metaphor. It's always going to stay with me. Acting is like a water skier. The other person is the boat that guides you around the water, and you were the water skier. You flow wherever the ship goes- it takes you.
Q: What happened during the six weeks that changed your perspective? Was there a particular moment in the exercise? Was there a moment of rehearsal, a personal discovery that changed your view of what it means to train as an actor?
Angela: I learned a lot in many different ways in rehearsals and class. In class, I would say that I learned, mostly when I would see Charlie teach the others, like my classmates. When I'm on the scene, I can't see myself. I don't know what I'm doing. I heart what he says, and his feedback and I write that down, and I consider them and then everyone else, I see what they're doing.
Well, we're all on the same level. We're all making the same mistakes. I learned mostly by looking at everyone else helped me. It worked better because we were an intimate group. We were a small group. We got to know each other better that way. Just seeing everyone grow from day one to now, the last days it's pretty amazing. We're all proud of each other as well. There's no competition or anything. We're all helping each other.
Rehearsals, well the first day, Charlie immediately gave us an active partner. It was weird because I didn't know him, but we got to know each other well through the exercises, which is the Meisner of asking each other questions, repetition, and we grew together. I learned a lot just through my partner, helping each other, watering each other like we were plants. That's how I viewed that. I learned a lot through rehearsals, and Charlie says that's where you grow, and it's genuine. You build through repetitions and through seeing other people's mistakes in class, and that's mostly how I think I've grown in this summer.
Q: What did you learn about yourself that was a surprise or that changed you?
Angela: Yes, that's what I was about to say. I was surprised on how certain types of feelings, mostly feelings of intense sadness or-- Something that shocked me, something that I did not know about myself that I learned here was because I didn't know how to stand up for myself. I didn't know that. He said it. I guess everyone noticed, but I had no idea. He speaks through the repetition and the conflict exercises that, this Meisners, I wouldn't have to stand up for myself.
Here I had my partner just fighting with me, and Charlie's told me to take things personally, take it in because as an actor, you have to take things personally and be comfortable with conflict. How is there going to be any conflict if you don't stand up for yourself? I didn't, I would just let this pass, and I noticed that I just brushed off any insult or conflict that was trying to happen. I didn't want anything to do with it.
I realized that I run away from my problems and I don't stand up for myself. Instead, I walk away from it. I finally learned to confront it, and when I did eventually stand up for myself and face my partner on the scene, I was blown away, and I almost had hysteria. I wouldn't stop crying, and it felt so real. Then after we finished, I had to review everything that had just happened because I had forgotten entirely. That's how it felt like to be in the moment and be out of your head and focus on the other person, which is what acting is all about.
Q: How would you describe Charlie as a teacher?
Angela: Charlie is-- I guess what I liked about him is that he's passionate about his students. He takes everything very seriously, and since day one, he says that you've got to want this. Almost in every class, he always finishes the course with something to take home with, some nice motivation, which was still really lovely. He's harsh. He will challenge you. He doesn't have much patience, but that's only because he has a lot of passion, and he does explain that. That's just how he is.
That's important because if you want to be an actor, it is a challenging industry, and no one is going to give you mercy; no one's that nice to you. It's very raw. It's very harsh, and Charlie teaches you that, and he says it from the beginning like this is how it is. He challenges you If you need to want this, and you're going to get so frustrated with yourself, and he will make you frustrated with yourself. That's the point, that's how you grow. Once you finally achieve that stuff, you feel so much-- You build, you feel so much better, and you realize that everything he did, he knows exactly what he's doing. I think that's how I would describe him. He challenges you, and he is super passionate about all of his students and what he teaches.
Q: There are a lot of summer intensives in Manhattan, a lot of Meisner summer intensives. Why did you decide Maggie Flanigan Studio was the place for you?
Angela: Maggie Flanagan is not trying to sell you the school and the classes or anything. It's all just very genuine and authentic. I think that's what I liked about it. When I did more research on it, and I had heard of other people who studied here, I was intrigued. When I met Charlie, I saw that he was genuine about this. He wasn't trying to sell me anything. Instead, he said, "I want to see if I want to teach you. I want to see if you are passionate about this because you have to be because this is intense. This is real life. This is acting." I guess that was my impression of it.
Q: You mentioned before how your class helped you watching the other students and the sense of community since you were a small class. How did that closeness to the other students help you through the six weeks?
Angela: I would say that because there were fewer students, there was less competition, more time for one another. More time for my partner and me, and also for the others. It's always like there's more time for one another. You feel closer to Charlie as well. We all realized that we're in this together. I think it's just you feel more intimate. You feel like more closer to them. If there were more people, it wouldn't be the same at all.
I like that it was a small group and we all got to know each other better. We all are so different from different places around the United States. The age gaps are enormous, but we're all at the same level, and we were all struggling. At the same time, I felt like we were all holding hands together and we were getting through this. That's what I liked about it. Because it was small, we were closer.
Apply for Admission to the New York Summer Acting Programs
Admission to acting programs, including the six week summer intensive at the Maggie Flanigan studio (https://www.maggieflaniganstudio.com/) is based on an interview with Charlie Sandlan. Students who are ready to commit to a professional actor training can learn more by visiting the studio website or by calling the studio during regular business hours at (917) 789-1599.