The Fall Meisner Intensive at Maggie Flanigan Studio is a nine-week acting program that teaches actors the first part of the first year of Meisner training. After taking the six-week Meisner intensive this summer, Jamie Ragusa sat down to talk with Katie about what it was like being in the program both as a working actor and a mother.
Meisner Acting Program - Jamie Ragusa Interview
Q: Jamie, what did you think it meant to train as an actor before you started the six-week Meisner intensive at Maggie Flanigan Studio?
A: What did I think it meant to be trained as an actor? I've always known that when you're training, it's difficult. You have to be willing to explore yourself. I think that's a huge part of acting. If you don't know yourself, then how can you play these fantastic parts and identify which section to apply to those parts? I knew that coming into it, but what I didn't realize that what I wanted to work on is the spontaneity more and surprising myself.
I certainly had maybe a point of view of certain things, but I wasn't able to surprise myself every time. That's initially why I wanted to train here. Charlie and I had talked about that and that's a big part of this work is finding that spontaneity.
Q: Have you studied Meisner previously?
A: I was introduced to it, but not in this way. This is intense in a significant way. I think the difference from what I was taught before is to work from a personal place really and that can be difficult for people, to open yourself up in that way in front of a room full of people. Also, the importance of listening and putting the emphasis on the other person. I sometimes think in my past work, and I would work so hard to make sure I knew what it was about. Sometimes, I wasn't listening at all, which didn't make it truthful.
Q: What happened during this six-week Meisner intensive that changed your perspective on acting and training?
A: Well, I was lucky to be working this summer as well as taking a class. I was able to see progress or just a shift in my thinking with my work and hearing Charlie's voice in the back of my head sometimes. Just saying "This is happening for the first time, be present, focus on the other person." In a callback I had, I had some nice spontaneous moments that I wasn't even expecting, and they just came from that simple thought as, "Be present, be open, be willing to be played on, and work off the partner and let it go. Get out of your head and see where it goes."
I can see in my work; it's helped tremendously. I can now detect the b******* from watching others act and knowing it in myself when something isn't truthful. "Now do it, but don't do it again." It's brought a lot to my work in something that I want to continue to explore.
Q: Was there a specific class or a particular moment working through the activity or on the scene that really, you felt the shift in yourself?
A: Well, my work before, I sometimes worked hard to get the results of the emotion. Here, I'm learning how to not put any effort into that, and last week, in our class, we're up on our feet now, doing scenes. It was the first day to do our view on our feet. I had a beautiful moment where I felt the emotion bubbling in me, and I went into my head, and I said, "No, don't do that" because it could be too emotional. I was judging myself. Afterward, I got the notes; if you just let that emotion go and be free with that, it could change that next line entirely in this beautiful, unique way.
It was good to have that happen last week, and then today, we did the scene again. A similar thing came up, but I let it go. It was at a different part, but it's truthful, and I found what that sensation is. That's what I want to continue to get more of, is that moment where it's so free and open and truthful.
Q: What did you learn about yourself over these past six weeks that was a surprise or that changed you?
A: That's a good question. I'm comfortable hiding behind the characters I play. Sometimes, it's difficult for me to expose my true self to others and as warm and open and emotionally available- I can be. I thought that was surprising, that I was a bit more vulnerable than I thought I was before.
Q: You mentioned you've studio at other studios or taken other classes. How has your experience been different here at Maggie Flanigan Studio?
A: Well, more so than the other places. It's just that it's pushing me more. My eyes are just open to, "That's it. That's what I want." Because I started to have those moments and you want to live in that and do it more often. It's a blessing and a curse, if you will because now I want more and I want to keep going and exploring and see where it could lead to next.
Q: How would you describe Charlie as a teacher?
A: Charlie is intense. He's extraordinary. I had a dance background, so some of my dance teachers were very strict and disciplined, and they teach you that. Charlie is big on doing the work but never take it personally of his intensity because he genuinely cares about the work and just the action. It's very evident, and it's lovely because he wants everyone to succeed. You can see that, and I was in an excellent class where everyone grew. It was such high energy, and they all fought for it. You can see him. He's rooting for everyone to find the same truthfulness and spontaneity and he wants the best for others and doing good work.
Q: Many people think you can be an actor without training. How has being a working actor with a background in prepared you for this intensive?
A: My work ethic is exceptionally disciplined because of my dance background. I work in acting every day of my, and I hustle every day because I love it and I have an idea of what I want, what type of actor I want to be. This intensive is precisely what I was doing, just in a different technique. Now, I'm taking on this new information, and now my job is to apply it and see where that will help me progress as an actor. It frustrates me because sometimes people show up on set and they're still memorizing their lines, and they're in their heads, and you're trying to be there.
You're ready, you're prepared, and the other person isn't, and it can be frustrating that people have that misconception that you can walk out and acting is easy, and anybody can do it. In some cases they do, but the excellent acting that you want to watch is so much more than that.
Q: There's a lot of Meisner intensives in Manhattan as well. Why would you tell a prospective student who is maybe deciding on different places that they should consider Maggie Flanigan Studio?
A: It just is so strong in the Meisner technique. Charlie is great and Karen as well. They know what they're talking about and it's not b*******. It's not trying to get large classes and fill a certain quota. It's about the work, and I can't speak for other intensives, but I know this place is about changing you as an actor for the better and you can see that. I was drawn to even the website and read more about the information that Charlie gave in the interviews. This is serious work, and they take it very seriously as they should. They're creating strong actors, not lazy ones.
Q: A lot of new actors feel like they don't have the time to commit to training. What would you say to those actors?
A: Yes. I’m a mother of two children. Ages three and five. I have a lot on my plate in general, but all I can say is that is if you love it and you love the craft, do yourself a favor and understand it and do the work. I come from the train of thought that you can never be too prepared to do this work. I believe in classes and learning. I will probably be in class for the rest of my life. This is always something you can learn in different people to work off of.
Just do yourself a favor and learn the work to be the best actor you can be. There’s a ton of excuses you can throw out there, but if you have a vision of what you want and the type of work you want to do, then you understand why training is so necessary.
New York Meisner Acting Program
The Fall Meisner Intensive at Maggie Flanigan Studio
Learn more about the acting classes, acting programs, and the Meisner Intensive this fall, by visiting the programs page on the Maggie Flanigan Studio website http://www.maggieflaniganstudio.com/. Actors who are interested in applying for admission to the program need to fill out the online application and schedule an interview. Call (917) 789-1599 with questions you have about the program during open office hours.