The Two Year Acting Program at the Maggie Flanigan Studio is based on the Meisner Technique, which was the life work of Sanford Meisner. In this interview Ezra Bynum discusses the two year program at the end of his first year of professional actor training at the studio.
Ezra, how would you describe the type of actors that graduate from Maggie Flanigan Studio?
Actors that know how to work, and I mean that really in two different ways. One way is that you have a foundation and a set technique that you can apply for the rest of your career, and it can be for film, television, theater. It can be of different types of different genres, comedy, whatever it is, you have a way of approaching it and you have an understanding of how to bring that to life inside of yourself. Something we really train ourselves to do.
The other way that I mean they know how to work is a work ethic. That’s something that I really learned and really resonated with me this first year is, learning for yourself what it takes to get where you need to for a script or a scene, whatever that is. I used to be the type of person who I’d work on a script and I’d sit back with my clock and three hours and bye. I just worked really hard. I just put three hours into my work. What I learned slowly over this year was, it’s not about the time you put in. It’s about the effort.
You can spend three hours on something, but I’ve learned you have to be honest with yourself and if you sat down with a goal or a problem that you needed to fix, something you needed to address, and if it’s not done in those three hours and you look up, you have that work ethic instilled in you that says, “Hey, I need to keep going until I figure this out.” You have those two and you can put them together. It’s invaluable.
Well, after almost completing your first year of training, when you meet someone now who says they want to be an actor, what would you tell them?
The biggest thing was– sticks out to me the most about Maggie Flanigan is, here we train to be actors. The difference between that is that I’ve been to other studios and other studios you will learn to be an actor. The difference is, learning is up here. You understand it, but acting doesn’t come from up here, acting comes from inside and from your heart and your impulses. You need to train that in order to really have it come to life in you and to be embedded in you.
At Maggie Flanigan, we train to be actors and we figure out what scares us and what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, what breaks our heart. The only way that you can really find those things and use them in your career is if you train and you work on them, and you really get those fundamentals down. I would say to anyone, really, just, you need to find a place where you can train to be an actor and not learn what it means to be an actor.
How is that advice different from the advice you would have given a year ago?
The way that’s different– I didn’t have the advice to give a year ago. I had no idea. I didn’t know. I mean, I had worked and I had been to other studios but I still didn’t have a grasp of– I didn’t have something that I could tell someone else about, “this is how you work, this is how you approach it, this is how you take work and make it into an art form.” I have that advice now, but a year ago I didn’t have anything that I could say.
Do you feel like you’re being given the guidance and training needed to take on a serious professional career as an actor at Maggie Flanigan Studio?
I do. I trust my teachers here very much so. It reminds me of a time, probably in the middle of the year, that we did have a very good class and Charlie needed to give us a talk to get us back. Work in the right way. He says something to us. He said, “I want to be the best acting coach in America,” and I believe that, and the way that transpires is that every day, he expects you and holds you accountable to bring your best work, every day. That’s something that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. To have a teacher who– you don’t have excuses. You might have a bad day. Everyone’s going to have a bad day but your bad day isn’t because you didn’t put the work in. Your bad day isn’t because you didn’t have the tools or the training. It’s – It’s for whatever reason so, yes, I mean, that’s huge, having a teacher that wants you to be as successful as much as you want to be successful. Sometimes pushes you because he want’s you to be more successful than what you have in your head on what success is.
How important has it been that you have a small intimate classroom setting here at the studio? How is that different from others places you’ve been?
Intimacy is really what jumps out to me. Of course, a smaller class gives more time to work, which is always important. But there is a bond that was formed here that I never had anywhere else. That is so important because especially when you’re first getting into the act– I mean, really, any type of acting. But when you’re first getting into acting and you learn how vulnerable you are.
You learn to put your heart out there. Being in a classroom with people that you trust, and people that you have seen get up right before you, either succeed or failed. Seeing them go through it and then you go through it. You guys are able to laugh afterward, cry afterward, whatever. That is the thing that just, you know, it’s coming here it is a gym that bonded together that I didn’t have anywhere else.
You worked professionally before you came to the studio. How would you describe the change that you’ve seen in your work? When you would’ve gotten a job five years ago as if you get cast in something now, what’s the difference?
The difference is I know how to approach it. I’m not saying know exactly what to do, I’m still learning, but I know how to approach work. I’m confident that whatever scene I’m given I know how to get myself there, emotionally. Or I can bring that to life. Which is something that I didn’t know beforehand, or, better yet, I thought I knew beforehand? Until I came to Maggie Flanigan I learned what really does excite me. What really does scare me.
Once you have confronted those and figured those tools out. You can bring them anywhere. You know whatever I’m doing in my scene, in my script, that I have the tools to accomplish whatever my objective is in that scene.
What would you say to someone who maybe you’ve been on set working on a project together, or met in a class? They’ve been working as an actor for a while but they’ve never really trained it. They’re thinking about it but they have a bunch of excuses, “I don’t have time. I don’t want to study a technique that will box me in. It’ll take away what makes me special.” What would you say to someone if they were thinking it but they were coming up against a lot of personal things that were given them doubts as to why they should train?
In terms of time, I was the same exact way. I looked at it and I was like, “it’s a full-time program, it’s long and I either just want to get out there and start working, or I just don’t have enough time. I work 50 hours a week, I can’t be in class until 9 o’clock at night. Then get back up at 5 am.” That’s not the truth. The truth is if you want to do it you can make it happen. There’s no way around that. People who’re afraid of getting boxed in, I think they don’t have a clear understanding of learning what the technique is because our technique teaches you to improvise your way through a scene.
You’re not getting boxed into a certain way. It’s freeing you up. It’s teaching you how to think as an actor. Not just take the obvious route, but really play around and see how to make things interesting. I mean, just don’t be afraid of training. I mean, if you should be afraid of training, you should be afraid of finding out something about yourself that maybe you didn’t know beforehand. That’s what’s scary. The time, the commitment, that’s not what’s scary in the end.
You’re finishing up your first year of the two-year acting program. You’re going to be heading into the second year in the fall. How do you feel about that?
I’m happy to get the first under my belt. It was tough, and it knocks you off balance, throws you around. It’s a roller coaster. But I think it’s supposed to be like that. You’re not supposed to cruise through. Because if you cruise through, you’re not going to learn anything. There are enough acting studios out there that I’ve been to, and I’ve heard about, that you get up, you do a monolog, you get a pat on the head and you sit down. You’re not going to get better doing that. You’re going to get better by putting your heart into something and having it not come out right. Then going back to the drawing board and figuring it out, and we’re given the tools here to do that. So even if you walk out an audition and it didn’t go well, instead of being discouraged, which I used to be– I walked on my first audition that went horrible and I literally was like, “I’m not going to act anymore.”
Now, a bad audition, you have the tools to go back and say, “well, what went wrong? How can I fix that? How can I approach this differently?” So that first year just gave me a lot of confidence again, I was myself and just as a method and a technique and a way to work. And in terms of the second year, I don’t even know what to expect and I kind of like it that way. Take it as it comes, have an open mind and just put your heart into that.
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To learn more about the Meisner Technique and the two year Meisner training program at the Maggie Flanigan Studio visit MaggieFlanigan Studio.com or call the studio directly at 917-789-1599.