Before attending the Atlantic for the 2020 Summer intensive, I thought of “technique” as I thought of Bigfoot. Many claimed to have found it, but no one could agree on what it was or provide definitive proof of its existence.
I knew that there were famous theater schools. And I knew that famous theater professors were fighting dark feuds over exotic theoretical territory, enlisting prominent long-dead students as foot soldiers in a mysterious war that the whole world cared nothing about. Given the circumstances? Memory versus imagination? Research against instinct?
Browse websites and read slogans. They sound like what you’d hear from carnival barkers at the county fair: “Ride! Marlon Brando! Monty Clift! Marilyn Monroe! See where they’re getting their talent! Catch ’em while they’re hot!” About that, I wasn’t so sure.
But for my money, I was sure people needed to see stories. Turns out they prefer when the stories are staged or filmed. Even better if they look like real life. For that, we needed actors. So the question is: how do you act?
Nothing causes an audience to yawn like an actor talking about acting. Still, as far as I know, actors welcome any temptation to brag about what they think they’re doing when they act. The process. The job. The work. Etc. Close your eyes and you can see the ghost of the late James Lipton – perhaps on the set of a heavenly version of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” – applauding all the talkative comedians on earth. Rather the opposite of Fight Club. The only rule is apparently that you have to talk on this subject.
But when I left my political career to take my first paid job on the stage in a cabaret version of Bizet Carmen at the 14th Street Theater in Logan Circle, the speeches repelled me. I had heard enough empty talk about work in Congress. I preferred precise vocabulary for navigating a scene, blocking a scene, dissecting a scenario, talking about what people want and how they were going to try to get it. It was a good, solid, useful conversation where things had a purpose.
Above all, I loved the cardinal rule that no matter what, you got on stage to do what you came to do and you didn’t leave until you did it. That’s Atlantic’s mantra. To act means to do something. All scenes ask you to do something specific. Once you find out what it is, you better do your best to do it. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. If it’s not fun, throw it away. But if you go for real, the audience will take notice and care deeply if you succeed.
I came to Atlantic in the first place because I had purchased a copy of The Actor’s Handbook for a dollar at the used book carts outside the Strand bookstore in Union Square. I read it on the train. Takes about 60 minutes to complete. And about 60 days to complete twice. It was the most compelling summary of what comedy should be that I have ever read. This book, as outdated as it is now, convinced me that there was a specific set of skills you could learn in order to perform honestly on stage, on screen, in someone’s living room, in a train metro. You name it.
I’m rarely right. But I was right about that. And the people I met during those five weeks at Atlantic’s 16th Street studio are people who have remained my friends, mentors, and colleagues ever since. I always shoot self-cassettes with my friend Aamer. I always meet my friend Chris to read the plays he writes. I always take lessons with Naomi. I still run into my friends Becca and Joseph outside of New York. I just did a play with my friend Lucy called homemade dynamite.
Now we all have our own technique, which goes beyond what we have learned here. Some strongly disagree with Atlantic’s approach. Others like me feel an almost spiritual connection to her. Whichever way you slice it, our goals are all the same. The value we found at Atlantic was that you could take those goals seriously and actually improve in pursuit of them.
I love acting because it’s like a fantasy machine. What if you really could take revenge on a rival? What if you could really confess your love for a longtime crush? What if you could really scam a brand, shove a bully, pump up a friend to finally achieve their dreams? Yes, yes, yes. It’s the stuff in life that almost no one ever comes to terms with. It is true but it is false. It’s real but it’s fake. It’s the easiest thing in the world and the hardest thing to do well.
Kyle Dunn is a New York-based writer and actor. He will appear this summer in the upcoming Netflix series “Uncoupled.” He recently appeared on stage at the Soho Playhouse in one act Conversations with Joanne and at the New York Theater Festival in homemade dynamite. You can follow him on instagram or see more of his work here.
About the Summer Intensive
Atlantic’s Summer Intensive invites actors to our studios in New York for six immersive weeks. Through scene study, script analysis, and rehearsal, students study practical aesthetics, Atlantic’s signature interpretive technique, and take weekly classes taught by industry professionals. industry. Learn more here!