• Jeff Thomakos

Why me? Why Here? Why Now? (Part 1)

I’m so excited. Launching this studio has been a dream of mine for many years and being able to do this now, in Michigan, is beyond words. I was first introduced to this technique by James Luse, a mad genius acting teacher I had while attending The Hilberry Rep. James could quote you Chekhov’s To The Actor by page number. He was so versed in the technique and so passionate about it that it intrigued me. Up to that point, I considered myself a pretty good actor. I went to grad school after already working in The Twin Cities, Chicago, and Metro Detroit. I was already a member of Actor’s Equity and had a pretty substantial on-camera portfolio. But, I knew something was missing and I couldn’t figure it out. I kept getting notes from directors, teachers, and auditors like, “You’re working too hard.” Or “Get out of your head.” And it was true. I was working too hard. I was too much in my head. I used to love writing page after page of character bio’s. I would spend weeks trying to create a detailed backstory for my characters. I would use events from my own life (the more traumatic, the better) for emotions that my character would be going through. And as “fun” as that sounds, in retrospect, all of that work did very little good. My work had a tendency to be way too cerebral, almost stilted in a way. AND IT WAS SO MUCH WORK! I was spending so much time focusing on myself, that I used very little energy focusing on my scene partner(s). My characterizations lacked the spark that I was looking for. Sure, I rarely ever got a poor review, I consistently got work, all that great stuff, but as an artist, I was languishing.

But here was this technique that took the focus off myself, that was filled with a feeling of ease, that forced me through the use of Archetypal and Psychological Gesture to take my attention off myself and put it fully into an actable objective directed to the other characters on the stage. I would come to know later that Chekhov called all the stuff I was doing, “The Little Intellect”. Chekhov said that too many actors focus on the “why” in their work and he didn’t see much use in it. “Our work as actor must focus on the ‘how.’”, he said, “Leave ‘why’ to the scientists.”

It was so freeing! I no longer worried about pages and pages of backstory. With Psychological Gesture, the actor is able to create a physical and psychological “moment before” that is actually USEFUL on stage. With work, the actor can use it right before they step on stage to INSTANTLY step into a fully realized and psychologically-connected character. What used to take hours of prep work was reduced to less than a minute. It was a miracle.

I used it frequently in my acting and directing. The use of Atmosphere became an essential component in both. My acting improved exponentially. The shows I directed were acclaimed by critics and audiences alike. As an audience member, I began to be able to sense whether a show I was watching was going to be good or not within the first five minutes simply by paying attention to the director’s use of Atmosphere.

Then I got the opportunity of a lifetime when I accepted a position as Director of Theatre at a Louisiana boarding school for the gifted. All of the teachers there had terminal degrees in their field of studies. Many were continuing their research or writing books. It was an amazing place. It was actually written into their bylaws that they had to provide their faculty and staff thousands of dollars of professional development. I was able to use those funds to become a Certified Master Teacher of the Michael Chekhov Pedagogy through the National Michael Chekhov Association.

Using the skills I learned, I was able to teach these gifted young actors with a confidence in the technique that I hadn’t had before. My students began saying that it was not only helping them with their acting, but in their everyday lives as well. They claimed being able to see more of the beauty in the world and to open their hearts more. They claimed that it was changing their lives for the better.

#ArchetypalGesture #PsychologicalGesture #Atmosphere #Teaching

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