Monday, September 16, 2013


A voice teacher I had during my first year in grad school wrote to me:

Ron, You trained with Suzuki methods at LSU. I am writing a book on different training methods and need some actor feedback. How did you respond to the work (good or bad)? You're articulate, and I need articulate actors to give me feedback (if you have a few minutes).
I do love being articulate.  So, of course, I responded:
There was a particular day we were doing scene work on Richard III with Leon Ingulsrud. Of course, we always were Suzuki intensive with Leon, given his association with the company back in Japan, and that day was no different. So it was good old Shakespeare filtered through whatever effect these bizarre exercises have on actors. I'm not sure what it was, but that was the day I felt like I finally understood what it was about. 

I was EXTRAORDINARILY focused on my scene partner--actually my awareness of my surroundings in general was just about as heightened as I can ever remember. I felt super-engaged in the moment, like I had transcended myself and moved into some reality more important than the one I usually inhabit. Of course, that's entirely appropriate for Shakespeare, but useful across the board for any acting work. And I realized that, from the first time I had done any Suzuki work, months before, this heightened focus, this ability to engage deeply, had always been the necessary result of these exercises--all I needed to do was recognize that it was there and embrace it. So it clicked for me that day.

Then I had a revelation. All these great acting theorists and instructors, Stanislavski, Adler, Strasberg, Meisner, they all had very useful and important insights, but, in the end, they were simply alchemists, fumbling in the dark, searching for the right spells and incantations. Tadashi Suzuki, in stark contrast, is a scientist in the modern sense. I told Leon, and he loved it. He jumped all over the thought, saying something to the effect of how the work is concrete and replicable, with clear and demonstrable results, just as all science is.

Now don't get me wrong. I haven't made Suzuki the center of what I'm about as an actor--indeed, where I'm at right now as an actor essentially reflects where most university actor training programs are; that is, I use some of this and some of that, depending on the circumstances. But I do recognize Suzuki's work as being as important and groundbreaking as anything that preceded him. Indeed, his name ought to always be mentioned in the same breath as all those alchemists, maybe with an asterisk by his name to denote that he's the one using science, instead of magic.
Of course, it's also cool that Suzuki exercises feel very Japanese, making them weird and cool for their own sake.  But that's for another day.

Watch some Lithuanian acting students doing Suzuki work here.