Insights of Tom Sawyer
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Dear fellow actor,
This week I had the fortune of speaking with none other than London based actor, acting coach, and lead facilitator of our One Year Training - Tom Sawyer. Tom has a plethora of experience as both an actor and coach under his belt. The start of which may well have begun when he was all but six years old and ran from the audience, up onto the stage of a Pantomime. From that first taste of performance, Tom has since had a most rewarding career - working extensively in the industry as a professional actor - from stage to screen, and has become one of the staple coaches at our Academy, as well as the Actors Temple in London where he had been a student of many years. Much of Tom’s method is based on the Meisner Technique, a method upon which he has scaffolds much of his performing and coaching philosophy:
“...it's also mixed with a lot of my experiences as an actor on stage and screen that I'm imagining wouldn't be what Sanford Meisner taught...because he died before self tapes were a thing, he died before there was that need to be looked at in a different way. But saying that, a lot of what he says still applies. A lot of the Meisner technique (as it was in its initial conception) is really useful, and for me it's the most clear, working manual for acting."
But that was not always that case. During Tom’s early professional working life in London, an acting studio - who earned for itself the nickname ‘The Weeping Willows Cuddle Club’ - began to get some recognition for the unfamiliar methods (which we now know was the Meisner technique) that they were practicing. After attending the sessions, actors would “leave completely distraught - crying and just hugging each other.”
As an already working actor with an agent, Tom did not let his curiosity take him to the Weeping Willows Cuddle Club - thinking that as a young professional, it was perhaps something that he did not need. That is until, one day when he inadvertently worked with an actor who had been trained in this method:
“I worked with an actor who was trained in that, and I was like 'ooh. I like what they're doing'. Because what they were doing reminded me why I got into acting in the first place. I couldn't put my finger on it for a long time, and the exercises didn't make sense...
And then I sat in these classes watching exercises and going, ‘oh my god. They're being more truthful than I've ever been in my last 10 years acting’.” The Meisner Technique (named after Sanford Mesiner who developed the approach) which our One Year Training here at Actors Academy Finland is largely based upon, encourages the actor to do exactly the opposite of ‘acting’ - to drop the mask. To get out of your head and into your heart. To unlearn the habits that allow you to ‘present’ yourself as a person who feels, and instead to be the person who feels - to perform from a place of true authenticity.
“The ability to say what you mean, and mean what you say - there's a connection, of mind, body, spirit - or words to gut, that you're practicing.”
Tom eventually began to coach actors in the method, and it was during his Meisner classes in London where the relationship between himself and the Actors Academy began. When Nita (AAF Founder) attended his classes, little did either of them know of the long standing and fruitful relationship that would unfold from those encounters. The first class that Nita attended, Tom thought would be her last.
“After the first session that Nita came into class I thought ‘she's not coming back’. There's no way. Because she can act. She could turn on the tears, scream the house down, or go into hysteria at the drop of a hat… But she kept coming back. And with each session, got more into the non-acting and less into showing a full emotional range… She would come to class and practice doing less, and she got more interesting. Because it was evident that there was plenty going on underneath the surface. And it was fascinating to watch because the actor's brain says, 'If I do more I’m more interesting'... but it's not always necessary to show it all.”
I’m certain many an actor has had the assumption thrust upon them that they ‘must be a good liar’. However this is perhaps the furthest thing from the truth. The most moving and heartfelt performances come from the actor who is truly connected - who wholeheartedly lives and feels through their imaginary circumstances. In the words of Sanford Meisner himself; “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances.”
Rather than the method teaching you a set of tricks and tools to use to reach a certain level of believability, the Meisner Technique strips all of that back. Through repetition in particular, we peel back the layers, and get in touch with the genuine truth of the current moment. We already have a range of human emotions existing within us, and the technique allows us to get out of our own way and tap into that.
“There's a line where your desire to want to act, actually, is in direct opposition to you being a good actor. It's actually getting in the way. Your want to be interesting is an obstacle to you being unselfconsciously interesting. Like the kitten is interesting. The Shakespearean actor can sometimes be very cringey to watch. And if you put them both on stage, you’d probably rather watch the kitten.”
It is not only the method of acting taught, but also the way in which it is taught that is crucial to development. To act often requires you to be openly honest, and at times quite vulnerable. What Tom and we here at AAF make as a priority to students is to create a relationship where the actor feels comfortable, and safe to explore a range of human emotion. The security created to exist within the spectrum of human emotion is what allows one to reach their full potential of that which they are so capable of as performers.
From our studio to our workshops, that potential is exactly what we, and our coaches here at Actors Academy Finland nurture and cultivate within our students.
AAF Our One Year training - of which Tom is the lead coach - is an extensive dive into actor preparation and starts this March 2021. If you would like to read further on the course curriculum, scheduling and what is offered over the duration of the training, then please see here. Our application is still open, but please note there is only one space left so should you wish to apply, do not hesitate to!
“When there is no ego, when there is a quest for truth in the room, as well as an understanding of what makes a good actor, the path is so much clearer.”