Dominic is primarily a director & teacher. He has been working in the Arts for 16 years. Dominic is an experienced teacher of the Mesiner Technique. He has taught for over 4 years with the Actors Temple, London. He completed his training with the leading Meisner teacher in Europe, Tom Radcliffe, and has followed him as an apprentice through all stages of the process. (See Classes & Workshops for details of ongoing and upcoming classes)
Dominic Kelly, the salon:collective’s artistic director, has spent seven long years in the wilderness fretting about other people’s performances. Now it’s time for him to get back on the horse, playing Edgar to David Ryall’s Lear in the Darker Purpose’s production which opens on March 6 at The Cockpit. See it by March 13 and enjoy an early bird discount: see below for details. But first, read Dominic’s account of benefiting from what Shakespeare brings to the table for actors.
It’s been “seven long year” since Poor Tom (the character whom my actual character, Edgar, impersonates in Act Three of King Lear) has eaten anything other than “mice and rats and such small deer”. It has been “seven long year” since I have rehearsed a play. I was starving.
My self-imposed acting drought was ironically, brought about by my desire to act more. I had been teaching the Meisner Technique at The Actors Temple, and felt that I needed more experience working as an actor and director, applying the work to as many different genres and styles of theatre as I could. I founded a group of other actors with similar passions and ambitions, and we began to work on Chekhov’s The Seagull. As the company (the salon:collective) moved forward, so did the demands of running a company (don’t get me started!).
To keep this brief, let’s just say that designing your own website, visual identity and social media, agonizing over cash flow and artistic goals, forging relationships with theatre professionals and managing company members’ aspirations, does make one pretty busy and in my case mentally and emotionally stretched. Playing Konstantin (my biggest dream as an actor) was suddenly a hindrance; as forming a company took most of my energy and many of the founding members followed their own goals in different directions, doing all of this to play a leading role seemed like an ego trip.
I ditched the dream and replaced it with another; to create a company of like-minded performers and artists from the bottom up. I embraced teaching with both hands. Four years later, a student (a director wanting to learn more about acting) said, “I was going to ask you if you were interested in something, but then I saw your schedule and realised you’d be too busy.” I, obviously, couldn’t resist: “Let me be the judge of how busy I am.” Lewis responded, “Would you consider being in my King Lear?”
So here I am, in the final week of rehearsal with a fantastic company of actors, led by our director, Lewis Reynolds, playing a part that scared me instantly. Edgar has a spectacular story arc and makes extreme decisions: from pretending to be a lunatic to convincing his father to commit suicide. I found myself drawn to the extremities of his situation, the desperation of a man who has nothing left to lose.
Rehearsals have been a balance between table work (breaking scenes into units and discussing in simple terms what each moment is about), blocking and running the scenes. What has been lovely about working with Lewis, is that in this analysis stage the execution of the moment is left entirely as our decision; whether we seduce, intimidate, coax, threaten, is our choice, and this has given the cast a great amount of freedom. I overheard Regan, played by Nikki Leigh-Scott, talking to Goneril, Wendy Morgan, saying, “It’s amazing, whatever way we feel, he’s letting us just say the lines with that feeling”.
To me, this is the essence of what I adore about the Meisner Technique; its ability to encourage you to become a more active part in the story, to bring your feelings and responses to the character and their situation. Shakespeare’s text, usually revered and often treated as a strict, inaccessible inconvenience by actors, is in fact a Meisner actor’s dream. Freedom of feeling and instincts balanced with the rhythms, imagery, half lines, and structure of iambic pentameter.
My first rehearsal on Edgar’s Act II monologue is an interesting example of what Shakespeare brings to the table. I thought that the speech was a fairly straightforward affair: “this is my situation, this is what I plan to do about it”. As soon as I got up in front of Lewis and the rest of the company, and lived each line moment by moment, something very scary happened. The rhythms and the imagery took me somewhere very dark and brutal. Within 19 lines, I went from sad, to angry, to scared, to resolute, to fierce, to methodical, to insane, to content. I was shaking after the experience. Where did that come from? Reflecting on that experience, I went back to the text. It was all there. Clever Shakespeare wrote it all, all I had to do was follow his poetry.
The second hurdle was to discover the madness of Edgar’s disguised alter-ego, Poor Tom. Does he go mad, does he pretend madness, is he a bit of both? Why, oh, why, oh…WHY…does he constantly say “Tom’s a-cold”? I wrapped myself up in knots worrying about Act III when Poor Tom appears. After a rather wobbly couple of weeks, I asked my colleague and Shakespeare guru, Lizzie Conrad Hughes, what her thoughts were. She simply pointed to one of my ulcer-inducing “Tom’s a-cold” lines and said, “See, he’s finishing his father’s line. That’s a shared line. He’s speaking poetry.” I sipped my coffee pretending to understand. “If your character is speaking poetry, they are sane. If he’s finishing someone’s metre, he’s hyper aware.” Another penny dropped. I had been trying to understand sub-text when the answers were in the actual text all the time.
The cast are a wonderful mixture of seasoned hands and new actors hungry for experience. This is a clear goal of Lewis’s, and Darker Purpose Theatre has really instilled a feel of the old repertory theatre system. Working with David Ryall has been such a rich gift for me as an actor, director and teacher. At the first read through, David effortlessly picked the words off the page, lacing poetry with pathos. It set the bar for the company.
Googling David before rehearsals started, I realised he was a member of Lawrence Olivier’s company of actors at The National Theatre, and worked extensively with Peter Hall. To be working with someone linked to that era of theatre has been a true privilege. David has taught me that there is a balance to be struck between the form of the language and your experience with it. He has also taught me the beauty of an “end-stop”, where the end of a line floats in the air for a tangible moment before you land on the start of the next one.
Wendy Morgan (who has also worked with Peter Hall) elegantly likened it to a horse running up to, and jumping over, a fence. Rather than an affectation I have previously hated, he has taught me that it brings more sense and feeling to the meaning of the line. People out there affect the sound of this technique, but David truly proves how it adds more depth to the moment.
So, we have one more week to further develop our character’s journeys, make sense of tricky moments, nail our stage fights, and play with blood.
What have I learnt from this experience so far? Freedom in acting is truly a mixture of thorough preparation, an open vulnerability, and a deep connection with the text. I used to be scared of Shakespeare, I’m now realising, that Shakespeare wrote for actors, not academics. Every word he chooses, every sound, the rhythm he gives you is all packaged for your performance. If you take your hand off the steering wheel, he drives you to some exhilarating places.
Dominic Kelly is playing Edgar in King Lear at The Cockpit March 6-29. He has also directed and edited the production trailer
Other familiar faces from salon:collective productions include Michael Luke Walsh as Edmund, Alex Vendittelli as Albany, Nikki Leigh Scott as Regan, Dan MacLane as Kent, plus Anna Hawkes, Sanee Patel and Karl Williams.
EARLY BIRD TICKET OFFER: Use the booking code “salon” to buy tickets at the concession price of £12 for the following performances ONLY (all at 7.15pm): Thursday March 6, Friday March 7, Saturday March 8, Tuesday March 11, Wednesday March 12 and Thursday March 13. King Lear runs until March 29. Book here.
To sex or not to sex, that is the question.
One of the favourite questions that actors will eventually ask themselves, and then usually me, as their tutor, is, ‘How far should I go in a sex scene?’ Or ‘Should I do nudity in this play?’ It used to be a simple answer. ‘It’s up to you!’ or ‘How much are they paying you?’
But film has been developing a rather more complicated approach to representing sex and sexuality over the years. We are now being shown ‘actual’ sex – as in ‘the actual actors actually having actual sex with each other.’ The question has become a far more difficult to answer!
When teaching the Meisner Technique of Acting, I often use Meisner’s own definition of acting with my students, ‘Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances’. Concentrating on the sex angle of this debate, that would mean that playing a person of a different sexual persuasion would be possible, since that is an ‘imaginary circumstance’…but then what would happen if Lars Von Trier asked you to be the lead in his movie, expecting you to get ‘actually’ down and dirty in front of the camera (and crew…and more scarily, millions of punters)? Where’s the imaginary component there? When does acting simply stop being acting and become porn?
I have seen some extremely provocative and touching films, which feature live sex between the actors. I’m torn between loving them, and hating them. I hate fake stimulating sex in movies; ‘erotic’ moments that feel corny and unlike anything remotely sexual I have ever experienced; the perfect lighting, blemish free skin, orgasms tightly choreographed to background music…On occasion I have tried to achieve this Hollywood effect; let’s just say it felt disconnected and ridiculous. Sliver was a supposedly sexy movie starring Sharon Stone; riddled with voyeuristic sex scenes; masturbation in a bathtub, doggy style up a pillar, all to the cloying tones ofEnigma. The only moment that managed to get me going; a scene where Stone slips over in her apartment and spills a cup of coffee. Was this choreographed? Most probably not, and as such, was the only authentic moment in the whole movie.
Sharon Stone gasps for air as she realises she’s drowning in a terrible movie
But do we need the actors therefore to engage in the act for us to give a damn?
Cloud Nine, an emotional powerhouse of a German film, did make me see the merit of ‘going there’. The film explores an affair between old age pensioners, treating the viewer with a graphic sex scene within minutes; old skin, flabby and clumsy. Not only does this attack all preconceptions of sexuality of our elders, (old people don’t shag) but it also shoves us into emotionally engaging in their sexual relationships too (oh, my God, old people shag and love). Could this have been achieved by simply simulating sex? Yes, I’m sure it could. But there’s something about the audacity of it; its intimacy, which has made the film live with me for years after. Enhanced by wonderful performances, the vulnerability of the characters and the actors merged to create a sublime masterpiece of a film. Sex was full of character and meaning. It also uplifted me. Yes, we can all be active sexually at the age of 70! How many movies say that, least of all show it?
On the other hand, Short Bus, a film by John Cameron Mitchell, explored the existence of an alleged sex club in New York. People went there to explore their feelings for different genders, ages, and interact sexually (in a therapeutic/artistic way). Okay, I’m sure that explanation alienated half my audience! I sat with my partner and my best friend on Boxing Day at the Curzon Soho watching gay threesomes, cunnilingus, and someone singing the United States National Anthem into another man’s dick like a karaoke mic. Subtle? Nope. Funny? Yes. Moving? No. The sex felt flat. Perhaps the characters and their stories were not engaging enough? But for some reason while watching this movie I was thinking more about the actors, rather than the characters. Will they have a career after this? Did they really fancy each other? They certainly won’t have a career after this. I felt disengaged from the story, but I did like to watch perverted humourous sex in a cinema full of people, not there to jerk off, but to essentially confirm, ‘we all have sex, and here we are watching it not apologise for itself in a film’.
Three members of the cast of Shortbus rehearsing for The Gay Human Centipede
Finally, a friend of mine runs a Gay & Lesbian film festival, Deep Desires & Broken Dreams, at Riverside Studios. He invited me to watch a film, I Want Your Love, with a Q&A via Skype afterwards with the directorTravis Matthews. Little did I know, I was in for MORE acting with sex, sex with acting…whatever. This film blew me away. A simple set up. Hipsters in San Francisco living in a house together are working their way through tricky sexual and relationship situations. Our protagonist is thinking of moving back home, to save some money, and make his art (the city is too expensive to support working and being an artist – don’t we all know that one). As he navigates an awkward long-term boyfriend/casual sex buddy situation, another gay couple are beginning to move into the same room together; this sharing of space spurs them to try a threesome, it is as successful as it is sexually arousing. This is really the amazing thing about this film; every climax is either unfulfilled or unfulfilling. The sex is sloppy, real, and full of feeling. In the Q&A afterwards, I asked Travis, if the actors had created their relationships from scratch, or if any of them were already in existing relationships (the effect being, that these couples/partners/flings felt so absolutely real). Travis answered, ‘You know, no-one has actually asked me that before. That is a great question.’ This had nothing to do with this article, I just wanted you to know someone thinks I’m clever. Seriously though, no relationship was real (apart from the last scene downstairs with the neighbour), all performers were performance artists, not actors, and the effect was truthful, moving and brave.
An intimate awkward morning after with the guy who is more into you than you are them…
So is real sex in film artistic? Yes, I certainly think it can be. Is it entertaining? Yes, most definitely, and not exclusively in a provocative way. Does it help us learn more about ourselves? Yes, I certainly learnt that I’m not the only one who can be sexually messy, and that sex can be as vibrant at 34 as it can be at 70.
“How far should I go in a sex scene as an actor?” Well, I think the world is far too judgemental to allow you to do ‘that’ movie and then run off and do Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Maybe, maybe not? It would be nice to know that won’t be the case in the future. Can you act a sex scene and still move me to tears, teach me new things, and tell a wonderful story? Well, Ang Lee’s Lust:Caution did just that. An astounding piece of story telling which relies on the integral sex scenes to help animate the character’s motives, unsaid thoughts and feelings. All acted, not real.
Try writing dialogue for this emotional dynamic…
So where does this all leave us? I don’t know, but I like film, I like suspending my disbelief, I like being shown the whole stinking truth. Give me options. Let me choose. Sex is sex. Film is film. Porn is porn. You figure out where you draw the line yourself.
What is Truthful Expression in Acting All About?
Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth. ~Benjamin Disraeli
What is Dom’s take on acting?
“I believe that an actors greatest gift is themselves. My experience of acting was frustrating until I began studying with Tom Radcliffe. I was under the impression that great acting was the ability to wear my performance like a mask, invisible to the audience, accomplished and powerful. Tom often used Sandy Meisner’s quote:
‘ You are 100 times more interesting than any character you chose to play’. Sanford Meisner
This blew my mind. I spent so much of my time trying to cover up myself, and become a character; to disguise myself. Because why would people want to come and see Dominic Kelly’s version of Romeo? They’ve paid to see Romeo. Who the bloody hell is “Romeo”? “O Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou Romeo?” Good question, Juliet! Romeo is just a bunch of words on a page. Therefore, Dominic under a set of imaginary circumstances can be “Romeo”. What a revelation!
“Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Sanford Meisner
It was my inability to authentically experience the circumstances of the scene when up in front of an audence or the camera whilst providing the shape of the performance for the director that had me in turmoil. I wanted to bring genuine feeling to the scene but how could I do that? There were rare moments of pulling it off, but how did I get there? How could I repeat it? These questions were what kept Laurence Olivier off the stage after a staggeringly authentic performance of Othello at The National Theatre. Maggie Smith, playing Desdemona, asked him how he managed it, he said he didn’t know. Years of stage fright followed.
“[Stage fright is] an animal, a monster which hides in its foul corner without revealing itself but you know that it is there and that it may come forward at any moment” Laurence Olivier
Stage fright and self consciousness on stage are the first thing that I address in my teaching. It is impossible to continue until this aspect of what hinders and cripples most actors is addressed. The best thing about this problem is that the answer is ridiculously simple and instantly applicable to your work as an actor, teacher, director, public speaker. The answer is to put your attention on someone or something else.
Without deep reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people. Albert Einstein
Once the issue of where to put your attention is addressed, we then look into what you do with that attention. This is where the magic happens. Only until you can truly put your performance into the hands of the other person can you really begin to live authentically. This stage takes a lot of effort battling aganst years of conditioning where we have become experts at putting on masks, give (what we think are) authentic responses, protecting ourselves and withholding our opinions and feelings. Working in pairs, actors in my classes aid each other in the uncovering of their authentic responses in the moment. This produces instinctive gut-driven results, unleashing the actor from an ‘intellectual’ and ‘linear’ approach to their work.
Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. Oscar Wilde
Once we have begun to discover your authentic self (warts and all) it would be cruel to leave you there! What does all this have to do with acting? Well, what the training has been developing is your ability to access ‘range’. An emotional range that is authentic. Are you a person who tends to say things like ‘It takes a lot to make me cry’ or ‘I’m always the joker when I go out with my mates’ or ‘I’m just not an angry person’. These are ideas you have about yourself, but I bet that under a certain circumstance…a work colleague has posted a compromising photo of you on Facebook which you boss has seen and subsequently sacked you…then I bet under that circumstance you’re probably going to lose your cool. In this stage we play with circumstances and find out what buttons need to be pressed to get you passionate.
We are now entering the world of emotional preparation. Do you watch an American TV series (Breaking Bad, Damages, Lost, Six Feet Under, even Battlestar Galactica) and notice the emotional availability of the actors, the authenticity, then switch to a drama on ITV and think, ‘this isn’t quite as involving’. Well, I do…constantly! And the reason for this is that the American industry places much emphasis on emotional availability. In fact Meisner said famously (and has since been proven quite wrong) that he would never teach an British actor; that they didn’t have the capacity to ‘get’ his technique! We know that this isn’t true as Tom Radcliffe is now one of only three officially credited teachers of the technique, chosen by Sandy himself. However, this part of the training is still the missing link in many actors toolkits.
We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. Kurt Vonnegut
At this stage we’ve untapped your emotional understanding of yourself, and aided you in realisation of your authentic, truthful responses to other people’s feelings and points of view. You are essentially an uncoiled spring. The final stages look at creating character. As mentioned earlier, when I play Romeo (rather unconvincingly as a 32 year old, but let’s pander to my vanity a second!) I approach him as myself, Dominic. HIS circumstances are not MY circumstances but I follow a four stage text analysis system – devised by David Mamet (a student of Meisner) and later enhanced by Gaby Santinelli, to produce a set of imaginary circumstances that work parallel to Romeo’s. I then put on the cod piece, stick a rapier in my belt, provide all the external trappings that make an audience belive I’m in Verona and act the part accordingly to MY circumstances.
There are many components to this part of the training that allow you to be hugely flexible in your approach to acting. You can alter your opinion of people by adding ‘twists’, you can change the impact you have on an audience by using a different ‘tool’ and your imaginary circumstances can consistently be altered to suit to moment. All these options exist in order for you to be able to process a curve ball piece of direction within the blink of an eye. Your technique should become invisible. Authenticity, specificity and flexibility are key to becoming a true artist on stage and screen.
They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Carl W Buechner
Dominic offers classes as well as 1-2-1 Tuition or private small groups. He charges £35 per hour. A private space can be arranged for an additional £10 an hour. Dom is artistic director of the salon:collective and through them offers weekly classes, one-off workshops and 1-2-1 tuition.
Dominic’s workshops can be followed on the ‘Classes & Workshops’page, click here.
And you can join his acting group on Facebook, click here.
Dom has been teaching the Meisner Acting Technique for 4 years with The Actors Temple where he trained under Tom Radcliffe (taught by Sanford Meisner and officially teaching in his name). This year Dom has formed his own company, the salon:collective (thesaloncollective.wordpress.com) and is independently teaching the acting technique. As part of the salon:collective, the members assist eachother in furthering their skills, as teachers and performers. Dom is currently teaching a London-based weekly evening Meisner Smorgasbord class; from beginners to experienced Meisner actors, to stretch your muscles, develop scene work, learn new skills. (Repetition, Improv, Text Analysis, Monologues/Character Work, Scene Work, Developing New Work). Join the Dominic Kelly Meisner Class page on Facebook to be kept in the loop of class dates and times.