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CYC-Online 76 MAY 2005
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moments with youth

Inside the actor's studio

Mark Krueger

Last month I promised that I would present in this column the second act in a three-act play, Teamwork. You'll have to forgive me I got waylaid and couldnít get it done. I was thinking about something else: the relationship between movie stars and star Child and Youth Care workers.

A cable TV program that I watch called Inside The Actorís Studio triggered these thoughts. Many good actors have appeared on the show. James Lipton, head of the school, The Actorís Studio, where the interviews take place asks the actors questions about their histories and acting. Students are present in the audience. Afterwards they ask their own questions. It struck me that star Child and Youth Care workers might respond to many of the interview questions the same way the actors do.

At the Youth Work Learning Center are trying to conceptualize and fund a study of star Child and Youth Care workers. We want to learn more about Child and Youth Care from people who do it well. I thought it would be helpful, therefore, to reflect on what I learned from the actor interviews. For example, many actors come from broken families. They experienced divorce or the loss of a loved one early in their lives and this in some way contributed to their desires to be actors. Many are shy. They find it easier to express their feelings when they are playing someone else.

When asked what they think is the most important acting skill, a large number say listening. Good acting requires the ability to hear what the other actors are saying. Everything from the timing to the genuineness of the response depends on the ability to listen.

Several speak about the ability to get out of their heads and into their bodies so they can be enmeshed in their acting. Many are method actors. They were taught to get in touch with their own feelings and experiences so they could show the feeling in their acting. Marlon Brando was the best known of the early method actors. These actors you could say work mostly from the inside out. Other actors work from the outside. They inhabit the character using a variety of techniques to be that person. They tend to follow the script literally whereas method actors might do a bit more improvising based on what moves them from the inside. Some use whatever works. Most donít want to be put in a category.

You could say they are actors trying not to act. They want to be natural, not performers. If they are acting, they feel they are not real. They all seem to pay attention to details. Choosing the right pair of shoes, for instance, can play a major role in getting them into character. All of them also love what they do.

Anyway, obviously there has to be some connections with Star workers. If we interviewed them in our study the way James Lipton interviewed actors, many of them would probably have histories in which they have experienced some form of loss that has opened them to wanting to understand themselves and the youth they work with. Some would work more from the outside, some the outside, and most work in and out. All would like their work and are sincere about their work. They would have the capacity to get enmeshed in their activity. And they would all know that listening with undivided attention is one of the most powerful things they can do.

I also thought about how much of our work is scripted? How many roles do we play? How much of our self comes through in our acting? It would be nice to think that we are real and genuine all the time, and that our self and our presence always shines through. But to be honest I think it could be said that all of us, the stars, and the rest of us, are in some ways actors playing a part. Our imaginary audiences influence us. We perform instead of be; it is only human. The challenge is to know when we are doing one or the other.

* * *

Iím not acting now. Iím sad. I just heard from my friend Thom Garfat that Henry Maier died. It wasnít unexpected, but nonetheless the feeling of loss is very real. He was a great leader in Child and Youth Care, and a friend and mentor to many of us. ďThink about what you want students to learn, not what you want to say. Donít let the content get in the way. We all have wonderful things to say. The trick is to think about the best way for something to be learned,Ē he told me once with his hand on my shoulder.

I will miss him, as will thousands of others who have learned from his writings and workshops. Goodbye Henry.

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