Anyone who has ever taken an acting class knows what I’m talking about. At some point, you do this Meisner exercise that involves two people repeating the same line over and over (and over and over) with a kind of evolving meaning. You might open with, “You’ve never been there for me.” To which I’d respond, “You’ve never been there for me.” And of course, that would make you angry, you’d stand up and tell me, “You’ve never been there for me!” And so on, until your teacher applauds you both, calls you geniuses and stops the scene. (A riff on this is this scene from Good Will Hunting, a scene that my husband and I use as one of our favorite jokes, sometimes to the utter confusion of the people around us.)
If you took an acting class in your foolish youth and now find yourself a foolish parent, you will most certainly reprise the repetition exercise, only this time, the exchange is something like:
Child: “There’s poop on the floor.” [to inform]
Parent: “There’s poop on the floor?” [to clarify]
Child: “There’s poooooooooop on the floor!” [to taunt]
Parent: “There’s POOP on the FLOOR?” [to alert spouse]
In this example, I put in the actors’ objectives. They’re not terribly active, but they will certainly become more so as the scene continues.
I drew this parallel this morning while trying to coax a practice session out of my 3-year-old, who is “studying” cello. He performed a variation on the repetition exercise, responding to my repetition with total non sequiturs. Like so:
Meg: “Charlie, on the D string, play 3, 3, 1, 1. Your second finger doesn’t play its own note, so just pull it off with your third finger.”
Charlie: (Plays 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1.) “Why does your hair stick out like that?”
Meg: “Charlie, play 3, 3, 1, 1. Remember? The second finger does not play its own note. Just pull it off with its best friend, your third finger.”
Charlie: (Plays 2, 2, 1, 1.) “If I was a mosasaurus, I could bite something with my big, sharp teeth.”
Meg: “Charles. Listen. Put down all three fingers. Good. Now play 3, 3. Good. Now 1, 1. NO. The second finger does not play its own note!”
Charlie: “Sometimes a snowman could come to life, right? If he had a magical hat?”
I haven’t auditioned for anything in years, but I might have to look for something. You know…to have a reason to get out of the house and let my husband police the cello practice.