A Screen Acting Workshop with Mel Churcher

Playing a MI6 agent with Iustina Chibulcutean

Five days of screen acting workshops with Mel Churcher at the Actors Studio in Pinewood Studios brought me many ‘eureka moments’. The idea that most struck me was the understanding that, somehow, actors complicate acting because they have disconnected themselves from playing as we did as children. Children do not complicate things when playing with each other. They do not think or have any concern about an audience as actors do, whether on stage or on screen set. When playing, children simply jump into that world (whatever it may be). They become the role because they are living in that world there and then. Playing is life itself! Children serve the who/where/what/why of the role with energy, because they don’t have any concerns about feeling or not feeling anything. They are brave in playing as they are in life. Words, people, places, etc., are nothing but the reality of the world they are inhabiting and creating in the moment. That’s fascinating and reminds me of two teachings, one from the gospel of Matthew, and the other from Ariane Mnouchkine, director of the Théàtre du Soleil.

From Matthew 18:1-4

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth; unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I guess Jesus meant that young children are untouched by worldly belief constructs. They only know through direct experience renewed in every moment. They do not see themselves or others with judgement and prejudice. They live precisely in the here and now. I guess that’s the perfect example of fulfilling the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. What does this have anything to do with acting? I feel that in the same way as little children live in the here and now, so actors have to cleanse their minds of all fixed belief constructs and plans concerning their acting. If we can be simple and humble like little children, as Jesus implied 2017 years ago, then we are able to play with a pure heart.

Ariane Mnouchkine, director of the Théàtre du Soleil, brought to her actors the same principle as above. She showed her actors a photograph by Robert Doisneau (La voiture fondue, 1944) as a metaphor for innocence and courage present in children, and vital for actors …

‘This is the picture of a wasteland with some children on an old car. One child is perched on the roof, two actually, and others are inside. The most remarkable are on the top. One is like a Knight. He’s like Richard II, like Ben Hur, or even like Napoleon. The boy behind him is pretending to be the coachman. He’s younger. He reminds me of Krisna, Arjuna; absolutely prodigious; but they didn’t have to talk. They met on that ground just to play. You need to come in exactly like that. The scene is a sublime wasteland.’ (Excerpt from documentary Au Soleil même la nuit – Scènes d’accouchements by Éric Darmon e Catherine Vilpoux.)

Ariane Mnouchkine’s full speech from the excerpt above and my further reflections can be read in an old post: terraincog.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/the-wasteland-le-terrain-vague/

For me, Mel Churcher summarised these encouraging teachings by saying: “Life is what we have to match up to. Take away the decisions and be ‘free’ in every take. I’m looking for people to become’free’. You only need to put into action what you get from life. WE ARE CHILDREN STILL”.


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