"Laura is a fantastic teacher and one I would recommend in a heartbeat. She has been my teacher in Meisner Technique (both the set-up preparation portion and repetition) as well as in Movement and is clearly well-versed in both. Laura has a wonderful ability to create a very safe space for actors while challenging them to explore, improve and stretch their limits to achieve new milestones in their work. She has given me many tools to use in my work on stage and I have trusted her enough to request that she coach me on monologues. She brought great fun to the experience of making the monologue truly mine and I have use both monologues for more auditions than I can count. She is a warm, generous person and a teacher that always wants what is best for her students. And having seen her perform on stage, I can attest to the fact that she practices what she teaches which tells you she clearly believes in the work." S. Thakrar
Laura Sturm has taught acting and voice/movement for actors since 2001 at various studios in Chicago including Act One Studios, The Actors’ Center and The Acting Tank and privately at the Dance Chicago Studios at the Athenaeum Theatre. She is also an Adjunct Faculty member at Governors State University, Oakton Community College and has taught at North Central College. Laura specializes in the Meisner Technique of Acting, but also teaches non-Meisner classes such as Scene Study and Audition Skills. Her voice/movement work is primarily based on the work of Williamson/Laban/Lessac, and she also teaches Period Styles, which incorporates text work on heightened language with movement from other time periods. Laura has been performing professionally in the Chicago area since 1994, and has worked with such theatres as Mary-Arrchie, Remy Bumppo, Victory Gardens, Boho, Stage Left, Northlight, Fox Valley Rep, Signal Ensemble, Bailiwick, Provision and the Texas Shakespeare Festival. Directing credits include the Jeff Recommended Organic Theater production of Sarah Ruhl’s MELANCHOLY PLAY, the musical I LOVE YOU, YOU’RE PERFECT, NOW CHANGE with Quest Ensemble Theatre, the world premiere of Chicago playwright Barbara Lhota's PHANTOM PAIN (also with Organic Theater), the dark, original sci-fi comedy EPHEMERA, Sheridan’s 18th century comedy of manners, THE RIVALS, and the original zoo musical, TUXEDO LOVE. In 2002, Laura received her MFA in Theatre from Northern Illinois University. She also serves as a private acting and movement coach for professionals of all levels in Chicago.
Sanford Meisner stated that acting is “emotional truth under imaginary circumstances.” Meisner’s work has its roots in Stanislavksky’s teachings, as does my own and what I pass on to students. Whether or not an actor studies the Meisner technique, I believe that statement should always be the core of the beginning section of acting training. These are my priorities for acting training:
Emotional Truth – This is the honest expression of emotion, a complete connection with the other person or persons, and impulsive, organic behavior that is responsive to the moment. I strongly believe this to be the most basic and essential element of acting; without it a performance is not believable and the audience becomes disenchanted.
Imaginary Circumstances – The playwright gives us the building blocks of a character’s imaginary circumstances, and then it is up to the actor to fill in the rest. Some training methods require an actor to create a “back story.” I have found this to be only helpful to the extent that the actor creates specific, imaginary events that potently affect him. The creation of those specific, potent, imaginary moments enables the actor to honestly access his emotions in a scene or in preparation for a scene. Since the events are imaginary, the actor does not have to rehash his own personal tragedies. Also, the events are directly related to the other person in the scene, thus keeping the actor’s attention on his partner, instead of on his own emotions and thoughts, a frequent bad habit of actors. Additionally, I have found the practice of creating these potent specifics to be a wonderful stimulus to the actor’s creativity.
Once a student has mastered the important basics of that emotional truth under imaginary circumstances, the second piece of the training is specificity. Honest, in-the-moment behavior is crucial, but an actor’s training is unfinished until she is able to utilize the text specifically so that she can best serve the play and the production.
Specificity – Using the vocabulary of Stanislavsky, specificity is, at its simplest, actions and objectives. I like to translate those technical words into something that the actor’s creative imagination can easily grasp onto and enjoy creating.
Objective – “What do I want?” Or, “What am I fighting for?” in the words of Michael Shurtleff. I like to encourage the actor to look further than just plot objectives (i.e., “I want him to give me a raise”) and to formulate an objective which is about her partner. “What is wrong with this person? In what way is he behaving that I don’t like?” (Answer: “I want him to stop treating me like a child.”) Answering those questions helps the actor have a reason to stay connected to her partner to see if she is achieving her objective or not within a scene.
Actions – I also like to use the words ‘tactics’ or ‘verbs.’ “What do I do to get what I want?” Emphasizing how in life we use a variety of devices to get what we want helps students to see that a character will do the same thing in a scene. The use of different actions or tactics is what keeps their acting from becoming one-note, and adds variety and interest to a performance.
The final piece, and I believe the most challenging, is the combination of the two parts: keeping the honest, moment to moment, impulsive behavior and combining it with the specificity of actions that the actor crafts into a scene, script or monologue. It is challenging, but absolutely necessary. Truthful behavior can only keep our attention for a little while if it doesn’t vary or serve the needs of the play. Alternatively, an actor can know exactly what, why and how he will say every line, yet, we, the audience, are not affected because it is not completely believable or urgent. I believe that the only way to master this final piece of acting training is to practice, practice, practice this combination of acting elements in scene study and performance settings.
I am trained specifically to teach the Meisner Technique, however, I have also taught many other classes in which I utilized other methods (mostly Stanislavksy or Laban-based) to obtain these same goals. I feel like I have been extremely successful in tailoring each class to fit the requirements of the school and the students, while still managing to be ultimately teaching what I feel to be the most important objectives for the actor.
The movement classes which I have taught have mostly been focused on the principles of Williamson Technique and Rudolf Laban’s teachings. Utilizing these principles, I have worked with actors for the past fifteen years to help them free up their bodies and relearn how to play and move impulsively and instinctively. Once an actor develops these skills, his acting work changes radically. He is much more responsive, risk-taking and much less self-conscious, which takes his acting to a whole new level.
Loyd Williamson developed his technique to complement the Meisner Acting Technique being taught at The Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. This technique teaches students how to release tensions in their body and trains them to respond organically and impulsively from the core of their body to stimuli in the moment. It integrates extraordinarily well into any level of acting training, and helps actors to free their bodies from the tensions that block or check their honest emotional responses. It also assists the actor in developing confidence and freedom in her body and in making strong physical choices.
In particular, I utilize Rudolf Laban’s dimensional and effort work to add specificity to the actors’ movement play. They start to learn how a very specific choice of a dimension or effort can change a character, both physically and emotionally. I also train them how to apply this kind of specificity to moments in a piece. The effort work particularly combines brilliantly with Stanislavski’s actions and objectives. The shifts from one dimension or effort to another in a scene or monologue help to create a performance that is rich with variety and interesting choices.
The first level of this work, which I call “Basic Movement,” focuses on releasing tensions and inhibitions, utilizing Williamson’s concept of “shape/flow” with elements of sensorial imagination work to music and Laban’s dimensions - Top/Bottom of Vertical, Horizontal, and Front/Back Sagittal. We also use the dimensions to physically create, sharpen and define characters. One of my favorite parts of the Williamson work, and one of the things students connect to the most, is the idea and repetition of the phrase “NO APOLOGIES.”
The second level that I have been teaching is what I have called “Advanced Movement,” or “Laban Movement,” but it is basically an introduction to the Laban efforts and then instruction on how to apply them to text in order to increase specificity and variety in the acting work. Ultimately, the first level teaches the actor to take her brain out of the work, and to work freely and impulsively, and the second level puts the brain back in a little - or at least in the preparation for the work. The combination of the two produces actors that are physically bold, open, responsive, and yet still specific! Depending on the amount of time and number of students in a class, the two levels can be combined, as I have been doing in my private Chicago class and in my class at Oakton.
My Period Style Scene Study class focused primarily on the Restoration/Georgian and Victorian/Edwardian periods, as they are the most frequently produced and farthest from our modern style of movement. This class could also include Elizabethan and potentially even Early American Classic (Williams, Miller, etc.). In my Period Style class, not only do I teach the students how to move as people did in those time periods, but why they moved the way they did. Understanding the why and the ins and outs of those societies makes it much easier to translate the movement into organic, honest work. That is my goal with Period Style – to have the actors moving in a style quite unlike their own, but to be able to inhabit it honestly and truthfully. We take this and apply it to scene work from the appropriate period. It’s very advanced acting, but extremely valuable if one is going to work well and truthfully in these time periods.
When the body is constrained, the voice cannot work the way it should. I find the freedom and “NO APOLOGIES” that students develop from the Williamson movement work helps the breath and voice work immensely. I am also inspired by Kristin Linklater’s work on freeing the actor’s authentic voice using physical exercises, connection to the breath, and the imagination and find that it weaves in very easily with the Movement work that I teach. Additionally, I find that using Arthur Lessac’s exercises of playing the “orchestra” of consonants helps enunciation, as well as adds variety and specificity in students’ work. I use Lessac’s Y-buzz to help students get their voices forward and better placed, out of the back of the throat, and work with them to play the “music” of the vowels. Lessac’s exercises are great in helping to develop a strong awareness of how to play with sounds in order to make a point with the text, as well as an understanding of how the voice should feel when it’s being produced properly.
In order for actors to reach their full capacity, I believe that the successful combination of acting, movement and voice training is vital. The movement and vocal training helps to make actors more at ease and authentic in their bodies and their voices, thus rendering it easier for them to attain the “emotional truth under imaginary circumstances” for which I strive; this kind of work is simple, connected, responsive, unstrained, and ultimately, extremely compelling.
I would be happy to and am qualified to teach all the components of this comprehensive training, yet I would also be content teaching one or two pieces of it. I am quite capable of stepping in to teach an existing class, once I was familiar with the basic fundamentals of it, or bring in my own classes, based on what I have taught and learned over the years.