The Personal Private Moment is the first of the six steps in the Actor’s Intimacy Training (AIT) at Strasberg Campus. The name is due to its final aim: to be ‘private in public’, to feel as completely alone while on stage and while performing an action that would never be performed if seen or heard by anyone else.
The instructions are, in fact, these: choose an action that is connected to your (Unfulfilled) Need, that you cannot conceal, and that you would immediately stop, if someone should enter the room, or even potentially hear you.
At first glance the Private Moment can seem like a very simple exercise: pick an action and keep doing it until the teacher tells you to stop. Believe it or not, this is indeed actually quite difficult, as the actor doing the exercise needs to stop ‘performing’ and connect to his/her primal Need, while continuously doing an activity that puts him/her in a state of discomfort (Note: the activity cannot be comforting because if the actor is comfortable with the activity, then there wouldn’t be a good enough reason for it to be so secretive). It can take weeks, sometimes months, to understand how to correctly set up the exercise, it is a concept hard to understand and even harder to explain and I do apologise if my attempt isn’t the best one. It’ll probably be easier if I tell the story of my own Private Moment and how I came to “pass” it.
When I was a teenager, I struggled with eating disorders, for years I didn’t eat and put my family through hell. I was small and weak, but I didn’t think I was at all. Losing weight was all I could think of and every time I’d take a glance at myself in the mirror, I’d see this big girl… who really wasn’t me.
So, I decided to work on this for my PM: I decided to work on my need to be seen, my need to be loved, my need to be told that I was enough. As to be predicted, I failed miserably at my first attempt, the activity I chose was at first to measure myself and to write down all the measurements on a piece of paper, action which turned out to be quite easy to conceal from anyone who would walk into the room. The note that I kept getting from the coach was to be braver, to be more courageous… more courageous. I was putting myself out of my comfort zone week after week, re-living memories that I thought were buried away in my unconscious. In my eyes I was indeed being already quite courageous, but I decided to put my ego away and keep pushing. At the end of the day, that’s the essence of being an actor: be courageous and keep pushing. We should all tattoo that on our foreheads — but then we’d never be seen for any role, so it maybe better scrapping that idea.
Since all the work I was doing was around the relationship with my body and the way I was seeing myself, I decided to start working with a mirror, as I felt that would make sense. My action became looking at myself in the mirror and measuring my body (I really didn’t want to give up that bloody measuring tape). Still though, there was something that was getting in the way, something superfluous, too intellectual. I finally decided to get rid of the measuring tape. I decided to strip my action right down and simply look at my body in the mirror, look at myself, look at this body which I hated and mistreated for so many years. I put some music on and started the exercise. I did not plan nor I expected what happened after. I was observing my body and instead of seeing at all the flaws and little imperfections, I started looking at myself with compassion. Memories started coming to mind, all the times I starved my body, all the times I despised it, all the times I wished it was smaller, thinner, different. I felt an immense wave of compassion for that little girl of thirteen years old who decided to just stop eating. Then I started dancing, dancing with my reflection, dancing with myself. With all the love in the world I started dancing… and all of a sudden, I wasn’t on stage anymore, I wasn’t performing an acting exercise, I was dancing with myself in a rave in the woods and I was falling in love with myself again and maybe for the very first time in my life. It was beautiful, freeing, it was cathartic. I will never forget it.
Acting isn’t therapy, it isn’t at all therapy, I strongly believe that leaving life at the door and fully giving yourself to the craft is the only way to do any good acting and any good work, but for me what clicked that day is that we have to do it with love. With unconditional love for ourselves, which I always struggled with and I know that many actors struggle with it, too. Only through unconditional love, self-love and self-compassion we can become the best artists we can be.
My acting training and career went into other directions since then, but I shall never forget about that night, in the basement of a theatre, when I danced with myself and for the first time I realised that, with all my flaws and imperfections, I was not that bad at all.
(Many thanks to Eleonora Cucciarelli for sharing her journey)