The legendary acting teacher, who counts everyone from Sandra Oh to Ted Dykstra amongst his graduates, has recently opened his own actors’ studio in the trendy Distillery District, where he teaches his infamous Zone of Silence.
Can you explain the Zone of Silence and how it works?
The Zone of Silence is an improvisation exercise that is done in complete silence. There’s no sound, no words, and it begins at absolute zero. We set up a place — a little coffee table, a few chairs, magazines. We call it the doctor’s office because actors have to have something specific. So, it’s a doctor’s office. You’re in a doctor’s office. Waiting. But as you wait, you are sharply aware of the other people in the room. And that’s all you have to do: Be there in that moment completely.
What’s the purpose of that?
The purpose is to be where you are, and to be aware of the other people in the space where you are.
And what does this do for actors?
Everything. The whole point about it is that it’s mindless. There is nothing for the brain to do. Acting does not come from the brain at all. We want to shove the brain out and immerse ourselves completely in the atmosphere, the moment.
Have the actors who have come through the Zone of Silence said to you after that it’s helped them in their craft?
Of course. It’s been for 25 years: “If only we could go back and do the Zone of Silence now!” And indeed, it reveals itself to be the whole foundation of acting. It’s all about what is going on in the gut.
In all the travelling and teaching you’ve done around the world, what have you observed about Toronto actors?
They are reserved. They are inhibited. This exercise is precisely what they need to draw them out and to dare, to trust, to give and take. We do things here we would not dream of doing beyond that door.
Television and film seem to get more attention these days, but why do you think theatre is so important?
Why is life important? We are the only sentient, conscious animals that we know, that contemplate our own mortality. Given that, everything flows from it. We create art in order to make sense of the human condition.