Hey Stellaaaaaaa!…We all know that roar from a whiskey soaked Marlon Brando. I always wondered if in that moment, he was thinking of the woman who taught him everything he knew, who cultivated the raw talent within the young squire, the true namesake of the moment; Stella Adler. She was my teacher as well, though posthumously i was still under her tutelage and lived by her words; “growth as an actor and as a human being are synonymous.” Never were truer words spoken, it’s only when i had my heart crushed that i fully understood their meaning and felt capable as an actor and human being.
I think I’ve wanted to be an actor since i could grab my toes, it’s always been a secret ambition but growing up in the Caribbean saw me putting those dreams on the back burner. It just wasn’t considered a possible endeavor, its more of a traditionalist society where becoming a doctor was a better option. But, Trinidad is also where masquerade has been cultivated in our Carnival celebrations, which are a kind of revel in the flesh and theatre of the streets. As a Trinidadian I suppose that sense of drama is in my blood, but pushing it further away from carnival into something more tangible is not taken seriously. Shame, because as a people we are natural story tellers, could you imagine if the arts was more readily available what we could do with it, what i could have done with it as a child? I was lucky because I found my way eventually, i found Stella.
My mind is whirring with the many pockets of extraordinary experiences i collected at the Stella Adler Conservatory. It’s a small studio, intimate and original. Stella walked the halls and you can still feel her presence. Her Grandson Tom runs the studio now. My first day there i remember the creaking of the carpeted floor and the flurry of students. The shouts and screams erupting from rooms, tempered with the hums of vocal exercises. I felt like I’d found my tribe. I worked hard to get there, working at a small milliner in Oxfordshire to pay for afternoon acting lessons with my coach Lucy in her mum’s Hair Salon. Auditioning for RADA and LAMDA, making it far enough in the audition process to give me a boost of confidence. Then finding my drama guru at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop who showed me the sage wisdom of Adler which then brought me to Manhattan, where my life capsized in the stormy seas of the Big Apple.
Drama training was exactly what i thought it would be but better, the studio was a motley crew of teachers and students from all walks of life with personalities as grand as the Empire State Building looming over us through the windows. Nelson, our security guard was by far the mascot of our student collective, i doubt I’ll ever meet a better person again. I was the worst and best student, sometimes a nightmare because of my gnat-sized attention span, but there were moments of magic that surprised me and stirred every cell in my body. For one of my scene study classes in first year, our gregarious and flamboyant teacher Patrick assigned us scenes from The Blue Room, a play examining sexually driven situations. I was playing a hooker(as you do) and my scene partner was a tiny Putin in real and imaginary life. We began, me in black thigh-highs and tight everything stretched out on a park bench, lollipop between my lips. It was fluid at first; i played, cajoled, seduced but my tiny Putin partner had other ideas and as the scene heated up he took it too far and slammed me against a wall tearing at my clothes, i forced myself to stay in scene as long as i could but finally threw him off. Silence, my classmates sat there frozen, eyes wide as saucers, then Patrick’s applause rattled my ears, he loved it. I, didn’t stop shaking till the end of class.
Stella said you must die on stage, you must give all of yourself to the moment. That was one moment where i realized the gravity of her intent. My two years there were a lesson in stretching the limits of my voice, body, heart and soul. I’ve never bared myself so blatantly, washing the black-box walls with who i used to be. I left so much of myself there, it feels like a home i can go back to. My final year play was August: Osage County, my role was the youngest sister Karen. I was alive in that body, i wanted to live in her forever. When it was all over i felt full and empty at the same time. I feel both those things right now, trying to write about my experience succinctly enough to do it justice, but failing because i know I’ll never be able to bottle magic in mere words. John Patrick Shanley came to speak to the students one day, he said something that stuck with me; “I was at my best when i wrote what i knew, so write what you know.” This is what i know courtesy of Stella, “Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.” I understand now, the ferocity of that roar from Marlon at the steps of Elysian, because in that moment he was full in the awareness of his soul.