JEFFREY BROWN: So when you were watching the monologues this morning,
you can right away spot what's right and what's wrong?
MICHAEL KAHN: After this many years of doing this, I can trust certain
instincts I have. I would be foolish to say that watching a two- and
a three-minute monologue that I could know everything that's going on.
That would absolutely be not true. But I certainly can see now, and
certainly the other faculty can, when someone is inhibiting themselves,
when somebody is not connecting to the material, doesn't really understand
the rules of verse, even though they're there to be understood and,
therefore, broken if you want to. But you can tell that.
And you can certainly tell that somebody has a better voice than they're
actually using or that they're not breathing correctly. There are a
lot of things you can tell.
You can't always tell always who's talented, so sometimes you take a
chance on somebody who technically is not at all proficient, but who
seems to have talent underneath that, that if you could just help them
get the tools that talent would blossom and be pretty amazing.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what do you mean by talent that you can't [see]?
MICHAEL KAHN: Well, sometimes you can sense that somebody has a really
original way of thinking or original way of connecting to somebody else's
ideas, another playwright's ideas, or a situation, and yet they don't
really have the tools -- like in a piano, the fingering to really bring
out the music -- but that they feel it or they intuitively understand
it or they can just believe they're the character even though they don't
know how to speak like the character.
That's talent. And you can't teach talent. But you can help a talented
person open the door so that they can express their talent and give
them the tools to let that talent shine. You definitely cannot teach
talent. But you can teach talented people to be able to realize the
potential of their talent. But you cannot make a person talented. You
can make an actor better, but talent is something I think you are born
with or you develop at a very early age or it is just genetic. I have
no idea what it is. But I hope I can spot it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that goes back to what I asked at the beginning.
What is it that has to be there to make you feel that you can develop?
MICHAEL KAHN: Something original, something that's not like everybody
else, something that -- a little moment where they connect with something
in a play, in a monologue where ... they really know what that character's
going through and they're somehow connected to it, or that they have
a kind of idiosyncratic way of thinking that comes through in the dialogue,
or that they can really make language that's not their own in a way
their own, even without a lot of training, and what's sort of special,
has a spark.
JEFFREY BROWN: So you can't teach talent.
MICHAEL KAHN: Yes. [We can] help the actor break through those barriers
that they give themselves towards the fullest expression of what they're
doing. Relaxation, living in the moment, listening to the other actor,
not planning everything or not showing us your planning, feeling free
to take risks, going out on a limb, not being afraid to fail. Those
are things you can help an actor to do, and you can give an actor a
process of how to work, or you can help an actor to learn how do you
want to start on this script, how you want to go about it, what do you
look for in a script, what do you look for in your imagination, where
do you have to go in your life or your observation on the street, what
does the text actually tell you, what does the punctuation in a Shakespeare
play tell you, what is the way the line of verse is, what does it tell
you, where can you find those clues. Those are things you can learn,
of course, and those are things you need to learn. Those things you
don't get just sitting at home.
But sitting at home and imagining that you're Juliet or Hamlet or Cyrano
de Bergerac and feeling you are that person and imagining you are and
becoming that person, that you don't teach. That's something that you
have. And it's a gift.
Part III: Michael Kahn discusses his opinion
on the most challenging aspect of teaching acting.