Living on the Edge
LIVING 'ON THE EDGE'...CHANGING MASKS
By Mark Olsen, Associate Professor of Acting PennState, Univ. Park, PA
"Samuel Avital is an artist of conscious life, conscious theatre and cosmic laughter. When the madness of the world starts to get me down, I am lifted by the knowledge that men like Samuel exist. He remains unique, elusive, profound, demanding, dedicated, theatrical, passionate, and one of the most vibrant teachers I have encountered."
I met Samuel Avital the summer of '77 when I was 22. I had been training for a career as an actor, and for reasons beyond my understanding at that time, I applied to the summer workspace. It seemed to be unusual choice for me, and it confused a number of friends and family members.
However, when I finally met Samuel, However, it became very clear why I had been drawn to study with him. For one thing, I had long wanted to be in the presence of someone who spoke directly to my essence. Also, my secret passion at that time was mime. What better place for me to be?
I feel certain that all of Samuel's teaching affects the lives of his students. Nevertheless, that particular workspace ignited my soul in ways I could not begin to describe, In fact, today, I view that summer as the fulcrum upon which my entire life shifted; turning me toward the 'road less traveled'.
Following the workspace my path took me to Dallas. Having soaked up Samuel's fundamental techniques, I applied myself to rigorous daily discipline, devoting hours upon hours of hard work.
I studied with every professional mime I could find. I teamed up with others forming groups and small companies and within two years had developed a reputation in the Dallas area that allowed me to become an artist-in-residence in that city.
This support and validation gave me the courage to put together a solo show. Within months I was touring area schools and theatres. At the end of the year, I moved to Los Angeles. Three weeks later, I was invited to perform a show at the Richmond Shepherd Theatre. Following that, I auditioned and was cast in MUMENSCHANTZ. I moved to New York, trained into the show, and toured steadily for two years - The U.S., Canada, South America, and Europe.
I give the previous account, not as a narrative resumé, but as an example of the momentum I seemed to have established following that particular workspace. What is even more remarkable is that I have managed to integrate the momentum of Samuel's into my life. This I have done by keeping close contact with Le Centre du Silence and with friends, teachers and traditions related to the work.
In New York I worked to translate the core of Samuel's teaching into the craft of acting. I found that the essential elements blended nicely with the world of dialogue. I maintained my interest in movement arts, however, studying Alexandre Technique, Tai Chi, Clowning, Mime and various forms of sacred dance. At the same time, I began to get work as teacher myself.
Most recently, I have worked with the Society of American Fight Directors; becoming a certified teacher of stage combat. In addition, I have published a book that clearly outlines the relationship between esoteric work and the art of acting. The book is called, The Golden Buddha Changing Masks - essays on the spiritual dimension of acting.
What is ultimately more important, but not as tangible, is how I have used Samuel as an inner beacon. Come to think of it, I have even borrowed Samuel's manifestations to create characters, which have delighted audiences and have enhanced my teaching.
I am warmed by his friendship, awakened by his demands, and inspired by his humanity. Thanks to Samuel, I deeply know the wisdom of 'going to the edge', the profound importance of 'being with the moment', the ecstasy of 'the paradox', the universal implications of 'the horizon story', and the recognition of the 'treasure within me'.
The other day I realized that Samuel has been running a pyramid scheme. Instead of dollars, however, doubling back to create financial wealth as in so many of today's New Agey businesses, he has used love as the coin of the realm. His efforts have made us all rich. I hope we have paid attention and can continue his scheme. It could very well become the newest wonder of the world.
Mark Olsen is a professional actor, teacher, author, and director. Associate Professor, Penn State School of Theatre, University Park, PA. As an actor, Mark has performed leading roles with the Cincinnati Ensemble Theatre, The Human Race Theatre, and the international touring cast of MUMMENSCHANZ.
He recently played the title character in an independent film entitled Rocky Road. As a movement specialist, Mark previously ought at Carnegie Mellon University, Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto, Wright State University and the University of Houston. Mark is currently n associate professor of movement at Penn State University, where he teaches Tai Chi, Mask work, Organic Physical Acting, State Combat, Ritual Theatre, and Mime.
Mark has also served as secretary of the Secretary of American Fight Director and vice-president of the Association for Theatre Movement Educators. He has directed over 30 productions and choreographed fights for over 60 productions in a variety of professional venues which recently included the Dallas Theatre Center's production of Angels in America, The Alley Theatre's productions of Anthony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar (with Vanessa and Corin Redgrave), Romeo and Juliet at the Houston Grand Opera, and Pericles and As You Like It at the Houston Shakespeare Festival. His new book, the first in a two-volume set, The Actor with a Thousand Faces, is due out next fall from Applause Books in New York. He is the author of the Golden Buddha Changing Masks. A series of essays on the spiritual dimension of acting.