To Be Seen, To Be Heard, To Be Witnessed – David Gottfried
A petite, pretty blonde woman stands on the stage, tears streaming down her face. From his perch upon his director’s chair in the corner, Matthew says in a tone that belies a gentle firmness, “We’re all so attached to our shit.” Quickly switching to a gravelly, yet piercing voice, Matthew begins to mock our collective insanity, “‘it’s what makes me special, it’s what makes me unique.’” With another fast transition back to his voice of warmth Matthew says, “No! You’re not special and unique; you’re fucking stuck and mediocre.”
With that, the petite blonde woman, nods slowly and says, “Yeah. But—“
“—Shut the fuck up,” Matthew interjects, and then continues, suddenly tender again, “And I say that with love, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ You need to be called out on this if you ever want to grow as an artist… you need to be called out on this if you ever want to grow as a human being.” After several more minutes of coaching, the woman restarts her repetition with her partner and is a completely different performer.
In a city where acting studios are nearly as common as Starbucks, the Matthew Corozine Studio (MCS) is a hidden gem. The studio is situated between 8th and 9th Avenue on 36th street in Manhattan where it’s founder teaches Meisner Technique to three different classes, each twice a week for three and a half hours per class. The student body is composed of people of all ages and in all stages of their careers, with roughly sixteen students per class.
I came across MCS in November of 2015, just three months after I moved to New York; I was lonely, unhappy in my survival job, and horrendously stuck artistically. Within the first month of my time there, I built a solid community with whom I felt I could be completely myself. Within two months I had found a new – much better – job through a member of the studio. Within three months my work at the studio revealed to me that there was more to my art than what I had been allowing. I am fast approaching one year at the studio, and my life has greatly changed in that time.
The core mantra of the Meisner Technique – which Matthew insists new students memorize their first day of class – reads, “Acting is living and behaving, truthfully and fully, under imaginary circumstances.” In essence, Meisner Technique is the stripping away of all the barriers we have built throughout our lives in order to cope with the harsh circumstances of the “real world,” so that we may access our inner “truth.”
In their third day of class, new students are required to perform a personal monologue about a topic or story that is hard to say aloud – something you would not tell just anyone. This is almost always a cathartic moment, as each new student bears part of their soul to Matthew and the rest of the class. I’ve heard stories about parental abuse, about regrets with former lovers, about failures in careers… I wrote about my dad, how much I love him, and how much I will miss him when he is gone. It certainly was far from being a traumatic personal monologue, but it was my truth.
When I was finished with my first performance of it, Matthew told me, “David. You need to print out another copy of that monologue, put it in an envelope, and send it to your dad. No other explanation. Just send it.”
I did. And I can honestly say that my relationship with my father has never been the same since: every phone call, every visit home, every football game watched together is precious. I don’t believe I would have found this depth in my relationship with my father had Matthew not told me to send that monologue to him.
The interaction between Matt and the woman depicted above is an example of the greatest thing about MCS – the thing that I believe differentiates it from just about any other studio in which I’ve studied: Matt teaches this technique with the belief that growth as an artist is synonymous with growth as a human being – and all that begins by telling the truth. I cannot say enough how much richer my life has become since I started class at MCS. However, Matthew always reminds his students, “If you tell the truth, you will get hurt.”
When I first moved to New York, I was engaged to a young woman back in Minnesota. We had been together for three and half years when I moved. At the time, I thought it was a strong relationship; my partner and I thought our engagement was radically egalitarian: we sought to “empower and inspire each other to take the world by storm.” However, very shortly after joining MCS, things within the relationship that had bothered me for years started boil to the surface. “Things were catching up,” as Matthew would say.
I started to express my discontent and displeasure to my partner and she wasn’t sure how to take it. Previously, I would have taken hours to sort through an emotional problem logically, justify it, and come up with an ultimately unsatisfactory solution. Whereas after having attained the freedom to speak my truth, I started to simply say, “This [insert whatever problem was at hand] sucks for me!” It turns out; my partner didn’t want to hear any of it.
To make a long story short: she broke off our engagement on March 30th of this year, less than three months before the wedding. The invitations had been already sent out, some items already purchased for us on the registry, and thousands of dollars spent. It was a nightmare. To this date, it was the single most painful experience of my life. And it was painful because the person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life never really saw me.
To be seen, to be heard, to be witnessed for who you truly are is probably the most important thing a person can have happen for them. At MCS you are seen, you are heard, you are witnessed; you are given an opportunity to tell your truth through your art and encouraged to tell your truth in your life. “Go on the ride,” Matthew reminds his students before a scene or a repetition. My time at MCS certainly has been a ride. It has empowered me to experience a broken engagement, enriched familial relationships, and some of the most important friendships I’ve ever had.
People often say, “I cannot imagine how life would be different if ___.” Well, I can imagine how my life would be different if I hadn’t found MCS: it would be a dull, unfulfilling, and shitty life. Matthew and the community within his studio have gifted me with a renewed lease on my own fulfilling existence. No words of mine could begin to capture how grateful I am for it. Have a day, my friends.