Geany Masai is one of those teachers that is very direct and concise in her approach to teaching. When taking one of her classes she makes it easy to understand the messages she is sending and it’s also clear that she wants you to do well.
Geany’s class is titled “Auditions for TV & Film Technique/Advanced Scene Study.” Her knowledge comes from years of experience and it is that knowledge that she passes on to her students.
Geany has been a key part of the SAG-AFTRA conservatory, where for just $35 a year members can take one class a week from teachers such as Geany, whose credentials speak for themselves. She has been a teacher for well over 15 years, 7 of which have been at SAG (now known as SAG-AFTRA).
Her focus has been teaching in the entertainment industry (her favorite) as well as in the business world.
Like many of the conservatory teachers, Geany feels that by being a teacher it also allows her, “the luxury of being able to continue my own acting career, while helping my peers improve their skills.”
As much as Geany loves the teaching, she always advises her students (even though she is pleased with their attendance in class) that they must be careful not to become professional students, but professional actors.
That said, Geany also believes that training is important and part of your job as an actor. Her philosophy is that every two years you must fine tune your craft by taking some classes, then take the time to execute what has been learned to be able to add more layers to one’s abilities as a performer.
When asked to explain what she means by layers, Geany’s response is that “the characters that we undertake as performers have complex psyches. There is always another reason that makes us function as a human being. We use a mask to cover those emotions, feelings, etc. to keep ourselves in the mix and each time you remove one of your masks another one of your hidden emotions reveals itself. As an actor we try to tell the stories of each of those masks, because they are a part of who we are as a person, and those are the layers.”
Geany suggests we always continue to educate ourselves because things change. “There are always new jargons and techniques to be learned, and it is important to keep up with the electronic technology that we are moving towards.”
Geany brings with her a lot of hands-on experience. “My first love is the stage (which she’s done for close to 40 years), because of the creativity of live theater being different each night,” she commented. Her portfolio of work includes not only being seen on stage but also in film, on television and in tons of print ads.
At the moment Geany is part of an off-Broadway theatre company that performs at the Emerging Artists Theatre.
Working with Geany Masai in the conservatory classroom
So with all of that in mind, being in class with Geany is all about helping her students fine tune their craft and reveal their layers. One of the first things she mentioned to us was, “I try to work with what the actors bring to the table, help them where they are having difficulty finding the truth in the character.”
In fact, being in the body of the character you are playing was one of the most important points that Geany emphasized because so often instead of being we end up acting.
“As soon as we walk through the door we think it is some kind of façade we have to do. We find this voice we've never heard before but it is really about a slice of life and making that person come to life.”
Geany had us ponder for a moment to think about the various characters we might be asked to portray: the mom, the dad, the police officer, the doorman, the grandmother, the next door neighbor and so on. We've met them. We've spoken to them. So, now it’s time to be them.
“There is no character we haven’t seen or experienced,” Geany continued. “We all have the emotions to camouflage them, to expose them. It is not about trying to find this facial reaction but rather what is going on within you as that person.
“It is interpreting the material,” she continued. “It takes research and investing time to understand the person. What you must do - especially about people who have lived – is understand the character and story behind that character.”
Then Geany focused on the word “revealing,” because that’s what it’s about. How are we revealing the body and soul of the character whose body we are in? From there it’s all about your own interpretation of that person.
“If you are doing a character that someone has done prior to you, you don’t want to emulate them,” she remarked. “You can do that in working out your layers but then you must think about how I would do that, which is how you bring the character to life while also adding nuances and color.”
Geany continued noting, “I am always afraid of actors who have said they have learned their lines and they have no script; that’s frightening because it means they have stopped.”
She used herself as an example because every time Geany comes on stage her character is slightly different.
“Anyone will tell you I cannot remember what I did the night before. The creative part will never be the same each night.”
Geany’s view of her conservatory class
When asked why she donates her time to help her peers, Geany commented, “I like to give back and I love teaching.”
As to her approach, it’s all about simulating the experience. “I try to do it as if you are going on an audition.
And her advice for preparing for the audition: “Normally you will get the script the day before and that is a cold reading. If you get it 5-7 days out that is a prepared reading. That’s a good thing. They probably think you are right for this particular role,” she explained. “Try to read it at least five times. First time try to read to understand where you are and what you are reading.”
When doing that preparatory reading Geany suggests that you focus on three things.
“It’s all about place, relationship and the intent,” she quipped. “Soap Operas are built on that. If you know the intent you can move towards it. You've already created the character, so you are just adding to the character. Be open and flexible, allow the light to go off to see what you can add to it.”
She wanted us to dig deep adding, “It is like creating that whole play. You need to create a history of that character. It is like we are opening doors and eavesdropping on conversations. We find this character and create this moment – it’s a beginning, middle and end and then an arc in there.”
When asked to explain in just a couple of sentences what she is trying to achieve with her students, her explanation was the perfect recipe.
“My class is about trying to fit your piece of the puzzle (meaning yourself or character) into the complete puzzle. Think of yourself as the piece that will close the gap, add color, character and will stand out from all the rest of the pieces. You can also compare it to cooking, with all the right spices and ingredients that will make the dish smell and taste good.
“My sage advice to any actor: don't give up on yourself, your dream and your vision of what you can create as a performer. Set no boundaries for yourself when it comes to creating. There are enough people and obstacles in the world to tell you what you can and cannot do in this life, don't do it to yourself too. If you get stuck always go back to the beginning.”