Saturday, April 10, 2010

Freddy Kareman & Me.

"Stay out of your head. Leave yourself alone. Make contact."
-Fred Kareman.

As I promised yesterday, tonight I am blogging about my beloved acting teacher Freddy Kareman. And I am going to keep it short as I have to shoot the web series TYRANNY tomorrow! Yayayayayayay!!!

I was pretty much fresh out of Barnard -- I graduated early to be an actress! -- and I'd heard of Freddy from a friend downtown one night in the East Village talking him up.

Freddy didn't "audition" his students, he met with his students. No advertising in Backstage, no celebrity endorsements, no DVD's of his teaching, no books he'd written about "techniques," no "audition class" or talking about his personal stuff -- just good old fashioned teaching. The best kind.

I fell in love with Freddy pretty much from the start. What a passion he possessed. He'd sit on his chair -- sort of a swivelly chair with his short, but strong legs propped up on his wooden desk and he'd chew on a coffee straw and with his (typically) white jeans and blue button down shirt, he'd whisper to us students to relax, take your time, shhhh...

And as he said this, he'd dim the lights in our studio 808 in Carnegie Hall and across the room from one another we'd stand, we'd snap our fingers to let our partner know that we were ready and then we'd do Freddy's beautiful version of his teacher, Sandy Meisner's Repeating Technique, which Freddy studied at The Neighborhood playhouse. 

And we would start simple -- You're wearing a blue shirt.

Response: Yes, I am wearing a blue shirt.

Then, as the weeks flew by, our bi-weekly classes deepened and deepened... And I remember that my first partner's name was Bruce. And for the first few weeks when I had to stand heavingly across from Bruce, I felt like I was being lowered into a shark's tank. The following exchange is an example of our repeating together in my first weeks of class.

Me: You look mad.

Bruce: I am mad.

Me: I'm sorry that you are mad.

Bruce: Great. You're sorry that I'm mad.

Me: I don't know what to say.

Bruce: Then don't say anything.

And I can feel his anger seeping towards like The Blob in those 1950's movies...

Kieren: Okay, I won't say anything then.

Bruce: Then shut up.

Kieren: Here's the knife. Just stab me.

The last line was the only one that actually occurred. But I'm telling you -- lowered into a shark's tank.

But the cool thing -- the most amaaazing thing is that exactly at the end of the summer, when I'd studied for 2 months strong, I was no longer passive and frightened of my strength.

I stood strong and tall (with all of my 5'5"!) and I didn't let anyone be a shark to me.

And Freddy saw to this. He'd support me. Compel me into standing by myself. Speaking from my perspective. How it "does me." How the work "does me." Be "like s blade of grass," he'd say. Like a "peasant" in my work.

And by the end of the summer of my first year, I was standing across from a new student -- still my friend, Matt Ellis.

And Freddy once again dimmed the lights a bit, and whispered for us all to relax, and as the students sitting in the wooden bleachers, staring out at us, settled into that hushed excitement while watching their classmates "repeat" -- but in the deeper sense -- I mean at this point, we had been working for a year, at least I had, and I felt like I was wearing a badge of a warrior at this point. 

I loooooved repeating. I'd meet up with fellow students to repeat in the morning at Carnegie Hall, at night while babysitting at Upper East Side apartments, in the afternoon in Central park, all over the city I'd meet up.

And so... when I stood at a diagonal across from Matt. I was facing out towards the students and I could practically the beading eyes of one woman in class who was older than me and had a critical eye. 

I took a deep breath. Freddy asked me to go first. Something that I was feeling from Matt, from being in the room, and only to speak when I had to.

So... I stood there. And I was quiet. And I listened to Matt's breathing and to the humming of the summer air conditioner and I felt my heartbeat. And though we were in a cool room, I could feel the glare of the summer in the city surrounding us.

And when I opened my mouth I said, I wish you had a big blanket you could wrap me up in.

And Matt semi-chuckled, like a nervous, new student chuckle, not unkind, merely uncomfortable and said, That sounds weird to me.

And I thought back, quick as a flash: I can either laugh at myself with him, mock what I'd said and agree with him -- Yah, that is weird. And lose myself. And not honor what I'd been feeling.

Or --

I could stand by me. And honor what I'd learned this past year. Be me.

And I spoke out, Well. It doesn't sound weird to me.

And then and there, I knew that I was an actor.

I was on Broadway at The Music Box Theatre only months later.

Freddy & Me. 

We were magic.

I remember saying to him -- you are my only insurance card in this business. And the truth is -- this is still the truth. When I am working in the stage or the cartoon or in the web series -- or when I'm getting close to a movie -- like recently -- or testing for a pilot or when I'm on the stage, I am thinking of Freddy's 3 principles. Stay out of your head. Leave yourself alone. Make contact.

And they never let me down.

He is in my heart. And I pray for him along with Joel. Every night. And sometimes in the morning.

He believed in me. He saw me. Got me.

When I was in final call-backs for The Diary of Anne Frank and my friend Dep told Freddy that I was getting close, Freddy merely said, with a glint in his eye:

If she takes her time, she'll be just fine.

Freddy, wherever you are, I hope that you still see me, get me. Know that I am still just fine.

And that my second act is about to happen.

I always picture you in the audience, watching me. Chewing on your plastic straw, quieting the room, dimming the lights. 

And I am in the spotlight. Making you proud.

Love... Always.


  1. Okay, I am now sad as hell, but in a good way, at your memories of Freddy. I can not believe it has been almost 15 years since I sat in that cold, dimly lit room in those hard ass chairs yet feeling more comfortable than I ever felt before as Freddy made me laugh, cry and and feel worthy!! I miss him every day. I have been out of the business for a long time but I will always carry what I learned from Freddy close to my heart! Thanks Kieren for always keeping his memory alive. I will tell you where Freddy is... He is alive in all of us who were fortunate enough to know him! Lisa Gannon

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  10. Beautifully written! I love and miss Freddy. Thanks for posting.
    Carmen Lamar (Daehler)