Working with Michael Chekhov in the last five years of his life was one of those extraordinary events in a lifetime that never come again. That event has inspired the last 60 years of my life with an enduring optimism about the actor’s unlimited artistic potential. I was 18, an aspiring actor, living in Los Angeles, and was invited to meet Chekhov by relatives, Anya and Grigory Gluckmann, who were Russian émigrés. They were living in Los Angeles and had been close friends of Chekhov’s in Paris. They offered to bring me to Chekhov’s home to be interviewed for possible acceptance into his acting class. The remembrance of that summer evening in 1949 is still alive in my memory. It was the beginning of a journey that has continued to inspire, challenge, and enrich my artistic life. Chekhov lived in a modest, comfortable home in Beverly Hills with his wife,

Xenia, and two dogs that he adored. He greeted me at the door with European grace and gentility that charmed me from the moment of our meeting. He was wearing a suit and tie, not customary dress in Los Angeles, where the style was generally more casual. During the years that I studied with him, he always dressed elegantly. His shoes were shined, he was perfectly tailored, sometimes carried a walking stick, and often wore a fedora. We chatted for a few minutes, then he said, “This is a very difficult profession. You are still so young. Are you absolutely sure acting is the only thing you want to do in your professional life?” He was warm and irresistible, because it was clear he knew what my answer would be. When I assured him in every possible way that being an actor was my passion, he invited me to join his class. About eight or nine of us met every week in his living room for several months.

We did exercises and improvisations around the living room furniture. It didn’t matter that there was so little space because the atmosphere was charged with excitement. As our numbers grew, we moved to a renovated garage in Beverly Hills, called ourselves the Drama Society, and started meeting four nights a week. Chekhov would be present for two of the four nights: one night he would lecture; the second night he would lead a technique and improvisational class; the third night an assistant would direct scenes; and the fourth night we would do a play reading. Members of the class signed up for a month at a time, and paid $35.00 per month

for the 16 sessions. At any given time, there might be from 25 to 30 students in the group. They were a mixed group: some were quite well known in the movie business; others were aspiring actors; some were hangers on who just wanted to be in the room with the master. I remember a glamorous redhead, would-be movie star, who always made a grand entrance, arriving with her dogs. Her name was Tracy Roberts, a professional name she had given herself, combining Spencer Tracy and Robert Taylor. We would often start the exercise class with the Actors’ March, singing “La

Marseillaise” loudly and marching energetically to cross the threshold into the work. Some of the exercises had been created at Dartington Hall. In one of these, we would create a group sculpture, which Chekhov called “Harmonious Grouping.” He would call out a sensation of grief, joy, or some other emotion and one person would begin the exercise by taking a position that embodied that emotion in an archetypal form. Another would join in harmony with the first and so on until everyone had participated. It required a lot of stamina if you were one of the first, as one had to hold one’s position, and the exercise could take several minutes to complete. As we became part of the grouping, we experienced the power of the change of atmosphere through collective movement as well as creating a composition with the Feeling of the Whole. I remember improvisations from The Cricket on the Hearth and The Government

Inspector, plays Chekhov had performed in Moscow, as well as an Anton Chekhov short story, “On the High Road.” He would give us an atmosphere, characters, and an overall idea. Then he would assign someone an opening line and someone else an ending line. We had to improvise the lines in between within the given circumstances. Sometimes he would change the atmosphere while we were improvising. Through improvisation we established certain points between the beginning and the end that then became touchstones we were challenged to find again. To illustrate the fact that actors didn’t need to suffer through past personal

experiences in order to connect with emotion, Chekhov would assume the mask of tragedy and begin to cry instantaneously. He cried real tears and we were all moved and affected. Within a moment, he would assume the mask of comedy and instantly begin laughing hysterically and we all laughed with him because his hilarity was so believable. To experience how movement affected meaning and emotion in a simple form, he would give us a short line, e.g. “What did you say?” and instruct us to take different positions or walk in different rhythms and say the line over and over. We would lie on the floor, sit in a chair, run around the room, do a somersault, and say the line over and over. Each time the line was changed by the movement. This was one of the exercises that served as a prelude to the qualities of movement (molding, floating, flying, and radiating) and the Psychological Gesture (PG). We discovered that many other elements of the Chekhov technique are present in the PG: the Four Brothers (ease, form, beauty, and the whole), image, archetype, radiation and receiving, use of space, qualities of movement. In my 40 years of teaching, I have focused largely on the PG and have found that it consistently unlocks a deep, rich, primal core in the character. It is remarkable that, in his time, Chekhov understood that the body’s intelligence was a source of creativity that went far beyond the limited capacity of the brain.