Saturday, Jul 13th 2024

Mark, My Words About Samuel

I am in my fourth decade walking on this planet. I have met some remarkable men and women during this time. I have traveled to many places in the world, seen many wondrous sights, and read the words of many who were dedicated to humanity. Chief among those souls who have made their lives a beacon of honest courage, who have guided me away from the hypnosis of my own unconsciousness and pointed me in the right direction stands Samuel Avital.

Fearlessly blatant, stubbornly individual, ceaselessly enthusiastic, this impish little Yoda of a man has sat with me in the stagecoach of my life in more journeys than I care to mention. His actions and words have nudged, pushed, cajoled, and guided me as I “failed forward” into each success of my life. Like a brother, father, grandfather, and friend, Samuel and his teaching was always there as support and as a resource.

When I first met him I was filled with the arrogance of a young twenty-two year old. I was, of course, invincible and impressionable all at once. I had enjoyed a degree of popular success in college and was, by all accounts, a gifted young actor. Everyone expected me to go to the East or West coast of America and make the big time. I knew, however, that there was something missing, some deeper more essential work to be done and it was that feeling that brought me to Samuel’s teaching.

I was at the time completely in love with the art of mime – the purity of line, the silence, the sweat, the communion with the world of dreams and symbols, the discipline, the self-exploration, the history and artistry, all of it. Samuel helped me to take that passion and focus it in ways that would transcend vanity based endeavors. By his example, he gave me the courage to keep working beyond the cliche, beyond the mediocre and trite, to forge onward into ever more demanding material.

This did not happen automatically, however, and took considerable effort on my part, because I was good at creating my own obstacles. For example, early on in my contact with Samuel and largely because of my own grandiosity, I fell into one of the most common traps in the learning environment: making the master teacher into a godlike guru. Luckily for me, that is a role that Samuel has always abhorred and although it took a few years, Samuel finally managed to help me break that spell. The popping of that bubble, ironically enough, may have been Samuel’s greatest gift to me. That is not surprising, however, since one of his predominant missions is to liberate people from their self-deceptions and self-imposed restrictions.

Following my first summer workspace, I became an Artist in Residence for the city of Dallas, launched my own solo work which toured and was later produced in Los Angeles, auditioned for and was chosen to be one of three company members for the international touring cast of MUMMENSCHANZ, worked as an actor and teacher in New York, taught movement and mime at respected schools such as Carnegie-Mellon University and Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto. I have published two books (one of them co-authored with Samuel) and have completed another one to be released soon. I am a professional actor and stage combat choreographer and I continue to perform, direct plays, and currently, I am the movement teacher at Penn State University where I enjoy teaching undergraduate and graduate actors.

Through the years my flame of artistry has continued to burn bright and I have had the honor of passing that flame on to whomever is called into my work and is ready to engage in the pursuit of mastery. Although I have my own way of working and certainly teach from my own core, I am a product of Samuel, Samuel’s teachers, their teachers and on and on back through time. I am proud to be a part of that lineage, to be carrying some of that flame so elegantly passed from heart to heart.

I now have students who are beginning to teach, to integrate my teachings into their own forms and to pass the flame on in their own way. I receive letters and cards and calls from students who have all benefited from this relay of light.

These accomplishments would not have been possible were it not for this demanding, sweet, uninhibited and courageous man named Samuel Avital. His fortitude in the face of adversity, his rugged individuality and generous universality have made my life richer beyond measure. I repay his efforts through my teaching, through my own adherence to what is honest, clear, and precise.

As I read my words I can sense that this article can very easily begin to sound like an infomercial tribute, the kind of endorsement that then leads to urgings to purchase the full 5-tape audio cassette series. I suppose, that is inevitable when speaking of someone whose teachings reflect such creativity and style. I had best finish this, therefore, before I become outrageously effusive. Allow me then to end with this anecdote:

It was in the 1980′s, I was living in New York City and working as an actor. I received word that Samuel was going to be teaching a workshop at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. I made the arrangements to attend his workshop and to reconnect with him and his teachings. Our reunion was delightful, full of smiles and laughter and warmth.

His class was well attended and his teaching was in top form. I was amazed at how his work had evolved through the years and still managed to maintain integrity and purity. We all embraced the work with relish. Near the end of the workshop, Samuel informed me that he had been asked to perform for the end of the workshop celebration night. He asked me if I would join him in a mime performance. I was honored, of course, and accepted immediately.

We rehearsed in the evenings, working me into a duo piece he had developed some years back with the Boulder Mime Theatre. I was amazed by his agile body and mind and enjoyed every moment we had to work. The performance finally arrived and I will always remember the economy, focus, generosity, and sheer delight that emanated from him as we played our scene together. He was completely connected to the audience and simultaneously completely connected to me. While performing, our eyes met with that rare zoom of comprehension and soon, the entire auditorium was in the palm of our hands. Later, when I was performing a solo piece, I could hear his hushed encouraging from the wings, “Yes!” “That’s it!” “Aha!”

I soared like a comet through that night. Our performance was highly touted and well received and we graciously accepted the praise. Yet, we both knew that we had experienced something else, some kind of initiation that blessed us with the opportunity to share the stage together. This electromagnetic atomic universe is mysterious, vast, and incomprehensible. Yet, amidst the swirl of all those atoms in the void that night, we, all of us in that auditorium, took on a particular shape and remembered, if even for a few hours.

So say what you will about mime or about teachers or the policies of this country or that country, or any other subject that we use to divert and occupy our awareness, I have lived through that and other similar events which present to me a smile and a peace that few will ever know.

In stillness and motion. Home is where the heart is. Mark Olsen Penn State University May 8, 1997



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