Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Intro to Acting Experience by David Caldwell

My interest in performing is rooted in musical theater. And although I’ve sung my entire life, I haven’t played an official role since age 12 in a community production of The Music Man.  I finally decided 2014 was my year to audition for local theater. But my stomach would churn every time I read “please come prepared with a 1-2 minute monologue…” I knew I needed help with my acting so I asked a few performer friends for advice and they all pointed me to Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio.

If, like me, you have never taken an acting class, you are in for a fascinating challenge. I was nervous that first day in our Step I: Intro to Acting class, as our teacher, Andrew McGinn, guided us through some warm-up exercises. Andrew is a rather imposing, hirsute redhead with a deep, raspy voice, but these exercises seemed really silly. The nine of us laughed anxiously at ourselves and one another trying to get acclimated to this bizarre parallel universe where neither shoes nor ego were welcome. During that class, Andrew dropped his first of many gems when he said, “It’s ok to be nervous. Acting is really, really hard. If it weren’t, everyone would do it and no one would care about theater anymore.”

For the next few months we worked, slowly and deliberately, to wrap our brains around what acting really is – essentially, reacting authentically in artificial circumstances. Borrowing techniques from teachers like Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner, we spent many hours learning how to “get grounded” and “drop in” to a scene. This became the primary focus of our class: learning how to identify the true nature of a character (or in many cases, ourselves) and maintain that nature throughout a series of imaginary circumstances. It sounds simple to me. But it is deceptively difficult to clear your mind, place yourself in an imaginary setting, and accomplish your character’s goal by reacting to what is actually happening on that stage, not what is expected or assumed. Not surprisingly, this process involved many conversations about sociology, psychology and even Buddhist philosophy. It is still my favorite part of the acting process.

As we moved through the exercises I came to appreciate the difficulty of being truly present in a scene with another person. What is really incredible, though, is learning how this process, which demands patience, concentration and awareness, is directly applicable to real-life personal interactions beyond the stage. If nothing more, this class has made me a better listener.

I have only scratched the surface on my work as an actor. But what I learned in this class has given me the confidence to move forward and keep practicing. In fact, I was recently cast in the first musical I auditioned for. In just a few weeks I get to try my techniques as a slightly sadistic hospital chaplain. I can hardly wait.


To check out our upcoming Intro to Acting classes and other Freehold classes, go to:

Moving Safely on Stage by Marie Verschueren

Over the last 3 years I have taken numerous classes at Freehold and walked away from each one grateful for what I have learned.  The Rehearsal and Performance class of 2013 taught by Darragh Kennan was no exception.  The class is set up to take the student through the whole process of rehearsing and then performing a play.  It was such a great experience and I felt I was given all the tools I needed to be able to get up on stage and do my best.  One of the great things about the class was the director’s willingness to bring experts into class if we needed special training in our scene.  One of the people that Darragh asked for assistance was Gordon Carpenter, the fight coordinator at Freehold Theatre.  Gordon worked with myself and my scene partner to help us get over a bit of a hurdle we were experiencing.

I was lucky enough to be cast as Marvalyn in the stage play Almost Maine, written by John Cariani.  It had been some time since I had performed on stage and I was excited and wanted to do a good job for Darragh, our director.  Our scene was titled “This Hurts”, and included myself and my scene partner as well as an ironing board and we were to hit each other with it.  I was nervous, especially after the first time we rehearsed and I hurt my hand.  From that point on, once the ironing board started swinging I was distracted and thinking about the hit and how I could avoid being hurt.  I had the same issue when I had to swing at my scene partner because I didn’t want to hurt him.  It was difficult to get it right, it was either too hard or too soft and looked fake.  I was distracted by the ironing board and it interfered with my being able to relax into the character.

So… Darragh called Gordon Carpenter.  After working with him for 30 minutes, we were swinging away and no one was getting hurt.  Gordon was able to give us both some structure and safety tools that enabled us to not have to think about the physicality of what we were doing and be more at ease. One of the biggest challenges we had was to make it look real and Gordon offered a simple fix.  I was to have my back to the audience and my hand up so when my scene partner swung the board at me, I hit with my hand in front of my body, so the audience heard the "hit" but didn't see that it was just my hand we was hitting. I think it was a tremendous boost to both of our performances and I would love to work with Gordon again.

Freehold is an amazing training ground for actors and I will continue to be a student and supporter of their efforts.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Power to Heal by Kristin Alexander

Freehold Board Member and Freehold Alum, Kristin Alexander shares her recent experience as an audience member at Freehold's Engaged Theatre residency at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.

Near the end of their performance at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, a cast of 18 inmates-turned-actors stripped off prison-issued grey garb to reveal custom-printed orange T-shirts. Then they sang. The change to a bright color not only created visual impact – it was symbolic of their personal transformation.

“This is how we heal,” said more than one participant of Freehold’s Engaged Theatre Residency program after the conclusion of their show April 7.

Freehold has been offering the residency at WCCW for 11 years. The program has repeatedly proven that even amidst surveillance monitors and razor wire, it’s possible to escape through art.

Participants meet weekly over five months and explore acting, spoken word, improvisation, movement and playwriting. This year’s program was led by teaching artists RobinLynn Smith, Rebecca Tourino, Caroline Brown, Taryn Collis, Joy Easley, Sarah Porkalob, and Jessica Robinson.

Titled “True Frame of Mind: Bee-Coming Whole … Sweet,” the show included a cacophony of narrated vignettes about drug addiction, racism, family strife and coming out as transgendered, among other issues. Despite the heavy topics, there was a sense of hope and personal discovery in the stories, which were culled from the offenders’ journals.

Humor, too, was woven into the play. Two women dressed as bumble bees opened the show by rapping. Another portrayed Chaz Bono. And the whole cast busted a dance routine from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

The women performed twice, once for an audience of other inmates and a second evening for family members and guests involved with Freehold. Witnessing a performance inside a prison can be eye-opening for outsiders, who may have preconceived ideas about inmates and life behind bars.

After the show, participants answered audience members’ questions and shared testimonials of how theatre has helped them move beyond problems they experienced before and during their time in prison. One woman who struggles with suicidal thoughts said looking forward to her Freehold experiences gave her the will to continue living.

It’s often said that theatre is a reflection of life. But Freehold and the women of WCCW are demonstrating that theatre can be life-changing.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Interview with Freehold ETI Alums: Riley Neldam and Lori Evans

Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) is a program of Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio. ETI will return in the Fall of 2014 offering the only independent 10-month certificate program for dedicated adult actors in the Pacific Northwest. The Ensemble Training Intensive was created for the serious student who is ready to commit to the next level artistically and professionally. The curriculum focuses on developing the skills necessary to meet the technical demands of classical text and extraordinary contemporary material. Freehold will be running ETI again this Fall 2014 and applications are now available auditions: June 4, 2014). We had a chance recently to visit with two Freehold ETI alums, Riley Neldam and Lori Evans, from our 2010-2011 program.

What drew you to Freehold's ETI program in the first place? 

Riley: Initially, I had only heard bits and pieces of what ETI was and what it could offer an actor that was looking to make a more serious commitment to the professional theatre world but it was enough to have me intrigued.  I did a little more research and what really drew me in were the organizations and people that were connected with the program, such as Seattle Repertory Theatre, New Century Theatre Company (with founding company members making up much of our faculty) and many other seasoned veterans of the Seattle stage and local Film community.  Ultimately, I knew I was at a turning point in my life in which I needed to find the discipline to take ownership of my craft and career and it seemed to me that surrounding myself with some of the best working artists and teachers of our city was the way to go and I think that is what I found. 

Lori: I had just graduated from UW with a BA in Drama, but being a liberal arts major did not provide enough practical acting work. I was looking to immerse myself in everything to do with acting, giving myself as many tools to be the best actor I could be, without spending three years in grad school.  Another draw to the program was committing to a group of people for better or for worse and growing together. It is a challenge to be completely honest with yourself and other people and I wanted an atmosphere where I was encouraged to express all of me freely.

What excited and challenged you in the first few months of doing the work in ETI?

Riley: I connected to the physical work that we did in the program: working with Freehold Founding Member George Lewis became something I continually looked forward to.  It was an ongoing challenge to remove the emphasis I constantly put on "getting it right" and just enjoying the process.  That became my Mantra "Process, Process, Process."

Lori: The Linklater voice work with Kim White was transforming, learning a whole new way of releasing tension in my body to allow breath to inspire impulses. But it was tricky to embrace at first as the language is very specific, and my brain rebelled against the form, but once I jumped in and embraced the unknown it all became clear!  Creating a solo piece with Marya Sea Kaminski was unbelievably inspiring. Having the encouragement to create and perform my own work has been tremendously empowering because of the vulnerability of being solely responsible for every aspect of the performance. She worked with such compassion and care which created a safe space for us to dig deep into our own stories and devise performance art that allowed for a talented group of people to shine.

As the program progressed, what insights surfaced as you got deeper into the work?  

Riley: Luckily, I was one of the younger (if not youngest) members of the ensemble and because of this it was not difficult for me to set actor ego aside to seek advice from the other members of the ensemble in regards to the work. Although every member of the group had a greatly different background and set of experiences they were drawing from, they all had something unique to contribute to my understanding of craft and process. There were many days in which I felt I learned as much, if not more, just from watching other members of the ensemble having breakthrough after breakthrough in class, particularly during the Linklater work with Kimberly White.

Lori: The physical movement work with George Lewis was surprisingly insightful. I had heard scary stories about his teaching and was not looking forward to being denigrated in front of my classmates, but I found embracing failure, and uprooting my need to “get it right” a foundation for unlocking acting freedom and having fun!  

Looking back over the 10 month program, were there particular moments that stood out for you?  

Riley: During our classical work with Amy Thone, I got the chance to play Richard III in a showcase performance towards the end of the year.  I realized then how much I prefer playing bad guys.

Lori: I immediately flashed back on my final Shakespeare scene from Richard 3 with Riley playing Richard to my Elizabeth. Working with an actor that was as motivated as myself to discover and try new things was exciting. Amy Thone taught me that Shakespeare’s brilliance is revealed when we allow the verse to sing its music and to embrace the form rather than fight it, and Kevin McKeon’s direction was sensitive and allowing.  Another moment I remember was in movement class when George waved his hand in front of my eyes saying “stay present” as we were holding some IMPOSSIBLY difficult pose and speaking complicated Ulysses text at the same time. This simple wave in front of my face jolted me back into the room and was a revelation of the difference between staying available and present in the moment and the opposite of being off in my own inner thought world. 

How has your participation in ETI impacted the work you are doing currently? 

Riley: This might sound extreme but it is the greatest endorsement I can give: before I went through ETI I was a young actor taking classes at a local community college, the DAY I finished ETI I was contracted to the first professional theatre show of my life and it didn't stop there.

Lori: ETI sponsored members of the theatre community to come and give master classes. We had Dennis Krausnick from Shakespeare & Company come lead us in a class one morning and I was intrigued by his incorporating voice, movement and Shakespeare’s text from the Renaissance worldview. So after ETI graduation I traveled to Massachusetts to continue more training with Shakespeare & Company and I now work in their renowned education department with Kevin G. Coleman and direct Shakespeare plays in schools with kids from 3-18 years old. I get the joy of watching students celebrate each other while saying the most beautiful words in the English language. I draw on all the great instruction from ETI constantly in my work. I still do Linklater voice, movement work, empower myself with thoughts of devising new solo work, use Amy Thone’s brilliant mantra “think the thoughts and speak the words” and her imagery and rhetoric work, I think of Hans Altwies as I teach kids stage combat with imaginary swords, hear Robin’s voice saying “what are you getting from him?” I remember the yoga bliss of Joel when I get stressed, and think of John Jacobsen asking me what choices I’m making each moment as I prepare for auditions. These and so many others are wonderful voices to have in my head. I feel very fortunate to have had their caring influences. The instructors were invested in my life and wanted to see me succeed.

If someone were to ask you why they should sign up to be part of ETI, what would you say? 

Riley: You get what you give so you have to show up for the work, and by that I mean both being brave enough to be present with the process and physically getting your ass out of bed in the morning, the latter becomes a bigger and bigger challenge as time goes on but if you fight through the slumps and plateaus, personal growth can be exponential in this program but it will certainly test your resolve. 

Lori: I have enjoyed wonderful working relationships within the Seattle community from contacts I made at Freehold. Seattle is a small town when distilled down to the arts and Freehold has access to so many of the major influences in the theatre community and they shared their richness freely with me. 

But it’s not for the faint of heart. The program is best for those that really want to focus solely on their craft for 10 months. You have to get up early and go to class and stay up late to study when you are exhausted. This is a group that you are committing your best to for the next 10 months and that expectation is desired for the program to be life-changing. You show up when you don’t want to, when you’ve NOT done your homework, when you are sick or injured because if you don’t, you let the whole ensemble down. You get out what you put in. Leaping off the cliff with hands in the air is needed to fully embrace what the program has to offer. 

Freehold is offering its Ensemble Training Intensive program beginning in September 2014 and running through June 2015.  Auditions will be held June 4, 2014.  For more information about Freehold's upcoming ETI program or to apply: http://www.freeholdtheatre.org/studio/ensemble-training-intensive-eti

Upcoming Freehold Faculty Work

Christine Marie Brown will be in the next installment of Sandbox Radio Greatest Hits GALA at West of Lenin on Monday, April 21st at 8pm. Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/595801

Gin Hammond is recording the audiobook "The Pearl That Broke It's Shell" with Cedar House audio. Ana Maria Campoy, Melissa Topscher and I are continuing to develop "Gifts of War" which got its start at Studio Series. 

John Jacobsen has been hired to write a feature film - comedy and also an adaptation of Lord of the Flies for film, but with girls not boys.  Fun!

Darragh Kennan will be directing Tails of Wasps for NCTC at ACT from April 3 – 27, tickets at www.wearenctc.org.  Darragh will be acting in Bethany at ACT running April 11 – May 4th.  More information: http://www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/Bethany

Andy McGinn directed the short film Only Connect and being submitted to film festivals around the country. He is also directing Fuente Ovejuna at Cornish, which opens April 24th and will be playing the role of Falstaff in Freehold's Engaged Theatre's production of Henry IV this summer. 

 Meg McLynn will be in  A New Brain with STAGEright Theatre, May 2-17 at the Cornish Black Box in Seattle Center. More info: http://www.seattlestageright.org/productions/a-new-brain 

Rhonda J. Soikowski will be in LoreDona's Vintage Spectacular on Wednesday, March 19th, 7:30pm on Capitol Hill at The Unicorn's Narwhal Performance Space - Cabaret performances from Freehold Faculty Rhonda J Soikowski (Rhon the Clown), and Sarah Harlett (The Record Player).  Also - Live Music from BAKELITE 78, Cherry Manhattan Burlesque, Terri Weagant with a special ode to internet sensation Tammy, LoreDona's Pin-Up Dancers, and more!  More information: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/567438

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Having Fun in Comic Text Scene Study - Interview with Andrew McGinn

Andy, we're excited that you'll be teaching Comic Text Scene Study at Freehold this quarter. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with comic scene study work?

Thanks! My experience with comic scenes is pretty much a love affair that I keep returning to. One of the reasons I love comic texts is that I apply so many of the core techniques you would with any other scene, but I know that the end result will be really fun. I love fun. I love it. It's learning about why the scene is funny, and then using that knowledge to send your performance energy in the right direction.

A fun example: Many moons ago I once got to tour the country playing the great role of Sir Anthony Absolute in Sheridan's The Rivals, a classic comedy about trickery, gossip, and getting the girl. So this guy is a big-hearted, very passionate, very sort of clownishly masculine guy, and the character is in his late 60's, meanwhile I had just graduated and was 23 years old. Everything about him is just plain big. So in I go having all the fun in the world being as huge as I can, and nothing -NOTHING- was funny. Getting a little time to think after those embarrassing moments, you realize that my having fun was the only discernible action on stage. The character of course needs to be doing things to people in order to achieve his goals, just like in every other play. Once I started treating it like any other scene I, as a performer, am working way, way, way less hard and the scenes became a hilarious riot. It's a case of channeling all that fantastic desire to have fun and make people laugh into the scene that was written. I certainly wish I had understood the scenes better when I started, but once I did, I had never had more fun on stage.

What roles have you played that have had a strong comic element and what did you discover in the process of playing them?

Well what's on my mind the most right now is of course Watson, from the recent production at Seattle Rep of Hound of the Baskervilles. The big discovery unique to that role for me, was that elegance can be funny. I’ve done a lot of classical comedy that like Hound of the Baskervilles has a lot of wit, irony, and language humor but the thing about the Watson that David Pichette and Robert R. Hamilton Wright wrote was that he was a patient and elegant man. Sometimes I got uncomfortable with that because I thought I wasn’t being funny enough, but then of course there’s times when Watson would lose his cool and THEN came the big humor. You see, without the grace there was nothing for Watson to fall from, and regain. ... and that’s just another example of how time and time again knowing and trusting the script really is the thing.

Are there any misconceptions actors have in approaching Comic Text work or skills that are particularly useful for an actor approaching a piece of comic text?

Mostly the thing that gets in folks way is that they don't think learning the mechanics of their scripts is part of the fun. But I’m here to tell you: It is!!! It's like listening to your favorite song and you're just waiting for the the chorus to send you off ... yet for us we're listening to the script waiting for the inspiration that's going to send us off! Listening to a script you know is funny moment-to-moment is like a delightful game of anticipation, like peek-a-boo.

What are you looking forward to in teaching the Comic Text Scene Study class this quarter?

Aw man, I'm so amped about this class. So much of acting training can be so heavy, and here we'll have a genre that is inherently not heavy, but meanwhile we'll be using the same skills: Dropping into a fiction, responsiveness, clarity action, the pursuit of objectives .... and in addition we'll look at common elements of comedy that makes them funny like extreme stakes, total failures, status reversals, and irony. It's going to be a fun and fascinating time. I'm amped!

Andy will be teaching Comic Text Scene Study at Freehold beginning April 6. More information can be found here: Comic Text Scene Study

My Studio Series Experience: Performing Outside Your Comfort Zone by Karen Polinsky

Surely, you’ve experienced that dream: The orchestra tunes up, the curtains part, and there YOU are, the prima ballerina in a tutu of pale pink chiffon. Happily, I can personally attest, being part of the Incubator Studio Series is nothing like this archetypal Jungian nightmare. Though it does mean taking a risk, your creativity and hard work is guaranteed to please the audience and teach you more than you ever imagined.

This is my second year as a playwright in the Incubator Studio Series. Last winter I was so terrified I nearly quit before I started. I had no mentor, no director, no actors and no experience staging a play. Six weeks later I was in the Rendezvous Room toasting the exhilarating success of a hilarious one-act called “Every Place Is No Place,” with a merry band of strangers who had somehow turned into a magical theatrical troupe. My new one-act “The Birdhouse Paradox” – though with only one week left, I confess I have the jitters – is every bit as promising.

My favorite part of this process is when the actors interrogate me about the back stories and the quirks of the fictional people I have created. Each and every time I discover these characters have not been fully-realized. Together, we explore who they are, what they fear, and how they react under pressure. In the process we end up revealing parts of ourselves that could not be shared in any other way.

The Incubator Studio Series offers fledgling-to-professional writers, actors, choreographers and directors the chance to perform outside of their comfort zone. The Project Lead defines the challenge. With feedback from the mentor Elizabeth Heffron, and director Rebecca Tourino, fourteen vague pages turned into seven pages of witty, insightful dialog. This year, the critique is aimed at helping all of us to learn together. Designing your project to address the next phase of your development is just one of the incalculable joys of the Incubator Studio Series.

I may never dance Swan Lake, however, after two seasons in the Incubator Studio Series I can say that I am a playwright. The opportunity to stage an original work in the Freehold Blackbox may not have realized all of my dreams, but it has changed my life.