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 3 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:

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:

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  Darragh will be acting in Bethany at ACT running April 11 – May 4th.  More information:

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: 

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:

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.

My Studio Series Experience by Susan Bradford

The Long Road Home: after war has been in process in collaboration with my sister, Joan Fiset, for a while now. As Artistic Director of Theatre Black Dog in charge of our First Annual Playwrights Festival 2013, I encouraged her to enter something. Joan, a published writer, has written several short plays informed by the Vietnam veteran's ongoing trauma. She also wrote, "Washing Clothes in Moonlight: The War Stories of Xuan Ngoc Nguyen," in collaboration with Xuan. The book length manuscript comprised of vignettes, is testimony to Xuan's endurance.

I've always believed this manuscript could become a one woman play. So in considering the Playwrights Festival, we came up with the idea of merging excerpts from Xuan's narrative with three of Joan's short plays: Home Front, Members of the Congregation, and Dusk.

As children of a WWII veteran, my sister and I both know the trauma of war and its affect on the veteran and his family. In her work as a therapist working with Vietnam veterans, she invited them to use writing to explore their experience. What they shared introduced her to the atmosphere of combat trauma. So for the Fest, we interspersed the three plays with Xuan's dialogue. This lasted about 90 minutes. We then decided to place viola interludes between Xuan's first person vignettes and each one-act to tie the piece together. The violist sensed and interpreted the atmosphere of each section in the pauses between them.

My main focus at this time was to direct and assist Melissa Pang, the actor playing Xuan, in integrating the telling of Xuan’s stories with the audience as partner to create an interactive experience with them. We also incorporated the idea of Xuan asking herself an internal question before each transition. This served to bring out the text and helped her to personalize it.

Because the work is very surreal and dreamlike, the actors performing the one-acts impressed me with their sense of their character and their character’s situation. In working with Surrealism, I’ve discovered the actors and I have to know a structure and reality underneath the words in order to bring it forward to the audience.

For the Freehold Incubator Studio Series, having to condense 90 minutes to 20, posed a major challenge. My sister and I weren't sure of what to do, so she gave me the opportunity to figure it out. My process in merging it into a shorter piece was to type the original script and begin merging the texts intuitively. It came to me in one seven hour sitting and was quite painless. I felt nervous taking apart her work, but knew I had her trust. I was thrilled at her response; now we have a different piece altogether and three new cast members taking over roles of the original cast.

All the characters now interrelate within the same story making it more theatrical. We appreciate how in the first version Xuan's narratives were a lot for an audience to take in. Now Xuan directly addresses characters in the one-acts who weave in and out of her testimony as the play comes full circle.

We also realize less is more. What has been cut served as exposition. Now it lives within the subtext and inner world of the other characters. And the violinist who replaced the violist has made her instrument a character. It reacts, pulses, and possess a fury and pathos that underscores the piece.

I am fortunate to have a strong ensemble of actors, most of whom I've worked with before. We share a genuine element of trust; they offer great input and are very much in sync. One actor, Rich Payne, knew my father over 30 years ago. This prior connection informs his work with an instinctual depth.

We've also been looking at Vietnam footage, reading Tim O'Brien's work, and Le Ly Hayslip's When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. These resources provide grist for rich discussions and for the varied exercises we've incorporated before diving into the script.

I'm educating myself on the Vietnam War, as it is central to the piece and for me personally. In my youth I was ignorant of Vietnam for the most part, while some of my high school classmates fought and died there.

The desired future for the piece is to continue to expand it through additional text merging and incorporating dance.

Our next meeting is with Cyrus Khambatta, our mentor. I look forward to receiving his input. After the last rehearsal we will have something realized to show him.

I'm grateful to my sister, Joan Fiset, for her trust in me as director and collaborator, and thankful to Freehold for all it has taught me and this this opportunity to bring The Long Road Home after war to the second weekend of Incubator 2014.

Susan Bradford, Director, Freehold Alumni, Artistic Director, Theatre Black Dog, Snoqualmie

For more information about Freehold's Incubator Studio Series running the weekend of March 27 - 30 (Programs A&B) and April 3 - 6 (Programs C&D), go to Brown Paper Tickets.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My Studio Series Experience by Lisa Skvarla

Last year I had the opportunity to do the Studio Series at Freehold Theatre. I was recently in a solo performance class, and the studio series gave me the opportunity to take it to the next level. My solo show was called "My Father's Daughter." It was a tribute to my father, who had recently passed away. The studio series expanded my work in progress that I did in class and made it more polished, working toward a professional performance.

In the beginning, we were able to choose our own director and crew. I chose Teresa Mosteller as my director and Kathryn Skvarla, my daughter, as my crew and assistant director. Both were familiar with my content and the story I wanted to tell. Freehold set us up with a mentor, Elizabeth Heffron, who helped us out in our rehearsal process. We met with her in the very beginning and again at the end. She was very helpful in pinpointing what needed clarity, what worked, and the direction we needed to go in our story-telling.

Teresa and I met once a week, and as it came closer to performance day we met more often to tighten the work. Each artist was given a maximum time limit of 15 minutes. I was fortunate because my show was already 15-plus minutes, so all I had to do was shave some time off. It made me focus like a laser beam on what I really wanted to say.

Freehold also added a layer of luxury by letting us add lights, sound cues, and music. The lights really made a difference in telling the story, and the music we selected was from the big-band era -- perfect for setting the tone of my dad's time. One of the songs we selected was the actual song my father and I used to dance to out on the patio at night. The music added so much beautiful expression. During dress rehearsal, the lighting crew was very helpful in meticulously setting the lights and working with my director on getting the sound cues perfect.

Opening night I had the jitters! I was really nervous! The only people who had seen the performance thus far were my classmates, Teresa and my daughter. I had no idea what to expect. It was a FULL house! I have to say I was extremely surprised to hear the reactions from the crowd. I definitely found out immediately what worked and what didn't. The audience was fantastic, and the enthusiasm for the show was tremendous. People were laughing, crying, cheering and mournfully quiet. I felt so supported, loved and connected to the audience.

Afterwards, the feedback ranged from "You touched my heart" Grown men were crying-Yes,crying- and saying "I know your father, I know what he stood for" One woman thanked me for bringing her boyfriend back, for restoring his faith in live theater! Then, to top the event off, one woman came up to me and said, "When you are ready, I would like to produce your show." Wow! That doesn't happen everyday. I met people who I can now call friends. My confidence increased as a first-time writer, and my creative abilities as an actor skyrocketed. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Thank you, Freehold.

******************************************************************** Join us for Freehold's 2014 Incubator Studio Series running two weekends, March 27 - 30 and April 3 - 6 with Program A & B in the first weekend and Programs C & D in the second weekend. Reservations Required via Brown Paper Tickets (Pay What You Can at the Door).

Monday, March 3, 2014

Exceptional Beginning Acting Classes in Seattle at Freehold Theatre this Spring

Freehold's highly acclaimed spring Acting, Auditioning, Voice Over classes (and more!) are now open for registration at Freehold Theatre in Seattle.  Freehold Theatre is a Seattle acting studio and theatre that for 22 years has been providing extraordinary theatre and fantastic classes taught by exceptional faculty.  Classes open to adults ages 18 years of age or older. Be sure and sign up now as our classes fill quickly.

We are privileged to have highly acclaimed artists as faculty including Darragh Kennan (The Hound of the Baskervilles, Seattle Repertory Theatre); Elizabeth Heffron (playwright for Bo-Nita at the Seattle Repertory Theatre), Andrew McGinn  (The Hound of the Bakervilles, Seattle Repertory Theatre), Sarah Harlett (Middletown at ACT), and many more.

We offer classes for the beginner as well as the advanced trained student.  There is truly something for everyone!

Here is our complete list of our great Spring class offerings ...

Step I: Intro to Acting, Section I with Stefan Enriquez
Step I: Intro to Acting, Section II with Christine Marie Brown
Step II: Acting with Text with Sarah Harlett
Step III: Basic Scene Study with Christine Marie Brown
Auditioning with Darragh Kennan
Comic Text Scene Study with Andrew McGinn
Intro to Biomechanics with Paul Budraitis
Meisner: Text with Robin Lynn Smith
Playwriting I: Point of View with Rebecca Tourino
Singing for Actors with Lucia Neare  
Spoken Word and Performance Poetry with Daemond Arrindell
Voice with Rhonda J. Soikowski
Voice Over with Gin Hammond

More information or to register:

or by calling us at (206) 323-7499.

If you are looking for outstanding training in a supportive atmosphere,
Freehold is the place.

Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio
2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200
Seattle, WA  98121