Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Matt Smith's Improv Intensive Experience by David Mielke

For the past few years I've been on a mid-life quest to do things I was afraid to do when I was younger.  I've worked for many years to reclaim aspects of myself that were shut down in childhood, due to having been perceived as an effeminate boy -- which was a bad thing to be in the 1960's backwoods Canadian town I grew up in.  I realize now that I wasn't really effeminate, I was just sensitive, and unfortunately at that time sensitivity was perceived as a girlish quality. The bullying I received had a squelching effect on me, and the pathway to freeing myself from the repercussions of that has been a long and winding one that has led to a desire to excavate my timid sense of humor.  I can see now how our humor is as personal and unique to us as our fingerprints, and how easily it can be shamed into hiding through childhood traumas.

I felt comfortable in Matt Smith's Improv Class Intensive right from the beginning when he explained his concept of "The FailureBow" -- a wonderful way of receiving affirming support when we do something we might otherwise have used to beat ourselves up with.  It gave me permission to try things and take risks with no negative repercussions -- just uplifting applause.  Matt also touched upon the therapeutic aspects of doing Improv; on how it can be another tool of self-discovery and healing, and that even though he wouldn't be putting an emphasis on that, a consciousness of the possibility of it was always welcome in the room.  Matt embodied a comfortableness in his own skin that helped me feel more comfortable in mine.  His  warm embrace of his own foibles and fumbles inspired me to hug mine a little more lovingly too.  He created a space where true spontaneous expression could feel safe to come out and play.

And play it did for the duration of the intensive!  I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. In the course of one three hour class I would go from feeling exhilarated to mortified to enthralled to foolish to free to stuck to triumphant to frustrated to up and down and all around and back through them all again.  It was thrilling to have that opportunity to be so present everyday; present to my own experiences on a moment-to-moment basis, and present to the privilege of witnessing the experiences of others.  All of us pushing boundaries together, all of us saying "yes! -- and!" to moving through our fears.  It was very bonding.  By the time we did our two performances we were truly a team in the best sense of the word, ready to jump in and support one another with no idea of where things might go. Truly improvising!  I am grateful to Matt and Freehold for the experience, and grateful to myself for having had the courage to do it.


Matt Smith will be teaching Improv at Freehold this coming fall.  For more information:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Freehold's Outstanding Acting Classes in Seattle are Now Open for Registration

Freehold Outstanding Fall Quarter Acting Classes in Seattle are Now Open for Registration  

Freehold has been offering outstanding acting classes in Seattle since the summer of 1991. All Freehold faculty are working professional actors, playwrights and directors whose credentials include recognized work on and off Broadway, in major motion pictures, on television, and in regional and international theatre venues. Freehold offers beginning acting classes for the absolute beginner as well as master classes for working professionals. Join us for Fall and "Explore the YOU You Don't Know!"
 To register for a class or to read more about the individual classes and their dates and times, click on the highlighted class below or call us at (206) 323-7499.
Join our email list by sending us your contact information via our contact page and you'll get early notification and discounts for registering early.

Here are our Fall Class offerings:

Step I: Intro to Acting with Meg McLynn, Section I
Step I: Intro to Acting with Meg McLynn, Section II
Step II: Acting with Text with Stefan Enriquez
Step III: Basic Scene Study with Dan Tierney
Directing and Acting for the Camera - Directors with John Jacobsen
Directing and Acting for the Camera - Actors with John Jacobsen
Auditioning with Darragh Kennan
Auditioning for the Camera with John Jacobsen
Improvisation with Matt Smith
Meisner: Foundation with Robin Lynn Smith
Playwriting I: Point of View with Rebecca Tourino
Public Speaking with Gin Hammond
Stage Combat: Rapier and Dagger with Geof Alm
Voice with Rhonda J. Soikowski
Voice Over with Susanna Burney

Check out some Freehold class testimonials:

Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio
2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200
(located in downtown Seattle on 2nd Avenue between Bell and Blanchard)
Seattle, WA  98121
(206) 323-7499

Monday, August 11, 2014

Freehold Theatre Acting Class Testimonials

Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio is a Center for the Practice of Theatre. Since 1991, Freehold Theatre has been offering exceptional acting classes in Seattle taught by outstanding faculty.  We offer beginning acting classes as well as advanced actor training as well as Improv, Playwriting, Directing, Public Speaking, Voice and Voice Over classes and much more.

Here are some testimonials from students who have taken classes at Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio:

"I’m so grateful to have found my way to Freehold. It’s been my home for acting training for over six years now. They have an affordable, well-rounded course selection, a progression for advanced learning, committed and highly credible instructors and a wonderful sense of community." -Ryan Sanders

"I've been taking classes at Freehold for almost two years now and it has been a great experience. All of my teachers have been superb, very talented and dedicated, and the range of classes is amazing as well, There are classes for the curious with no acting experience (me a the beginning) to classes for someone who is serious about acting and wants a more in depth study (me now!). I found my experience at Freehold to be truly life changing, no exaggeration at all." -Alissa Cattabriga

“Admittedly, I have a crush on Freehold... But it's been a year and 3 months now, so it may be turning into something more serious! :-) I went from never having studied, or done performance, to taking 4 classes (Steps I, II and III, Exploring Solo Performance) and presenting a solo piece in the 2014 Incubator Studio Series. Mind-boggling transformation possibilities. Serious, fun, professional, enthusiastic, respectful, responsive, passionate, and compassionate community of instructors, staff, and participating students. We are beyond lucky to have Freehold in Seattle!” -Laura Nelson

"All the instructors at Freehold Theater have a great philosophy on acting, and a consummate passion for teaching. They seemed to know how, in a positive manner, to get the best performance out of you. Of course it's different for everyone, and it’s not rocket science, but you will be challenged. Whether you’re pursuing theater or film, if you're ready to get to the next level-- the sky's the limit on what you can achieve. Freehold Theater gives a safe and comfortable place to grow – you’re given the tools to do your job as an actor, while challenging yourself creatively. Highly recommend." -Melissa P.

"Freehold, its instructors, and the classes offered are extraordinary. I have learned so much, and have had so much fun. As a then 56 year old lawyer in "real life," starting out in Step One three years ago, I had no idea what to expect. The teachers, the content, the students, and the challenges have been so very much worth the time, effort, and expense invested. Enough cannot be said about the truly exceptional and dedicated faculty. I've loved my experiences at Freehold and have had SO MUCH FUN. In short: my time at Freehold has been the best thing, besides skydiving (which I did because we were assigned in one class to live out a fantasy), I've done in ten years. Thank you Stefan, Annette, Darragh, and most especially, Robin."  -Jacquelyn Beatty

"Freehold is the best place for acting training in Seattle! In my humble opinion. The faculty is incredible. They are also working professionals and many teach at Cornish. Best of all, they are so invested in their students and Freehold's mission. There is a great variety of classes offered and tuition is affordable. My own experience with Freehold has been very significant. I took the acclaimed, life-changing Meisner progression. Not only did my classmates and I walk away as better, stronger actors, but also as enriched artists. (Any Meisner alum will most likely agree with that about themselves...). I've also taken Voice, Movement, Solo Performance, and Shakespeare. All were beneficial to me as an actor, and just totally fantastic. There is a strong sense of community at Freehold and that has been priceless." -Julie Hoang

"Freehold is a truly unique and special Theater Lab & Studio. They offer a truly sacred space where you can be totally free and uninhibited. All of the instructors work in the industry and offer exceptional training and insight into the world of acting. I have taken introductory acting courses Steps 1-3 as well as rehearsal and performance and most recently the 9 month Meisner intensive course. Here I have truly discovered myself and my passion for the art of acting as grown exponentially. The training not only goes above and beyond what you would expect but each instructor has such a passion for the art that just being in their presence infuses you with an even greater urge to pursue and truly grasp the art. Beyond the exceptional training, safe environment, and great class mates each instructor not only provides you with a knowledge of the art but also empowers you to believe in yourself and go out in the world and pursue your dream. What I am most grateful for from my experience at freehold has been this empowerment. A truly great teacher is one who makes you believe in yourself and empowers you with the confidence that you can go out in the world and be successful. They not only provide you with great training but fill you with such inspiration, passion, and drive that it is impossible to leave unmotivated or uninspired. Each of the insturctors are truly great in this way and I would recommend Freehold to anyone interested in pursuing the art of acting and discovering what it is to truly experience and discover the art of the human soul and bring it to life on stage." -Tyler Stout

"I took my first class at Freehold after I suddenly decided to audition for a play and failed at it miserably. The experience made me want to try again, but to prepare myself better. I've taken Steps I-III, Voice, Singing for Actors and Movement at Freehold. Singing for Actors with Lucia Neare and Movement with Paul Budraitis, in particular, made me realize that there are different ways of finding the character's voice, and maybe I can do this. They gave me the courage to continue to try. I've found all the instructors to be knowledgeable, giving, and supportive. I've begun to be able to quiet all the reasons of why I can't do this, and learn to let myself do things and fail at them and keep doing them and become better because of it, and I've found the support to let that happen at Freehold, both from the instructors and the fellow students. I love Freehold, studying here has changed my life for the better. Highly recommend. It's an excellent and affordable training program for acting. I've drunk the kool-aid, too." -Elizabeth Herlevi

"I have fallen in love with Freehold, it's spirit and mission. Currently (Spring, 2013) I am taking the Point of View Playwriting class from Rebecca. What an experience! Regardless of the types of writing a person does (I haven't considered myself to be a playwright) the skills and information presented, the assignments, the class discussions, everything so far has been useful in my typical writing as well as introducing me to theatrical literature. Mindful of the importance of feedback but aware, too, of the pitfalls of traditional "critiques", Rebecca has provided us with a model for discussion of classmates work that is helpful and positive. You should know, the expectations for this class are high, from one's own writing, to reading classmates' and preparing for discussion, to reading well-known playwrights. But hey, you want your money's worth, don't you? A really wonderful class." -Janelle Kingsley

"I've been taking classes at Freehold since 1998 and without a doubt Freehold is the best place in Seattle for actor training (besides the academic programs at UW and Cornish). They also offer play writing and directing classes. The instructors are working professionals - many of whom also teach at Cornish and/or UW. Highly recommended."
- Andrew Tribolini

"I started classes at the Freehold a little over three years ago. I've taken steps 1-3, acting for the camera, singing for actors, rehearsal and performance, auditioning and the 9 month Meisner intensive. Not only have I had the best acting experiences there (I've been to other theaters as well as the theater program at SOU), I've meet incredible actors in the area, and have had teachers who have pushed me above and beyond where I thought I could be. Each teacher works in the industry and their passion is astonishing. I've been recommending Freehold to every actor I've met who hasn't heard about the theatre, so I might as well recommend it online as well!" -Kay Whitney

"I've taken Acting Step I to III at Freehold Theatre. It has been an amazing experience. In those three courses they took me from zero to acting and rehearsing with text. I joined because I wanted to improve my English and I ended up falling in love with acting and performing. I look forward to explore the other many classes they offer. Especially Rehearsal and Performance and eventually Meisner: Foundation.
I fully recommend Freehold Theatre for acting training." -Bernardo Rivas

"I've taken many classes at Freehold, from beginning acting all the way through Meisner. All classes have been excellent with inspiring and thoughtful instructors. Freehold is an excellent place for someone who is exploring acting as sideline or as a start to a full time career." - Mark Chandler

"Freehold Theatre will take you on a fantastic journey of your life. Take a class, commit to the journey, challenge yourself, you will not be disappointed." -Bonnie Quino

"I've taken a LOT of classes at Freehold over the past nine years, and I have learned a lot, from acting to voice to playwriting. They have excellent classes taught by working professionals." -Louise Penberthy

"You will find no better place to unleash your inner storyteller.  Whether it be acting, directing, playwriting or anything in between - if you value the exploration of the human condition, you'll want to join this community and call it home.  The instructors here are seasoned professionals from high and lofty places, but they are also the most approachable, caring, and nurturing teachers you will ever encounter.  They are so attuned to you and your craft that, in one quarter, you will make leaps and bounds far beyond what you thought possible.  I could not have navigated the crazy maze of theatre and film craft without Rebecca, Sarah, John, Annette and Christine.  You all/were such outstanding roll models and leaders within this community.  Thank you!!" - Elizabeth Wu

"I am a huge fan of Freehold!  Having taken many classes there the past several years, I have found the faculty and teaching artists to be knowledgeable, supportive and passionate about providing each student with what he/she needs to grow in their craft.  In addition, it has been a joy to meet and become friends with so many talented actors, directors and writers in town.  Freehold is a safe environment to experiment and take risks, regardless of your experience level.  The Meisner Progression taught by Robin Lynn Smith was life-changing and gave me the tools to raise my acting game to a whole new level.  With an impressive roster of classes, Freehold has something for everybody.  I highly recommend taking a class. You will have fun, gain confidence, make new friends and get better at your craft!" - Henry Mark

"I've just finished the first year of introductory classes at Freehold and it has been an amazing experience.  I previously did not have any acting experience, but really the only thing needed was an openness to new experiences and the will power to work hard.  In return, you get to explore new (or hidden!) sides of  yourself, learn what it means to really live truthfully under imaginary circumstances and become part of the amazing Freehold community.  All the instructors I've had are true professionals who are able to rapidly target areas of your scene which need work and who hep you develop a full toolbox of techniques that you can take with you anywhere in life.  I am really excited to continue with the Meisner progression next year!" - Sam McKennoch

"I am deeply grateful for Freehold. Seattle is graced by this sacred place that fosters growth, discovery, and artist-realization.  I recently completed the Meisner Progression course taught by Artistic Director and master teacher, Robin Lynn Smith. I found the education to be integrative, progressive, and holistic, teaching us how to access and awaken our truth through effective techniques and philosophies from all over the world.  I gained awareness in body, mind, and spirit that has truly deepened my work and enriched my life. I have also taken John Jacobsen's Acting for the Camera.  John has a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is very generous in sharing it.  I took forward invaluable information from his class. The studio is a haven for exploring yourself, your humanity, and your craft, with the guidance of  passionate, inspiring teachers and the support of a wonderful community of fellow artists. I've also told people it isn't just a place for artists, but really any human being who wants to grow." -Alexandra Gobeille

"Freehold is an awesome unique haven of in-depth, honest, knees on the ground learning. Taught by passionate skilled professionals with an atmosphere of authentic communal and self-exploration and focused honing of craft. Beginning and advanced students of the beautiful art of theater mix and are equally treated to a high standard of excellence and challenge. As a very part-time actor who has a great love for all that acting vies and can take us to, I am so grateful to be able to explore and partake and learn. Every time I take a class, I see and experience the world on richer soil, and find myself much more exactly expressive and receptive in my daily life and on stage." -Elizabeth D.

"I can't recommend Freehold enough! This is such an amazing space for artists of all types.  If you have never acted, come here, if you have acted all of your life, come here as well. There is something for everyone. If you are a working artist, this is the place to keep up on your training. Some of the most amazing instructors teach here. From Robin Lynn Smith to John Jacobsen, from Meisner training to Acting for the Camera! They have it all. Movement, voice, combat, Shakespeare ... All of the instructors are also working actors/directors. It's not just a school, it's a refuge as well. My home away from home.  My inspirational space. My craft has gotten so much more developed here. You won't regret spending your time at Freehold!" - Kristina Petroysan

"I just finished Rebecca Tourino's Playwriting Class.  I was blown away.  This remarkable woman led us through the most vigorous, thoughtful, safe and yet demanding class I could have imagined.  And fun.  If it's scary and fun, something's going on.  Rebecca set the stage for open and daring work and gave me the most solid and useful tools for critiquing that I have ever had laid out before.  And then she started the challenges - setting, characters, scenes. She started a freight train in my mind that kept rolling for 8 weeks. I could scarcely think about anything else. My play was born out of three exercises and suddenly it was dropping in chunks to me from the heavens. Each exercise she gave seemed at first glance not to fit with my plans. Of course that was the point. My play buckled and twisted and balked but I followed the assignment and something so much more interesting, so much deeper was born. It was truly a magnificent process and I will forever thank Rebecca for giving me the gift of this creative experience." - Susan McNally

"Anyone I've ever spoken to that has come out of Freehold has described it as life-changing  - and that's exactly what it did for me. I'm a better actor and person because of the Meisner courses with Robin Lynn Smith - best money I ever spent (the rest of the staff is absolutely amazing as well). Also, I honestly believe it's gotten me acting jobs. I'd spend the rest of my life taking classes at Freehold, if I could! [Do I sound like I'm drinking the Kool-Aid? I don't care - it is THAT phenomenal]." -Anna Giles

"I can't provide sufficient accolades for Freehold. I have taken a wide gamut of classes ranging from introductory, to the Meisner Progression and ETI (professional conservatory training). Other classes include playwriting, voice over, improv, mask, new play lab, and many others both for fun and advancing my knowledge and skills. My experiences have been great to outstanding, and I am proud and incredibly honored to be affiliated with Freehold as a board member. Freehold is a community for everyone, at all levels -- not just students and actors. Additionally, Freehold is active in community outreach bringing theatrical productions and training/mentorship to underserved communities like prisons, the homeless, and at-risk students to name a few." - Scott Maddock

"In addition to having extremely qualified industry professional teaching courses, the Freehold atmosphere is low-stress and so supportive. You learn that it is great to experiment and try new things and think new thoughts and that it is OK to fail. I would recommend a class to anyone interested in self-expression through theater or film." - Krista Erickson

"Freehold changed my life. The classes are taught with a kind of gentle ferocity that helped me push through my perceived limitations. Not only did I gain new and important skills, both professionally and personally, but also a new community and sense of purpose. I cannot recommend Freehold highly enough." -Kymberlee della Luce

"Freehold is a container for creative transformation. It is a place where artists can discover their authentic expression. Freehold's leadership in empowering artists to find their voice is evidence from the work they do in community - making the world a better place - one artist at a time. Strongly recommend Freehold." - Monish Gangwani

To check out Freehold's Fall Quarter 2014 classes, go to:

Monday, July 21, 2014

Meisner Progression Interviews with Robin Lynn Smith - August 11, 2014

Meisner Progression Interviews with Robin Lynn Smith
Monday, August 11 5:30pm - 8:30pm
(Testimonials from past Meisner students can be found at the bottom of this post)

Interviews are available with Robin Lynn Smith for Freehold's 2014-2015 Meisner Progression, a 3-quarter, 9-month training program based on the work of Constantin Stanislavski, Joseph Chaikin, and Sanford Meisner. Classes are 5-hour sessions meeting two evenings per week over each 12-week quarter. Check out the great testimonials from previous Freehold Meisner alums at the bottom of this blog post. The Meisner Progression is taught by Freehold's Artistic Director and Freehold co-founder Robin Lynn Smith.

To schedule an interview or for more information, contact Freehold at (206) 323-7499 or email us at our contact page. Please bring a resume detailing your theatrical and performance experience and be prepared to speak about why you are interested in participating in the Meisner progression. Prerequisites: Freehold's Step III: Scene Study or equivalent training and performance experience. Interviews will be roughly 15 minutes each. Tuition per quarter: $960.  You can apply for our discounted rate of $795.

The Meisner class description for the 3-quarter progression is as follows:

Meisner: Foundation: Step I - Fall Quarter (Mid-September through mid-December)
Tuesdays and Sundays, 5:30 - 10:30 pm

Through cumulative exercises based on the work of Sanford Meisner, the actor learns to be habitually available to and affected by life that is actually happening in the moment, and to fully release instinctive,  uninhibited responses. The class culminates in a work with text.

Meisner: Instrument: Step II - Winter Quarter (Dates to be confirmed)
Tuesdays and Sundays, 5:30 - 10:30 pm

Students continue the exercises from Foundation, supplementing them with work in personalization, preparation, and other tools in order to access a meaningful inner life and "make real" the text and imaginary circumstances.

Meisner: Text: Step III - Spring Quarter (Dates to be confirmed)
Tuesdays and Sundays, 5:30 - 10:30 pm

Applying the work from Foundation and Instrument to scenes, students focus on detailed, in-depth text and character work -- analysis, subtext, particularization, and moment-to-moment process work on scenes.

Robin Lynn Smith is a Founding Partner and Artistic Director for Freehold Studio/Theatre Lab in Seattle. She has worked for the past thirty-five years acting, directing and teaching in Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and New York where she directed Curse of the Starving Class Off-Broadway at the Promenade Theatre.  She has directed in Regional Theatres and is presently directing Freehold’s  Engaged Theatre Program which tours Shakespeare productions to prisons, projects, and tent cities, for which she has directed Othello, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Cymbeline, A Winter's TaleThe Tempest, and The Merchant of Venice.  At Freehold she directed the award-winning production of Chekhov’s The SeagullThree SistersAn Altered Life, and Veronika Falling.   She was an Artist in Residence at the Seattle Repertory Theatre with Dan Sullivan, and directed several productions including Marvin's RoomFrankie and Jonnie in the Claire de LuneCity of Gold, and the developmental workshop of Elizabeth Heffon’s New Patagonia.  She has also directed in Seattle at ACT, On The Boards, The Empty Space, New City Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, and Intiman where she was an Affiliate Artist with Bartlett Sher.  She has an MFA from NYU TSOA, and she is currently on the faculty of Cornish College of the Arts. She is featured in ACTING TEACHERS OF AMERICA, and she is a member of SDC and a finalist for SDCF’s inaugural Zelda Fichandler Award. She is the 2008 recipient of the The Gregory A. Falls Sustained Achievement Award.

Testimonials from Freehold Meisner Alums

"Meisner for me was really transformational and not just for the acting but really just for the rest of my everyday life. Meisner really strives you to live in the moment and to react to things as if it is the first time, being genuine and authentic. I do some commercial work on the side and I’ve been told that there is a new quality to my acting and that is 100% related to the work from the class. There is another piece that I got out of Meisner which was unexpected which is that it actually changed the quality of my day to day life … it allowed me to be more present in my life … it makes life much more interesting." - E.J. Gong

"It was through working with Robin that I acquired one of the most important things any actor can get - an actual process on how to bring a role alive. While I've taken other classes from some extremely talented instructors that included some discussion of methods for examining text, the bulk of what I typically got was notes by the instructor as though they were directing me in a play. That is very valuable stuff, but it doesn't really give you much of a process for starting work on a role on your own, nor do you get much of a glimpse of the variety of techniques that have come to light in the theatrical world. Robin gave us tools we could use to bring the character to life in ways that went beyond what was on the printed page, and thereby make those scripted words come even more alive. And I think a huge part of that came from her making us push the limits of our imaginations for nine months. To sum up, if you're not sure whether taking the Meisner progression at Freehold is worth your time, let me help you decide: YES! Absolutely! Be grateful that the gods have aligned the planets so that you have this opportunity and grab it!" - Bob Rousseau

"What I have seen, and experienced in this class is not just ‘acting.’ It is living. It is so helpful to watch visceral reactions in my classmates as a mark of real behavior for our acting. I’ve experienced impulses and emotions that are no different from the ones I have in real life. If my partner was provoking me, insulting me, attacking me, my spontaneous responses of frustration, pain, fear … were real!" - Alexandra Gobeille

"I took the acclaimed, life-changing Meisner progression. Not only did my classmates and I walk away as better, stronger actors, but also as enriched artists. (Any Meisner alum will most likely agree with that about themselves...)." - Julie Hoang 

"The Meisner Progression taught by Robin Lynn Smith was life-changing and gave me the tools to raise my acting game to a whole new level."  – Henry Mark

"I'm a better actor and person because of the Meisner courses with Robin Lynn Smith - best money I ever spent.  Also, I honestly believe it's gotten me acting jobs." - Anna Giles

Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio
2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98121
(206) 323-7499

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Henry IV Journey by Grace Carmack

Grace Carmack is one of our cast members performing in Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's Henry IV which is running July 14 - July 20 at the University of Washington Penthouse Theatre, Pay What You Can. To reserve a ticket, go here.
Read all about Grace's second year participating in our Engaged Theatre Summer Tour.


We made it, folks! We have completed the traveling portion of this Henry IV tour and are now into our run at the University of Washington Penthouse Theatre. Hooray!

This is my second year working with Freehold's Engaged Theatre Program, having had the pleasure of working on the workshop of Henry IV last summer. Though the show, the company, and I have changed slightly, the experience remains challenging and astonishing. At this point in the process, I find myself experiencing a lot of different things: relief, joy, inspiration, sadness, frustration, contentment … the list goes on.

Taking this material to some of these places, such as Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) and the Monroe Correctional Complex, has certain stresses that come with it. Going through security and getting 20-25 people through sally ports is the first part of that challenge. Unloading the truck and building the set in the heat and sun is a massive task. Fueling up with a few granola bars over a ten hour period is also an interesting reality of this process. What makes these steps doable, even enjoyable, is that we are all doing it out of love, respect and we have come to share something incredibly valuable to us.

When we enter into these spaces, we are entering someone's home. We are guests in their space. There are things that go on in the prisons that happen regardless of who is there, so there are ”Movements” that may happen in the middle of the show (movements are when the inmates are able to move from one part of the prison to the other for various activities). In some cases there are dogs or bells or intercoms. There is a lot of care that has gone into our set-up process so that we don't get in the way of these things because those things belong to those spaces. We do not. 

So! All of this is in preparation for our audiences. And it is all so very worth it.

These audiences respond unabashedly. It is such an honest experience. There is no hesitation. If something alarms them, amuses them, entertains them, or bores them, they share that with you. And those that are watching, that are drawn in, notice everything. An offender at Monroe approached me and said, "I saw you almost fall over there. You broke character for a second. I saw that." He wasn't being cruel. He was not criticizing me. He was telling me about a moment that he shared with me and I was so elated to have been able to have that small moment. 

There are also equally valuable lessons and experiences from those who are not as interested. It reminds me to realign my focus. There is no off-stage in these environments. We are all in view at all times. What support can I offer those onstage? When I am onstage, how do I make my intentions clear and how do I support this story? How can I make room for the uncomfortable laughter coming from the front row? Basically, all of these questions lead to one big question, which is, how can I be the best Grace Carmack that I can be right now?

Sometimes audience members will leave. Maybe they're uninterested. Perhaps they're not in a place where they can feel safe with whatever is onstage. Or maybe they had something else they wanted/needed to do at that time. But they came. I'm not entirely sure what sort of process goes on at the individual facilities to reserve space at these events, but I do know that it is not always simple. And that these people were willing to go to lengths to be there with us, if even for a little while. 

No matter what happens, each time I've been able to perform in these places, I have felt myself become more sensitized. These performances are sacred to me. They are outside of the ordinary and they demand focus, respect, a firm discipline and a soft heart. I am reminded of what the theater is capable of doing, and of what people are capable of doing, if given the right opportunity. I am so humbled by these populations and by how willing they are to share honestly and openly.

I am so looking forward to going back to Monroe on the 23rd and WCCW on the 27th for the workshops with Daemond Arrindell.


Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of "The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's Henry IV,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

10 Responses to the Personal Clown Question: Why for Actors? By George Lewis

First off, let me be clear about a couple of things. The course is called Personal Clown because that is the name given to this approach by its originator, Jacques LeCoq, in Paris. It came from research he led with a group of his students into the question, "what makes funny?" In this research they used the red nose as a vehicle for their experiments.

And: this is LeCoq's approach but it is also very much oriented for actors. There may be professional aspiring clowns or mimes or dancers or circus artists in the class, but the focus is on acquiring tools you can use as an actor as well as entering fully and spontaneously into a new sense of the present - what I call "exploding the moment." So: no balloon animals, no crowding into a Volkswagon, no birthday parties.

It is serious work, and there is a real discipline to it and it is not easy. It requires: the willingness to be publicly vulnerable, raw, and uncomfortable, to live in a state of not knowing what to do next: the availability to discover what presents itself, and to jump into whatever that is to see where it will lead you. All in front of an audience. All shared with the public. This approach is not gradual: it occurs with a crash.

The feedback I have received from students over the years say that it has taken then into a different way of experiencing their lives and their theatrical work.

Here are some of the specific skills/results this work can bring:

1. Presentational skills: we as student/actors are accustomed to working intimately with our partners which can often be at the expense of the audiences' participation. As actors, we must not only be seen and heard, but also what happens within us and between us must be visible and audible to the audience. This applies not only to physicalization/vocalization of feelings but also to the clarity of gestures and physical actions. In his exaggerated world, the clown lives with and is in constant communication with the audience.

2. The clown lives in a perpetual state of discovery. As actors we so easily pass over moments and events, taking them for granted, not seeing the myriad possibilities they offer us. Working in clown heightens this awareness.

3. So much of the study of clown is based on an "outside in" approach to acting, as opposed to the more "inside out" or psychological Stanislavski approach. It deals with emotional truth in a very different way, but absolutely requires that the clown be truthful: we slap on a physical fact and then must fill it from the inside. As actors we need a vast "toolbox" of ways to crack open a character, a circumstance, a moment. All that concerns us is what works for us; there is no "method" - there is only our own "method".

4. It is very easy to live - and to act - in the extreme, to leap from extreme to extreme. The study of clown can teach us how to 'grow' a reaction, to modulate our emotional expressions, and thus to vary our performance.

5. The clown has his/her own logic that makes perfect sense to them but that may defy the audiences' sense of reasonable. As actors, we live in problems - the obstacle, the struggle. Part of our challenge is to find what Richard Brestov called "the uncommon response to the everyday circumstance." We cannot afford to be ordinary.

6. The clown plays with everything and everyone he/she encounters. Everything has the potential to be a 'partner'- a stick, the floor, a feather, another character. As actors, we need to learn that playfulness, whether we be acting in Othello or in The Odd Couple. We say that we 'play' an action, but so often we 'do' it or force it to occur without that underlying sense of freeness. There can be and needs to be a profound sense of fun in everything that we do onstage.

7. The clown is born in the moment of failure. Then he/she expands that moment and it takes him/her on a ride- he/she surfs it from moment to moment. With practice, the piece becomes one long ride, one extended moment. As every actor knows, playing comedy is hell: much easier to play is the dramatic. The study of clown delves into a sense of comedy that is rooted in its opposite, that transcends the 'clever' and descends into the belly where from laughter emerges as a primal response.

8. There is a dynamic to space, to the expansion or contraction of the distance between things and people. As such the touch can be seen as the ultimate proximity. If we are conscious of space in this way, we can play with it: clown can teach us that.

9. There is a heightened energy level or 'presence' to everything the clown documents. The clown has an extraordinary focus. We need these qualities.

10. In the study of personal clown we create for ourselves individually our own clown character. This character-based on our own traits - is both distinct and extreme in his/her physical and vocal comportment: it is not naturalistic though it is, as mentioned earlier, grounded in truth. In this exploration of character, we learn valuable tools about creating and living in characters that are physically and vocally different than we are in our everyday lives.

And there is more, so much more. Clown is role - taught as an important part of the curriculum at the major "Masters in Acting" theatre programs, both here and abroad. The study of clown brings us to the precipice of the unknown and then leaps off into it. For us as actors it teaches us to live more fully and with greater clarity in everything we do on stage.
George Lewis will be teaching Personal Clown and Advanced Clown at Freehold this summer.  For more information: 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Story Behind the Poster: Interview with Annya Uslontseva

We had a chance to sit down with graphic designer Annya Uslontseva who has been designing the posters for Freehold’s Engaged Theatre Tours since 2005. Read a little bit about the story behind the posters including Freehold’s “The Flower of England’s Face: William Shakespeare’s Henry IV” poster …

When you create the posters for Freehold’s Engaged Theatre Tours you actually paint the image and then photograph it. Can you talk about the process of creating the posters?

I came into the design from a painter’s background so it might just have been my way of processing information. When I first talked to Robin Lynn Smith (Freehold’s Artistic Director), I think they had an illustration that they had on the computer and at the time I was having a hard time working off that illustration so I thought “Well, I’ll just try to paint it.” So it was my trying to find another way to illustrate since I couldn’t do what the designer was doing. Since then we have painted every single poster.

Can you talk a little about your painting background?

I was always interested in painting ever since I was a kid. I grew up in the eastern part of Russia.  My mom was very creative and she would draw, play piano and she always encouraged us to try creative things. So I grew up learning to play the piano, painting and writing poetry.  I pretty much explored pretty much every way of expressing myself. I came from Russia to Seattle at 17 years old with my husband. I finished high school that May, got married in August and arrived in Seattle in September. It was strange for me because in Russia I was leaning more toward writing, but once we ended up in Seattle I just kind of lost my language. I didn’t know English well enough and I could feel my Russian slipping away.  So I was somehow, perhaps accidentally, turning to a visual language because I still wanted to communicate.  It was basically the only language from my childhood that hadn’t changed.  I could still say what I wanted to say and paint what I wanted to paint and be understood. This was why I ended up going into design. It was me looking for a voice.

For the first couple of years, I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do with work as I was learning English which it made it hard to go to school.  My husband is a software engineer and one day he saw me painting and said “Well maybe you should try design”. It made sense to me.  I went to design school and I loved it. It was that voice I found, a way of talking to people.  It was a way to speak and reach out.  Early on I realized I wanted part of my work to be with nonprofits.  I felt like that was something I had to do, a way to help and give back. I worked for a few corporate businesses early on which helped me to understand the underlying processes related to the design work. Over time I started freelancing more and more.  

We often hear from our community how much they love our Engaged Theatre posters. Can you talk a little bit more about the process of creating the Engaged Theatre posters?

Even though I don’t paint as much for myself anymore, it’s always interesting to work with Robin because she brings things out of me that I don’t think anyone else would be able to.   She really makes me think and she always has been supportive of what I do.  I think it’s interesting how no other illustration works in quite the same way compared to how we work doing the painting. For example, I do very little retouches.  We come up with an idea and we go from there.  It’s very hard for me to repaint what has already been repainted.  There is a lot of trust between us and Robin really makes me think.  I have learned to trust myself. Whenever I start working with Robin I’m terrified I won’t be able to come up with anything but then I’ll just sit there and let it wash over me and wash away.  After that I’ll find myself drawing and thinking.  I’ll do word associations, ask myself what colors I see, what images come up. I might also do a word map where Robin will give me a word and I’ll expand the words asking myself “what is the meaning of this and what would be the image for that word”.

I have to first get an idea of what I’m looking for. For example, I might think of the word “despair” and go online and see what associations/images are associated with that word. Part of it is that since English is my second language, I have to do this to be sure that I’m getting the meaning right. I notice that if I go straight to the web without doing my word associations first and figuring out what I’m looking for, I end up straying and losing direction. I notice in those cases the image won’t be as powerful because it won’t have a strong meaning behind it.  However if I put my work in first, then it goes faster because I know what I’m looking for and it makes sense.

You’ve done a number of images in the past for the Engaged Theatre posters.  Were there certain images that stand out for you?

The Merchant of Venice might be one of my favorites because we basically focused on creating an illustration.  I was taking a class on typography at the time and we created an illustration from just the letters.  It was satisfying to figure that out – that it could be satisfying just working with no other elements other than letters and making it into a powerful image.  

With each next poster I feel freer and freer in the work.  This Henry IV poster image might be the first time we actually had a figure because usually our figures are more abstract.  So I feel like I’m getting more comfortable that it will work out. I am learning to trust that all I have to do is to keep working on it and eventually something will happen, it will click and there it will be. It’s always interesting to me how the image finishes off – it feels a little other worldly.  You don’t really know where it is going and the more I try to control it, the worse it looks.  The more I let go and move the paint around it seems to come together.  Most of the paintings I paint I end up painting overnight. I might do a first layer and then the composition at night and then add more to it in the morning and finish it off by photographing it.  

You said you’re not really painting apart from doing the posters? Does it inspire your other creative work?

In my other creative work, I went into the 3 dimensional.  My gardening is part of my art but so is my clay work.  I am such a practical person so I like working with clay because I make things that I can use.  I stopped painting for myself partly because I had no where else to put them. Also, I was too attached to them to give them away. I enjoy clay – it doesn’t take up as much space – I can use it and can give it to others.  There is also something about taking a piece of clay I made and go into a garden I grew and collect food and feed it to my child, I feel so connected.  I think that’s what we want when we look into the world … we want to see ourselves and what we love.  I look into my world and what I love and what I do is everywhere.

Check out more about Annya at her website: AUA Design
We hope to see you at The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's HENRY IV is running July 12 - 20 (no performance July 15th) at University of Washington's Penthouse Theatre. Tickets are Pay What You Can.  For more information and to reserve your ticket:

Other past Freehold Engaged Theatre posters designed and painted by Annya Uslontseva: