Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Responding to a Calling by Joel Benjamin

When I was in college pursuing a degree in Theatre one of my professors told us a story that stuck with me all these years. It was a story about one of the most significant events in all of theatre history; and yet it gets very little attention in most theatre history books and classes. It was the moment that Thespis, a common place member of the then common place Greek Chorus, committed a truly revolutionary act; he stepped from the Chorus and spoke his own words.

Think about this, here’s a story about an ordinary man, who one moment is just another voice among many, playing out a traditional spectacle of which there was no thought of reinterpreting, and then in the next moment he does something that will forever change the evolution of western theatre! That, in and of itself was pretty amazing. But what really fascinated me about the story, and continues to do so to this day, is not only what Thespis did, but the question his bold act raises: why did he do it?

Now, there’s no way of knowing for sure why he did what he did. He probably wasn’t motivated by the desire for fame. Back then fame didn’t really exist unless you were an emperor, a king, or Socrates. He probably wasn’t acting in response to urgings from his fellow chorus members. Can you imagine? “Psssst. Hey Thez, I dare you to do something that no one has every done before and will probably result in some spectacularly violent and very public demise for you. What do you say, buddy?”

To me, the only thing that explains Thespis’ revolutionary act was simply this: he couldn’t stop himself. He was compelled by something deep within, as all great artists are, to step into the unknown and, for that time in history, to take the biggest risk an actor had ever taken! Thez was moved by something much more powerful than himself.

I mean, when listening to Mozart or Beethoven, or viewing paintings or sculptures of Michelangelo, or reading the words of Shakespeare or Thoreau, who could deny that the artists who created these works were directly inspired by an energy that no one can see except in the things and moments that are manifested from it?

The root of the word “inspire” is “in spirit”. Our ancient friend, Thespis was truly inspired to do what he did. And on that long ago day, when a single person responded to a calling that could have only come from the center of his heart, the very seat of our soul, he not only stepped out of the Chorus, he transcended them. And rightly so. Because why should inspiration and spiritual evolution only be the relegated domain of musicians, painters, and poets? The actor too has the right, and the means, and the need to enter through those mysterious gates to our soul, to struggle to awaken, and to share, through each performance, the brilliance of what is discovered with us all.

Joel Benjamin will be teaching Yoga for Actors at Freehold, Joel also teaches in Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) Program. He is very excited to be bringing yoga to Freehold. He has been practicing yoga since 1998, and has been teaching since 2004. Joel believes that when the ancient yogis created what we refer to today as yoga, it was never their intention to design a series of exercises to develop "yoga butt," (even though this is how many in the West have come to view this 5,000 year old art form.) Yoga is a system of breathwork, mindfulness, and physical postures all designed to improve the quality of our lives by bringing us into the present moment and opening our hearts. At its core, Joel believes that the true intention of yoga and the tools necessary for good acting are the same: embodied presence and emotional responsiveness. Joel has a BFA from Syracuse University in Theatre, and is certified to teach yoga from Pacific Yoga, and master teacher Max Strom. He is also a member of the Yoga Alliance. Joel owns Yoga Shack, a private yoga school in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

Photos of Freehold's ETI students in their Yoga training with Joel Benjamin, Fall 2010.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Truth, Beauty and Color ... with a dab of career counseling by Jesse Putnam, this month's gallery artist at Freehold

Lately I've been wondering if I made the right choices in deciding the ever-obstinate 'what do you want to be when you grow up' question. My first choice (center-fielder for the Red Sox) didn't catch on with the scouts. My NASA space explorer quest ended in expulsion from flight school (apparently cocaine and Cessna single engines don't mix). And my Senatorial ambitions ran into the ideological, puritanical buzz-saw that kills most lefties (read: I'm a socialist with an appetite for Vegas). I'm wondering if maybe I shouldn't have given up on growing up altogether and stuck with... I don't know... finger paints? After all, I do like color. No telling where that could have led.

In all seriousness, I have, in my somewhat delinquent adulthood, found more than a mere career in the arts: I've found a true love. A love for the conceptual, the colorful, the wry, the rich, the pure, the ruined, the divine (and on and on). And in no art-form I've explored have I found more luxury than in painting. I first discovered a special attraction to painting primarily in my study of the 20th century painters: Kandinsky, Klee, Newman, Mondrian, among others. Though I've yet to pursue the painter's craft with the dedication required to live the art, I have enjoyed peering into what lies underneath it. Kandinsky, for instance, was driven by an intense philosophical and spiritual urging – what he called the “inner necessity." His paintings were vehicles for his profound spiritual beliefs. Newman thought that painting was as much about metaphysics as physics (and smartly tore at critics who didn't appreciate his pursuit of both).

And Mondrian, perhaps my favorite painter, (photo left of Mondrian's Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow) explored the weights and balances of life through color and form – his canvasses became as much a stage for pure color as the black box is for the performer. For me, these painters pursued what all artists are bound to: Truth, Beauty, Spirit, Meaning. It may seem silly to place an image of a Mondrian painting next to one of the photographs I have displayed in the space Freehold provides to local artists. It is not to compare my work to his. It is to celebrate the questions and discoveries his art has helped me to enjoy. It was his exploration of color and form that spoke to my inner truth in a way that compelled me to explore my own ways of expressing that truth. Through his art he tapped me on the soul, triggered that inner necessity Kandinsky spoke of, and forced me to investigate what it was that was generated within. In the case of these photographs (hung in the Freehold space), that became an exploration of the delightful and curious relationship color and form have to beauty; how elements of matter on a canvass (or any surface) can, if specifically arranged, tickle the interior in a way that nothing else does – save, perhaps, a corresponding sound (nod to Kandinsky).

In the end, I'm OK with my “chosen” career. Being an artist surely isn't about money. Or fame. Or even happiness. But it is, for me, the only career path for those who want to explore the unseen and discover truths that are buried in the deepest parts of each and every living thing. Unless, of course, NASA opens up Mars.

Jesse is currently a student in Freehold's Ensemble Training Program.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Story of My Work by Taryn Collis

“What do you do?”
“I teach theater at the women’s prison.”
“Oh. That must be… interesting.”

When you tell people you volunteer at a prison, they instantly know what you do. Or, they know what they think you do. Last year was my first year volunteering at WCCW, and I too thought I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

Since graduating from college I’ve spent the majority of my artistic life making art with people who didn’t spend outrageous amounts of money on an arts education, didn’t have any semblance of ‘advanced training,’ or who straight up thought theater was for rich white people wearing pearls. I’ve sung and danced with underprivileged teens, I’ve paraded through the streets with farmers and homeless populations, I’ve even moved to the West Bank of Palestine to make puppets with refugee children.
“Prison?” I thought. “I got this.”

I love being proved wrong.

My favorite thing about working with the women at WCCW is their ability to surprise me each and every week. More so than most ‘trained artists,’ they are willing to jump right in and risk and try new things and be messy. They are brave, they are generous, and I don’t think they have any idea that they are some of the most talented artists I have ever had the pleasure of working with. It’s easy to title someone as a “prisoner,” an “offender,” a “criminal” and think you know everything about them. But when you walk into a room full of “women” and give them the space and the freedom to tell their stories, you never know what might come up. You look around the room at a sea of grey sweatpants; everyone equal, everyone the same. But within a few hours you begin to notice that, in fact, this one is a poet, and this one a master at improv. This one can tug your heart strings, and this one can make you laugh till you cry. Within moments everything you knew flies right out the window and over the sparkling barbed wire fence.

When I talk someone through a typical Sunday afternoon out at WCCW they usually prep themselves for a story filled with crying women lamenting over their crimes and the ordeals of incarceration. It’s not that those things don’t happen, it’s just that within the same three hours you’ll also see a room full of grown women throwing a “ball” of gibberish at each other, transforming into a dog or an elf or a surfer, or harmonizing in a haunting wordless song. As we kick off the residency this week, my only goal is to remain ever present and open. We head in with a book full of exercises and writing prompts, but there’s no telling what they’ll bring to the table each week. More so than getting up in front of the women to teach, we’re there to listen. Each and every one of these women has been through things I can’t even imagine, and I feel blessed that they’re willing to share even some part of themselves with me and with us.

We all have stories. We’re just waiting around for someone to listen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Interview with Sharon Williams, Engaged Theatre's Teaching Artist

Robin Lynn Smith, the Artistic Director at Freehold, created an extraordinary program in 2003. The Engaged Theatre program tours theatrical performances and workshops to culturally under-served populations. Additionally, Freehold and its teaching artists facilitate an annual residency at three separate Washington Corrections facilities, in which we enable the participants to write, direct, rehearse, and perform their own show in a five-month period. Residencies guide participants through the creation of an original performance based on an exploration of the archetypal hero’s journey. Participants invite their peers, friends and family to watch their performance at the culmination of the residency.

What inspired you to be part of the Engaged Theatre's WCCW Residency Program?

The first inspiration was the opportunity to work with Robin Lynn Smith, again. We worked together years ago and I love her spirit. She’s passionate, genuine, humble, and a wonderful artist, who loves to teach and I admire her for that.

In addition to working with a great artist, I accepted the challenge to be a part of this residency, because I believe that no matter what, everyone has a voice. The one thing no one can take away from you is your voice no matter what your circumstances are. Over the past couple of years the work I’ve created for the Mahogany Project has been to give a voice to the voiceless. I created projects that spoke to the downward spiral of the state of African American men and that addressed the effects of homelessness in our community. Being a part of the WCCW residency was the perfect opportunity to continue doing the type of work that will hopefully allow at least one person a chance to see the power they have in using their voice to tell a story. Working on the WCCW residency is an opportunity for me to continue trying to be more than just an artist who entertainers but hopefully be an artist that can help inspire people to share stories that will in turn help society as a whole become a better place. One voice at a time...

I understand this is your first year volunteering as part of WCCW's residency program. What are you most looking forward to as you head into your first rehearsal this Sunday?

We’ve been trying to prepare ourselves for this moment for the past couple of months, and I’m eager to see how our discussions and prep-work will translate in working with the women. The process of creating a new piece of work can be so unpredictable; therefore, I know no matter how much we thought we prepared, the truth is, it’s going to take on a life of its own and that’s the beautiful part about being on this journey. This Sunday, I’m looking forward to meeting the women and beginning a journey that I know will change my life forever.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Step II: Work Ethic, Respect, Passion By Christina Bauer

I took the first acting class of my life this summer, Step I: Intro to Acting at Freehold Theatre. I had so much fun that I started Step II: Acting with Text this fall. I was ready to take those basic skills to the next level and work on a scene. What I hadn't prepared for was the teacher, Stefan Enriquez. From day one, Stefan’s work ethic, respect and passion for acting were infectious.

One of the first and fundamental skills I learned was the importance of work ethic. Being on time for class was not an option; it was a commitment I made. Once we were assigned our scenes, I read the full text of my play several times. In class we discussed our characters and scenes in detail. Through various reading assignments, we explored our character’s action, what our character wanted and the given circumstances of the scene. A crucial element was rehearsal with my scene partner outside of class. This preparation allowed me to benefit fully from the feedback of the instructor during class.

Another important skill I learned was about respect. Perhaps because some actors are so good at what they do, it’s easy to sometimes forget that acting is a craft. I have learned to respect this craft on a deeper level though analyzing the text and characters of scenes, then attempting to bring them to life. And I don’t just learn from doing, I learn from watching other students in their scenes. This class is all about creating a safe environment for actors to express themselves. I watch each scene with the same dedication that I give my own. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that respect for my partner is crucial. The trust that I give to that person, and receive, is what allows me to explore my character and the scene to the fullest extent.

My favorite experience this fall has been being able to share Stefan’s passion for acting. One of the things I craved most when signing up for this class was detailed feedback. I love that Stefan will literally jump into a scene when he needs to. He will question me about my decisions - my movement, my words, my stakes in the situation. All of this information helps me explore the character's universe in a whole new way.

My partner and I were lucky enough to be assigned a scene from an Arthur Miller play, A View From The Bridge. After working on our scene for a while, I understood that my character went from being cordial to extremely angry. Stefan helped me explore in detail the given circumstances of the scene, and how incredibly high the stakes were for my character to fully express her frustration and anger. Without a doubt, this made that moment, and consequently the scene, much stronger.

The experience has completely inspired me and I look forward to more adventures in Step III: Scene Study Text this winter.

Christine Marie Brown will be teaching Step II: Acting with Text this coming Summer Quarter, 2014 at Freehold. More info at

Freehold's Student and Alum Upcoming Shows

Elizabeth Deutsch and several other Freehold alums including Lori Stein, Cris Berns, Amber Cutlip, Elizabeth Deutsch, Lisa Every, Toan Le, Sachie Mikawa, Carter Rodriquez, Sally Rose, Sara Rucker Thiessen, Ryan Sanders, Tom Spangenberg along with Ted Dowling are performing in The Suicide as part of BASH Theatre's production which runs from December 3 through December 19th. The play is directed by George Lewis. For tickets:

Eleanor Moseley, will be in Women Seeking ....a theatre company's The Torch-Bearers by George Kelly along with Larry Albert*, Kayti Barnett, Laurie Bialik, Susan Connors, Brandon Felker, Laura Hanson, Eric Helland, Rachel Jackson, Rebecca Olson, Richard Sloniker, Kate Szyperki at Richard Hugo House. It will run from December 3 - 18. For tickets:

Jenny Schmidt will be performing in Wing-It Productions' of About Rudolph: The Next Verse - An Untold Reindeer Tale running December 2 - 23rd. Purchase tickets here.

Xan Scott will be performing in Ear to the Ground Theatre's Not All Clowns are Bozos at Theatre Off Jackson from January 13-15. For Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets.

Andy Tribolini has a part in a movie called Cathechism Cataclysm that will be showing in the midnight program at Sundance in January.

My Memories of Freehold: Fully Committing to the Task by David Friedt

I remember the first evening of my first Freehold class; “Introduction to Acting I”, George Lewis was the instructor. Twelve of us sat in a circle and stated our reasons for taking this class. I was amazed that each of us gave a similar response. We wanted to explore this marvelous craft, acting, with which each of us had a life long connection.

Remembering the classes I have taken and the friends I have made at Freehold, gives me pause. To say that I have taken wonderful classes would short change the benefits I have reaped. It is the life affirming, life changing experience that I treasure. It is in knowing that when I commit fully to the character, that is the best I can offer, and that when that character is truthful, the audience will get it, and make a connection. As that first class ended, George gave us quote from the philosopher Goethe. To paraphrase, “When one commits fully to the task, fate steps in and opens doors that were never dreamed in ways that were never imagined”. Those words have influenced and inspired my work at Freehold and my life in profound ways.

Freehold challenged me to discover new personal depth and talents. These moments of discovery are as fresh in my mind as the day they happened. George Lewis in the “Personal Clown”, after four weeks of class, what he was prompting for suddenly hit me. He wanted total commitment from the clown, and for the clown to trust that his performance would be successful. I continued to take classes at Freehold. Again and again, throughout the Meisner Progression and in the Ensemble Training Intensive, the same consistent message, if you commit it works!

I have been a student and on the Board of Directors of Freehold for nine years. I expect to be here many years from now. Working together, taking classes, volunteering, contributing, we can all be part of the wonderful place that is Freehold. I am committed to the success of Freehold, and I know each of us know how to “commit fully as we make that entrance on stage”. Oh yes, “break a leg”.

David has been a student at Freehold since 2001 and a member of the Board of Directors since 2006. He first discovered acting in High School and College, and after a career as a commercial pilot, he returned to acting through his work at Freehold.
Top Photo: David Friedt
Middle Photo: Personal Clown Class

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Few Thoughts About Suzuki Movement Training by Shanga Parker

I first encountered this some time ago—over 20 years. The initial thought was of a physical method that I could attack fully. Acting is so subjective and requires so much inside insight that I felt there was nothing to push up against. Finally I saw something I could work hard at, improve in objective ways, and possibly (how exactly unknown to me at the time) become a better actor.

I did get better at the form. The improvement felt good. I was truly heading somewhere until I heard that the point of the training was the “inner sensibility”. This, it was explained to us, was the ability to focus over a long period of time—that one can exercise one’s will as one does a muscle—and that increased concentration was a primary emotion that an actor should feel.

In one moment, I was back in the land of internal thinking. But, this time it was different. The feedback of a lack of concentration, a lag in focus and a weak will was immediate and palpable. I fell over if my mind wandered and I got tired if my thoughts wavered. All of what I wanted in actor-objectivity was present. I knew if I was wrong.

It also became clear to me that this type of study is life long. I could do the form well and still, until my mind was trained, not be doing Suzuki well.
This is much like work on stage. It can look good, feel fine while doing it, and still not be moving to the audience. Or, one moment might be terrific followed by a weaker moment.

Suzuki works on making all of the moments clear, strong, and consistent.

The physical work is great. You will have stamina in Act V of Hamlet. More important than that, your mind will be clear and your intentions strong.

This training also translates to work on camera. The ability to deliver an alive and vibrant performance while working in a smaller size is possible with Suzuki training. Being able to hit your mark without looking down is the direct result of knowing exactly where your feet are. This is worked extensively in Suzuki training.

One experience I had in which this work helped save (perhaps) another person's life. I was in a play that had a big combat scene. Most of the actors were fine, but one actor had a hard time being where he was supposed to be. During one performance, I went to “hit” my next victim and the wayward actor had stepped in my path. My arm was coming down when I realized the wrong person was going to be struck. In a moment, my body remembered how to drop my center, sink into the floor and stop in an instant. I did this, arrested my attack mode, and was able to spare this actor a bloody nose/head/eye.

Everyone experiences something slightly different in pursuing this work. My experiences are laid out above.

Come try it out and add your own stories…

Shanga Parker will be teaching a Suzuki Workshop beginning January 13 at Freehold. More information on class dates and times: Suzuki Workshop. Shanga is an Associate Professor in the School of Drama at the University of Washington and has worked professionally in theatre, television and film. He performed GRAVITY at the Connelly Theatre in New York. He has been seen at Regional Theatres: A Contemporary Theatre in WINE IN THE WILDERNESS, Intiman Theatre in HOMEBODY, KABUL and RAISIN IN THE SUN, the Tacoma Actor’s Guild in PANTOMIME. For his full bio, go here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"The George Lewis Experience" or "How I Learned to Shut Up and Throw the Damned Stone" by Jonathan Nawn

What does balancing a long stick in your palm have to do with acting? Everything.

What can you learn about acting by learning a stylized routine in which one throws a imaginary stone? A great deal.

Focus, people. Cut the chatter, please.

At first, some of the exercises in George Lewis' movement ETI class may seem, well, a little kooky-pants, but embracing the kooky-pantsness is part of the challenge –and eventually, the thrill. We're learning FOCUS. To laser-focus on the task at hand, whether it be portraying Othello or picking up a chair and moving it across the room, is the key to making beauty. And it works. As the class progresses, slowly, the questions in our mind shift from these:

Oh, God, why are we doing this?
When will this be over?
Am I doing it better than other people?
Did I bring a fork for my Noodle Cup?

To these:

How can I do this?
How can I do this with grace and charisma?
He/She doing it really well –what can I learn from him/her?
Why do we have to stop?

It's about the process, not the results . . . Okay, that's not always true, the result often matter, but it's certainly encouraging to hear. One of my personal favorite teaching methods in the George Lewis Experience is when he creates our internal monologue. If I don't look like I'm having fun, George gives me a big smile and says, You're loving this. You love every second of this. This is the most fun you've ever had. It's not sarcasm, he will insist --it's a highly evolved sense of irony.

He's right, in a way --there's no place I'd rather be than contorted into a backbend, dripping sweat, while breathlessly reciting a passage from “Ulysses,” but my face is telling a different story. So I must remind myself that this is not football practice. This is my mantra. For athletes, the face of effort and concentration is one of grim determination. Eyes narrowed, lips pursed, neck straining –looks great on the cover of Sports Illustrated, looks terrible on the stage. We're athletes of a different kind, see. Acrobats of the heart? Yeah, I've heard that somewhere. It sounds cute, but pole vaulters of the heart is more apt – we're creating the illusion of naturalism when doing something completely bonkers and perhaps even dangerous. Our job is not to betray that effort.

As George reminds us often, Your pain is none of my business. Oddly enough, playing football (I was fourth-string fullback. Yes, fourth.) was often a way for me to sharpen my acting skills. The more pain and effort I etched across my face, the less the coaches would expect of me, the more I could play up the Rudy angle. The similarities between Rudy and I end there –well, we saw roughly the same amount of game time. Anyway, this is not football practice. We're putting forth effort, but this effort is not measured in points on a scoreboard, it's measured in beauty. Everything's so post-modern these days. There used to be beauty and truth in the world. . . There has to be a place for just plain beauty . . . When we throw the stone, we can give it to people and maybe even help them reclaim it for themselves in their own lives.

The culmination of the class is The Etude (look it up yourself). In The Etude, someone graceful and lithe snaps to attention, does a jump-turn into a crouching position, rises slowly, goes for a quick jog, ends in a ready position, suddenly sweeps the arms up and over, falls lightly to his side, sweeps arm across the ground to grab a large rock, repositions the rock into a throwing position, and hurls the damn thing as far as possible. Balance, agility, flexibility, FOCUS, and grace are all at play here. Okay, who's going first? We're in good hands. George's methods are all based in the teachings of the various masters with whom he has studied: Etienne Decroux, Gennadi Bogdanov, Carrot Top, and many others. Now we're part of that continuum, and damn proud.

Shut up and throw the stone.

Photo at top: Jonathan Nawn and Melissa Topscher
Other Photos: ETI students in George Lewis' class
Photos taken by: Scott Maddock

Monday, November 29, 2010

Freehold Faculty's Upcoming Performances

Sarah Harlett is in A Christmas Carol at ACT running November 26 - December 26. Read a recent interview with Sarah Harlett on Sarah will be teaching Intro to Acting and Acting with Text at Freehold this Winter Quarter.

John Jacobsen's show - The Artist Toolbox will be airing nationally on public television starting Jan 7, Also, the film John directed, Arthur, is done and being entered at Cannes and Sundance. John will be teaching Directing and Acting for the Camera at Freehold this coming Winter Quarter.

Alyssa Keene will be acting in Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol at Seattle Public Theater from December 3 - December 24 and also coached dialects for ACT's production of A Christmas Carol. Alyssa is also going to begin rehearsals for Hardball with LiveGirls. Alyssa is teaching in Freehold's Ensemble Training Program (ETI).

John Longenbaugh's play Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol is at Taproot Theatre now through December 30th. He is also having my short play A Wild River published in December's City Arts Magazine.

George Lewis is directing the Bash Theatre Company in the 1920's Russian comedy, The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman. It will be performed at the Ballard Underground, December 3 - 19, 2010. Info at George is also directing Le Frenchword's Fancy Mud which will be performing at The Jewel Box Theatre, December 5 and 6 and 7:00 and 8:30 pm both nights, $15.00. George is teaching in Freehold's Ensemble Training Program (ETI).

Shanga Parker will be in All My Sons at Intiman in the spring, 2011 and Pilgrims Musa And Cheri In The New World at ACT in the summer, 2011. Shanga will be teaching a Suzuki Workshop at Freehold this Winter Quarter.

Billie Wildrick will be performing in A Christmas Story at the 5th Avenue Theatre and then Vanities. Billie will be teaching Acting Through Music at Freehold Theatre this Winter Quarter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Character vs. Caricature in Performance by Kristin Alexander

Somewhere between dress rehearsal and opening weekend, I sold out for cheap laughs. A theater critique might – or might not – have been the catalyst. Or perhaps I misinterpreted a director’s notes. Or maybe I was just testing the limits of “going big.” The reason doesn’t matter; it was the wrong choice.

“There are some people who will always laugh at caricature,” my assistant director, Julie Weinberger, said during a pre-show pep talk.

She and Gold From Straw’s artistic director Aaron Schmookler both knew I was capable of more. So did I. As I digested their advice, I heard a third voice. Freehold Artistic Director Robin Lynn Smith wasn’t in the Green Room, but her words were in my head:

“What do you want?” “Where are you coming from?” “How is your partner affecting you?”

Nine intensive months of Meisner Technique training at Freehold had prepared me for living authentically in imaginary circumstances. Even in a world of silliness, slapstick and “aw–shucks” moments like John Cariani’s Almost, Maine, reality has a place. Combining Schmookler's vision of what critics describe as "deft physical comedy" with Cariani's "unapologetically romantic fable," the play is a hilarious, heartfelt reminder of what it means to be human. The cast of six is made up of new and old friends including Lori Evans, who was my Meisner classmate and is currently enrolled in Freehold’s Ensemble Training Program.

For the next performance, I prepped longer and answered those critical questions that all actors must ask themselves. Successful acting is based on a simple premise: “You are enough.” When the lights came up, I played a character instead of a caricature. I laughed. I cried. I connected.

And you know what? The audience laughed even louder that night.

Kristin Alexander and Lori Evans can be seen in Gold From Straw Theatre Company's production of Almost, Maine through Nov. 27 at Theatre on the Square, 915 Broadway, Tacoma. Info: 253-301-8004,

Alexander also serves on Freehold’s Board of Trustees.

Photo above:
Kristin Alexander as "Marvalyn" and Alex Smith as "Steve"
Photo below: Lori Evans as "Sandrine" and Aaron J. Schmookler as "Jimmy"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Artist Moll Frothingham - Art Work at Freehold

I’ve always loved windows at night. Windows with lights in them: sometimes filtered through red or green curtains, sometimes blue and flickering from a television screen, sometimes revealing entire scenes enacted within the room and other times showing only the corner of a ceiling.

Walking down a darkened street and seeing those signs of people’s lives has always touched me in a way that is both inspiring and humbling. It is similar to how I feel watching great theater—because in both cases, I am reminded of how much of ourselves we keep hidden from the world, with only glimpses showing.

The best plays, the best acting, reveal the subtext beneath the words and hint at the vast depths of emotion and experience which all of carry around with us but few of us ever share. Instead, we laugh or cry with a character who can embody those feelings and fears and flaws that we guard so closely. And even as we protect our secret selves, there is a unique essence in each of us that shines forth—our own lit window in the night.

This is the beauty and necessity of all of the arts and the charge of artists everywhere: to capture on a visceral level the experience of being alive—in all its terror, tenderness and glory—so that we have a sacred space in which to let down our defenses and reconnect with those deepest parts of ourselves and those around us.

Seattle native Moll Frothingham is a long time Freehold community member having taken a number of playwriting and acting classes at Freehold. Moll's work can be seen hanging at Freehold through December 10th (Freehold, 2222 2nd Avenue, Suite 200). Moll received her BA in Theater from Smith College in Northampton, MA. Her studies in theatrical lighting first exposed her to the evocative power of light and color on the imagination, which she continues to explore in her art. Urban settings and the night are other themes which fascinate her. If you have any questions or comments, or wish to purchase a painting, you can contact Moll by email: or

Images above include: Photo of Moll and her art work

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"You have to keep doing your show" by Darragh Kennan

So....I just performed Hamlet in front of 90 4th graders and did a talk back with them after. ....Not sure but I'm pretty convinced a lot of it went over their heads....but you never know....and yet, I'm pretty sure....

Oddly enough, I thought of my ETI students, thought, what would they think about this experience? What do you do in such a situation, oh, and by the way, the 90 4th graders came half an hour late! (not their fault, busing concerns)

Well, you just have to do your show. You can't do some alternate version, you can't not try, you have to give it your all even in those weird circumstances where you know the 9 year olds in the front row that are squirming in their school skirts haven't the vaguest notion of what you're talking about. You have to keep doing your show. And yes, it sucks, and yes, it's hard, but, it's your work and you can be proud of it and look into the eyes of your fellow actors and believe in the work you've created. That was today.

Tomorrow, who knows? A new student matinee and an evening show and a whole new lease on life. As my mentor once said, you could be digging ditches. Right?

On opening night for Hamlet I had to teach for ETI at 9 in the morning. I was feeling sorry for myself, but then I got there and was filled with inspiration and love and desire for the work and I realized it was the best thing I could have done that morning, was teach that class. These students are hungry. They are working hard, creating imaginary circumstances and playing in the black box of Freehold and forming lifelong relationships and artistic bonds. My hat is off to them.

Performing Hamlet has taken over my life. Both in good and bad ways. I feel like I am young again, like a student of the theatre, completely absorbed in the play I am doing and nothing else. That's refreshing and great. But then the balance of keeping things in check, things I tell my students, could be a little more healthy. It's great to be a teacher because you always are holding the mirror up to your own actions reflected in your words.

Darragh Kennan can be seen in Hamlet at Seattle Shakespeare Company through December 5th.

For more information on Freehold's ETI: Freehold's Ensemble Training Program

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It Takes a Village to Write a Solo by Melissa Topscher, ETI 2010 Member

Okay Self, you have one week to write, stage and perform a five minute solo show that will compel, entertain, and otherwise stupify your audience: a roomful of performers preoccupied with doing the same thing and a bona-fide genius teacher. Since that week has passed and you’ve just spent three hours watching viral videos that started on someone’s Facebook page and ended with a baby monkey riding backwards on a pig to a surprisingly catchy song, you have 6 hours before you perform this. What are you doing?! Why do you do this to yourself every time Melissa, Crap!! Stupid!

This is just a taste of the panic I experience every week in Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive's (ETI) Solo Performance class with Marya Sea-Kaminski, but the truth is this class incorporates everything we are learning at Freehold. When working in a pressure cooker, you quickly figure out how to trim the fat. It’s like freestyle cooking. Throw in a little inspiration from the world around you, some acting technique, a healthy dose of structure, a strong sense of character, a purpose to tie it all together, and a full pot of coffee when the clock sneaks its way to 2 am and you find yourself just starting to roll up your sleeves to dig
into the good stuff. This is the moment you have suffered for all week. No more procrastinating, the whining voices have ceased, you have dropped into the creative realm. You dance in it because those hours of agony spent thinking, always thinking so hard, too hard, about what is going to make the piece good, have culminated forcing themselves up against the floodgates until you burst through and the creativity flows into those oh so thirsty places in your soul. Drink it up commrades!

We’ve learned to get to the heart of things quickly while working with Marya, and what I’m gaining from this class is a sense for how important a strong central character is, and how rich your performance becomes when you create a whole person on stage. At first I wondered, “Why are we studying solo performance in an ensemble training program?“ Now I see the significance. When you are creating characters from scratch all of their idiosyncrasies, their habits, their opinions stem from a place very close to you. It is a good exercise in character development because you start to see how you can take qualities you discover in a character close to your range of knowledge and continue on this path to reach characters that are written for you. Characters who you, at least initially, have great distance from.

There are many ways to get there. So far we have explored autobiography, outside sources like written publications or overheard conversation, physical mimicry, and dialogue. Through all of these projects I have started to hone in on my process and have noticed patterns in the other actors. Some actors get a feel for a certain structure and work around that, some are very physical, some are abstract storytellers. With so many creative minds in a confined space one thing is for certain; we are never bored in this class.

Every week we see sixteen original works. Performances I never could have dreamed up. The talent is phenomenal and the bar is raised higher with every assignment. The spirit of ensemble could never be more alive in this solo performance class. Every piece feeds the next, and these sixteen individuals could only be more invested in each other if they built us bunk beds in the green-room.

For more information on ETI: Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive

Photo at Top: Melissa Topscher
Photo at Bottom: Caleb Slavens performing a solo performance piece in ETI.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Studio Series Revisited by Kirsten McCory

New Amerikan Theater is currently a very small company. Me, Telisa Steen and Carolynne Wilcox. We have written a play called Stings Like Acid that we are producing and it will play this fall at TPS Theater 4. We started writing the play in the summer of 2009, and just as soon decided to apply for a spot in Freehold’s Studio Series for the February 2010 show. We were accepted and then had to write a shorter version of what was then an 80+ page script, as we were allotted 10 minutes for our performance.

The “condensation” we came up with for Freehold's Studio Series was an interesting conglomeration of scenes that we felt would best tell the longer story in a radically abbreviated fashion. The challenge and importance to us lay in telling the story. Would people “get it”? Would they be interested enough to come see a longer piece?, we worried. It turns out that the story we told that weekend in February has evolved into something different in the full length version we will be performing in November, although its roots remain in the same themes. We have added and subtracted, stream lined, specified and beautified.

There was something really lovely in that Studio Series Stings Like Acid piece, and I think it was in it’s simplicity of presentation. At the Studio Series orientation, George Lewis said “Keep it simple”, which we took for really good advice. Since our story was a little abstract and mysterious, we decided not to overwhelm it with lots of prop pieces. We used 4 square acting blocks, two 6 foot screens and a red scarf. Now, for the full length version, our set is three four foot platforms. We have columns and lighting and we’ll probably use even more scarves.

The world of our play has become bigger and more fleshed out. But I think having to write that “condensation” + the rehearsal time we put in and the performance we did in the Studio Series helped us to refine our vision, and allowed us to write the exciting play we have now. It was also the first time Carolynne, Telisa and I as actors, (along with Tom Spangenberg who played “Tobias” in that version) were allowed to play in the fantastic Rachel-filled world we had created.

Freehold's Studio Series 2011 Applications will be available very soon. For more information on Freehold's Studio Series, click here.

Stings Like Acid will run November 12th - 27th
Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm
Theatre Puget Sound, Theater 4 in the Seattle Center house
Tickets are $15.00 at

Monday, October 18, 2010

Typecasting & Truth-Seeking at Freehold’s Open House by Kelly Huffman

Little did I suspect that, before the Freehold Studio open house was over last Friday, I’d be cast in a mini-drama as an anxious woman arriving at a Starbucks for a first date.

Typecast again.

And hey, I’m not even an actor! This scene unfolded in Elizabeth Heffron’s half-hour playwriting teaser. (I can only guess what they were cooking up over in the Acting for the Camera class.)

Props to Ms. Heffron for sharp instincts and for getting us Shakespeare wannabes up on our feet and delving into a few lines of “dummy” dialogue right off the bat:

A: Hey.
B: Hey.
A: You’re late.
B: I know. I got held up.

Mother and curfew-breaking kid? Two co-workers on a first date? You decide.

You, nascent writer/actor/poet, show us the truth.

That’s how Freehold director Robin Lynn-Smith put it in her opening remarks. Her words rang like a clear call to arms, rising above the stream of emails, Facebook updates and iPod shuffles that dominate the daily landscape.

Seek and show the truth. And here’s a place—communal, fun, supportive, graced with some of the top theater and writing talent in the region—to learn how to do it.

What a privilege to spend a few hours sampling this rich smorgasbord of poetry, acting, writing and performance. And all for the cost of an email. Thanks, Freehold. I’ll be back.

If you want to know more about Freehold, check out our website: Winter class registration will be open the week of Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Hungry for It" - Elizabeth's Freehold ETI Experience

We are just beginning our fourth week of ETI. It already feels like we’ve been doing this forever. I don’t remember what life was like before Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) and I can’t imagine what life would be like without it. I marvel at how we are all adjusting and molding to our new reality. On Day One, we showed up and there were cubbies with our names on them, and people just put their stuff in the one with their name on it! I know I did that in 7th grade with a locker, but now it seems remarkable somehow, that we accept what is put before us and adapt to the system we find ourselves in. And truthfully, there wasn’t much time to think about it, we were immediately swept up in the forward motion of the program.

People are bonding and starting to get to know each other to varying degrees. Solo Performance really helped jump start that process. The first couple of writing assignments were autobiographically based so we started to hear each other’s stories and what we each have to say about the world. This is good because when the longest break you have in a day is 10 minutes, there isn’t a whole lot of time for chatting between classes. Yes, you read that correctly, we have class on one day from 12:30p-11:00p with no break longer than 10 minutes. I feel we are like stagecoach horses in the harness together. We run and run for a leg of the journey, and then they turn us out for food and water. Then it’s time to run again. So, we get strapped back into the harnesses and we are off. Sometimes, the thoughtful Freehold elves leave little snacks out for us on the counter in the lobby, and you wouldn’t believe how a little bag of gummi bunnies can spur me on through the next leg of the adventure.

It’s amazing how quickly connections between classes began to materialize – and not in the ways I assumed. Related ideas surface in Yoga and Voice; in Acting and Stage Combat; in Solo Performance and Yoga. And one thought follows me into every class, something George Lewis said in Movement that I’ve been paraphrasing for myself ever since, “You have to be hungry for it!” Because let me tell you some common themes for all of the people participating ETI is being spread too thin, juggling class & work & life, a lack of sleep. It would be easy to get bogged down in being overwhelmed, to succumb to whining and helplessness. To avoid that trap, to keep going, I am consciously reminding myself to be hungry for what we are doing in the moment. And when that moment is passed to wonder, “What’s the next thing?! What’s next?!” Because George is right, you have to be hungry for it! And we all are – we had to be to get this far and to take on this great challenge. The best part is all these great teachers have spread out a wonderful feast before us, and I know we’ve barely dug into the first course.

-Elizabeth, ETI Participant - 2010-2011

More Information on Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive Here

Photos of ETI students taken by Jesse Putnam (ETI Student 2010-2011)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Freehold Faculty Upcoming Shows

Amy Thone and Hans Altwies will be performing in God of Carnage at the Seattle Repertory Theatre from October 1 - 24.

Darragh Kennan will be playing the title role of Hamlet at Seattle Shakespeare Company. The play will be running from October 27 - December 5th.

Sarah Harlett
will be performing in ACT's The Christmas Carol running November 26 - December 26. More information: ACT Theatre.

John Jacobsen's show - The Artist Toolbox just got picked up to start airing nationally on public television starting Jan 7, and they just got John Legend for their next episode ( Also, the film John directed, Arthur, is done and being entered at Cannes and Sundance.

George Lewis is directing the Bash Theatre Company in the 1920's Russian comedy, The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman. It will be performed at the Ballard Underground, December 3 - 19, 2010. Info at George is also directing Le Frenchword's Fancy Mud which will be performed sometime in late September or early October with the full-length piece being shown in December.

John Longenbaugh's Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol finally gets its fully staged premiere on November 26 at Taproot Theatre. Tickets for Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol

Paul Mullin's play Louis Slotin Sonata will be making its mid-West premiere in Chicago at A Red Orchid Theatre, opening Sept 10 and running through Oct. 24. Originally commissioned by A Contemporary Theatre as part of their now defunct FirstACT play development program, Louis Slotin Sonata premiered at Circle X Theatre in Los Angeles and went on to win the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding World Premiere. More information about the play can be found on Paul Mullin's blog. Poster image from A Red Orchid's Theatre production of Louis Slotin Sonata.

Annette Toutonghi will be doing a public reading/performance of There is a Field by Jen Marlowe. Performances will be the first weekend in October.

Billie Wildrick will be performing in Café Nordo: Sauced, then followed directly by A Christmas Story, and then Vanities.