Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My ETI Reflections by Luisa de Paula

I am sitting here, staring. Not able to write a full, comprehensive thought on my experience on Ensemble Training Intensive. I don’t get it. There is so much to talk about. There were so many feelings about it, lessons, discoveries! It’s hard to grasp on to. Where is everything? Where is the me that went through it all? It’s even harder to write about it in a few paragraphs and not a whole essay, pages long.

Well, maybe that is the very reason. Maybe it has caused that big of an impact in me. I don’t feel overwhelmed anymore; we are done with the regular, rigid class schedule and headed to our final project: the production of Pericles, which I can barely wait for! But I guess I am still processing; processing all the new information, new concepts; more familiar ones too that I just hadn’t practiced enough; new depths of work; the exploration of the marriage of emotional/intellectual/physical work; my voice and self expression; new words (oh new words! I love them. Oh, yes, Shakespeare was a word whore!) I know this is a total cliché these days but… I want to say it anyways: his work is mind blowing!! And some days, I swear, I thought my brain had certainly blown up! Brain matter splattered in the best and worst way. Yes, all over the walls, and floor and my bed, bathroom; the streets of Belltown; the dance studio over plies, tendus, jetes; in the black box studio.

It turned me inside and out at times. It made me closer to my true self in a way that I don’t remember ever feeling. It gave me freedom. It gave me the room to be who I am at this moment and express it.

I questioned it though. I pondered over it. What I mostly questioned (maybe out of some subconscious mental efficiency) never seemed to be the reasons of neither the struggle nor the struggle itself but how to overcome it, or better, how to embrace it. Some part of me knew that I was in the right track somehow; that this was a positive way of dealing with myself. This was where I had to be. I tried as much as I could to embrace fear, to embrace the unknown and to trust. Trust what was ahead of me. Trust my teachers. Trust my classmates. Trust the art form. And it felt like a lot of trusting to me but I kept on task, as much as I could. I kept doing what I had to do. Oh, and there was a lot of doing! There wasn’t one day that I wasn’t reminded of all the “doing” I had to do! I learned about less talking, less thinking, less hanging on feelings and a lot more just plain “doing”. It didn’t seem that there was any other route; I wasn’t going to have it my way. It was either do it or jump off the ship.

Well, and I gotta say, on the quitting note, something I realized about myself, unless I give all that I can give, I can’t quit! And somehow I always and I mean, always feel like I didn’t give enough of myself. Hmmm… truly it’s like a catch 22: with acting you are never gonna get it! It might feel that you got closer and closer to it but there is no getting it. God, it’s hard!! And it‘s magical because of it!

We are driven to these challenges.

Photo above: Parker Matthews and Luisa de Paula in their ETI Shakespeare Recital
For more information on Freehold Theatre and all of our acting classes (including our upcoming Shakespeare Intensive class with Amy Thone), go to our website: http://www.freeholdtheatre.org.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Life Lessons" by Malachy Sreenan

You don’t always know or appreciate how much someone or something means to you until you wake up one day and can’t imagine your life without them. Likewise, you don’t always realize when embarking on a new project or adventure that it will wind up filling a need or void in your life that you scarcely realized existed. These are just two of the important life lessons that I have learned over the last couple of years attending classes at, and working with faculty and peers at Freehold.

Now while those life lessons may seem obvious to some, the reality is that most of us get so wrapped up in our everyday lives that we forget to experience life at all. In fact, the last thing that I was expecting back in the Fall of 2009 as I walked up the steps at Freehold, having signed up for an Intro to Acting class, was that I was embarking on an adventure at all. On the contrary, I thought that taking an acting class would help me to overcome what I considered debilitating shyness, a fear of public speaking, and a propensity to blush way too easily. Those reasons, while logical, would be short lived.

While they may have been my reasons for signing up in the fall of 2009, the reason why I continued on through the Freehold acting progression, including Step 2, Step 3, Rehearsal & Performance and the Meisner class, in which I am currently enrolled, is due in no small part to the talent, respect, bravery and generosity of the faculty and fellow students, from whom I have learned so much. In fact, it is those very principles and the fact that they consistently and fundamentally underscore the collaborative nature of its teaching, that make Freehold such an important part of the Seattle theatre community and my continuing adventure.

From day one, When Althea Hukari walked into our Intro to Acting class, it was obvious that we were being afforded a unique opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most talented artists in the Pacific Northwest. Teaching us how to develop fundamental acting tools, Althea introduced us to the concept that acting was living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. It is that concept that would not only guide us through our work in that class, but every class that followed. In addition to that, what stood out most for me in that class was when Althea demonstrated the power of words and action used together to tell a story. Our exercise was to take 8 to 10 lines of seemingly benign dialogue, to demonstrate how that dialogue when coupled with various actions could tell vastly different stories. It was awe inspiring to watch as my classmates and I, under her direction, were able to tell what must have been more than twenty very different and compelling stories using those same lines of dialogue.

What I learned from Althea in that class not only prepared me for, but inspired me to take Step II with Dan Tierney. With incredible intuitiveness, Dan not only helped us apply the fundamentals learned in Step I into scene work, but also introduced us to one of the fundamental acting concepts, that while the choices you make may not be wrong, there may be better choices. Working with a partner on Noel Coward’s Design for Living, Dan helped guide me through the process of making those choices, and demonstrated how those choices can really help in bringing life to characters in a script.

In Step III CT Doescher helped us build upon everything we had learned in the previous steps. In addition, introducing text analysis and parallel improvisation, CT helped us continue to broaden and deepen our understanding of rehearsal techniques and the ability to act and react. What was amazing about CT was that he was genuinely excited and enthusiastic to see what we, as students, would bring to the characters and scenes each week. Scheduling meeting times outside of class and calling weekly to make sure that each student was comfortable with how they were progressing, he is a great example of how Freehold faculty goes well above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to ensuring the success of their students.

With Steps I, II & III, under my belt, I was fortunate to be accepted into Annette Toutonghi’s Rehearsal & Performance class. In what was a unique and amazing class, Annette guided us through the process of bringing a play to life on stage. We started with read-throughs, then moved to rehearsal and then finally performance of The Laramie Project. With amazing sensitivity and creativity Annette led us through the process of making choices about characters, helped us bring those characters to life, and helped us work through the complexities of multi-character scenes. What I learned in that class I am fortunate to have been able to bring forward not only to the Meisner class but also to plays in which I have been cast outside of Freehold.

All of these steps have not only led me to, but were essential in preparing me for my current class, The Meisner progression. All of the peers that I had talked with had recommended this class so strongly, and spoken of Robin Lynn Smith in such glowing terms, I knew I had to take this class. And, I will be forever grateful that I did. I have learned way more from the class and from Robin than I will probably ever know, let alone have time to write here; suffice to say, that several classes in I came to the realization that Robin somehow knew each of us better than we knew ourselves. It could be part of the mystique of theatre and her years of experience on the best stages across this country, but the reality, as she has pointed out many times, is that we are conditioned to keep parts of ourselves hidden so that we can survive in the real world.

Based on that premise, my thirteen classmates and I set about the long, but incredibly rewarding and entertaining task of getting in touch with our true selves so that we can bring truth to the characters that we have had and will have the privilege of portraying. After all, you cannot possibly understand a character unless you understand yourself first. Working through many, many exercises including honest repetition, ‘The Mirror’ and personal and extremely meaningful activities, to name but a few, Robin has started us all on an exciting journey that will continue way beyond our last class on June 28th.

Which brings me back to my adventure! Freehold, its faculty and students have not only taught me the fundamentals of acting, but have opened up a brand new world for me, for which I will be forever grateful. Thank you all. I have made lifelong friends, I have shared, and I have learned. I have learned not to be shy; I have learned not to fear public speaking – Ok, I still blush a little too easily, but you can’t have everything.

"Rehearsal and Performance - It's not just about putting up a show" by George Lewis

Why take the Rehearsal and Performance class? Why not just audition for a play?

I have taught the Rehearsal and Performance class six or seven times since Freehold began, and it has always been an exciting experience for me and for the student actors.

And it is not just about putting up a show.

It is a class. The director - in this case, me - is also the teacher. This means that the actor/students are learning about how to make the interesting choices that will drive the characters and, ultimately, the play.

It means that when the actors are lost, they have a place to turn to.

It means that the result is less important than the process. Although it must be said that as we have discovered in so much of our work at Freehold, if the process is good, the product - the finished piece - is very likely to be highly engaging for the audience. But as process, the actors are not forced into choices: they are encouraged to discover and to try out different possibilities, to succeed and to fail, and to discover from their successes and failures more about how to choose, how to create, how to marry the actor's intelligence with his/her imagination in the creation and staging of the work.

It is also about how to put up work, including research and costumes and set and props and lights and sound and what tech rehearsals are all about. The actors participate in all phases of the work, and will come out with a clear idea of what is involved in self production.

Many of the participants have not performed before in a play. Others have not. For some it is a re-acquaintance with the theatre. Whatever the level of craft, we work as an ensemble.

For those whose training has been with scene study classes and two person scenes, it is a chance to discover what the dynamics of larger scenes are. There is more emphasis in constructing characters that are physically and vocally distinct, sometimes in ways that are very different than our own speech/movement patterns. My own particular interest in comedy and physical theatre means that we will be doing a comedy with great possibilities for comic 'business', so there is a lot to discover in what makes good comedy. And how the acting values that we have experienced at Freehold: moment to moment truthfullness, clarity and specificity of action, meaningful relationship, the ability to inhabit circumstance, physical and vocal and emotional availability: hold true no matter what the nature of the play is.

It is a great transition step between the classroom and that place of being cast in a play, having a script put in your hands, and knowing what to do next, what to expect, what is expected of you.

It has always been a fun and crazy ride for all. I am excited about getting started.

George Lewis is a founding member of Freehold and an Associate Partner. has been working in the field of movement-based theatre for almost 40 years as an actor/performer, director, creator of original work, teacher, and producer. The Rehearsal and Performance class runs July 20 - August 27. More information can be found here.

Top photo: students performing in Rehearsal and Performance class, 2009.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Freehold Faculty Upcoming Performances

Geof Alm is just opening Jesus Christ Superstar at the Village Theatre and will be doing fights for Aladdin at The 5th Avenue Theatre and Porgy and Bess at Seattle Opera this summer.

Gin Hammond will be doing a live reading of a Sherlock Holmes mystery at the Kirkland Performance Center on May 16th. Gin will also be teaching a Voice Over Workshop this summer at Freehold.

Sarah Harlett is an understudy at Seattle Children's Theatre right now in Jackie & Me and is the costume designer for Macbeth coming up this summer at Wooden O/Seattle Shakespeare, running July 7 - 31.

Reginald Andre Jackson plays Henry Drummond, the Chicago attorney (based on Clarence Darrow) in Strawshops' Inherit the Wind. The show will be running in September 2011.

John Jacobsen's series The Artist Toolbox is currently playing on PBS across the country and is slated to start its international release this summer. PBS has requested a second season, and he starts shooting that this summer, with artists such as Helen Mirren, Angela Landsbury, Dave Brubeck, Jules Feiffer, and Carolina Hererra. The short he directed, ARTHUR, plays in the Seattle International Film Festival on May 29th, and his other short, SPINNING, is slated for release early this summer as well. John is also teaching Acting for the Camera at Freehold this summer.

Reginald Andre Jackson will be performing in MacBeth at Wooden O/Seattle Shakespeare Company this summer (running July 7 - 31).

Jessica Jobaris will be performing at On the Boards as part of the NW New Works Festival on June 11th & 12th 8pm, "You're the stuff that sets me free." An extraordinary cast of eight Seattle luminary performers cope with crisis as they hilariously wrestle with the metaphysical and psycho-therapy. For more information, On the Boards.

Cyrus Khambatta will have their annual Seattle International Dance Festival coming up June 10-19 and has a few works that he is presenting.

Timothy Piggee is on Broadway in Catch Me If You Can.

Carol Roscoe will be appearing at ACT Theater in Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World by Yussef El Guindi. More info at Carol's website http://www.carolroscoe.com Carol will be teaching Business of Theater at Freehold this summer.

Matt Smith is performing his solo show All My Children at The Ottawa Fringe Festival, Jun 16-26. And at The Marsh in Berkeley, the first four weekends of July. Tell your Ottawa, and Bay Area friends!

Rhonda J. Soikowski will be performing: Entropy. Redress. A dress was built in a boutique in Los Angeles - then it went on a trip and something happened. Rhonda performs live with digital collaborator contributions from more than 40 artists. Seattle performances - June 2, 3, 4, 5

Robin Lynn Smith will be directing Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of Pericles this summer. More information to come soon on our Pericles production. More information on Engaged Theatre: Engaged Theatre.

Billie Wildrick performs in Guys and Dolls at The 5th Avenue Theatre running May 12 - June 5.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Enjoying Plays by Robert Francis Flor

A guest blog from Robert Francis Flor, past New Play Lab Class student.

In 2003 when my father died, I found myself sorting through my Uncle’s trunks that he stored in the garage of our Rainier Valley home. My dad immigrated from the Philippines in 1932 to join his brother, Baltazar. Baltazar or “Bob” was the dramatist for the Filipino Community during the 30’s. He’d died suddenly in 1942 shortly after graduating from Seattle College.

My dad stored his trunks for safe keeping. On opening them, I found a treasure trove consisting of two plays, a song, love letters, poems and correspondence Baltazar had written. There were also programs from his productions. I shared my discovery with close friends who thought these might make an interesting play.

Growing up in Seattle, I enjoyed plays. The first full-length production I’d seen was “Rumpelstiltskin” when I was in 4th or 5th Grade. I’m not even certain which theater staged it but the memory stuck with me. Since that time, I’ve attend productions from a variety of theaters such as Seattle Repertory, ArtsWest, Balagan, Stone Soup, Theatro Milagro or the Ashland Shakespeare Festival.

Writing plays had never crossed my mind. Up to then, my creative writing consisted of a few poems and vignettes. My professional career was built largely on writing policy papers, reports and grants. My interests were about to take a major turn.

I began to outline ideas based on the findings in my Uncle’s trunks and events in the Filipino community. For months, I toiled at these. I skimmed a few books on playwriting hoping they’d help me better understand the craft. Writer friends reviewed my drafts. I sent them to a few agencies for critiques. And finally, I realized I really had no idea what I was doing.

Tony Bajado, a writer friend, mentioned she took courses in playwriting at Freehold Theatre. Her play “Fish” had been selected for a Studio Lab.

I searched Freehold and discovered a body of courses in playwriting. My first course, Playwriting I was from Paul Mullen during which we focused on dialogue. During this class, I settled on writing a play I titled Daniel’s Mood. Initially as a short-story about my foster brother’s death in 1972, I began to reconsider it for a possible play.

I honed Daniel’s Mood (photo above) through several classes at Freehold Theatre with Elizabeth Heffron and Dickey Nesenger. The play changed course as they will, a new protagonist emerged and I began thinking more about its arc and the underling themes. In 2010, Daniel’s Mood was performed as part of Freehold's New Play Lab class. In the class, characters and conflict were sharpened with mapping exercises.

Beyond class exchanges, re-writes and readings, I worked with David Tucker in the casting and rehearsal processes. He and the actors, Eloisa Cardona and Matt Riggins brought my characters to life. My understanding of how directors choose actors and how actors interpreted characters increased. Rehearsals and discussions resulted in a further character refinement that made them more authentic. Daniel’s Mood – Mestizos was published in 2011. Freehold’s Studio Lab and courses were invaluable. I continue to work toward a complete staged reading.

Looking back on my Freehold playwriting class experience, what I really appreciated was the personalized attention of the instructors and the friendship and support of my fellow students.

It was definitely yet another treasure trove find.


Want to jump into the playwriting waters? Freehold's Summer Classes will be opening up for registration this week which will include Playwriting I and The New Play Lab.