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.

1 comment:

  1. Malachy! So glad to hear you continue to find this path rewarding. ( I kinda had a feeling you might....) It was truly my pleasure and privilege to work with you way back in Intro I.