Friday, June 10, 2011

Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) - "We're committed" by Phillip Mitchell

“The cast for this year's performance of Pericles will be comprised entirely of students from Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) which is a 10 month acting conservatory program. This performance will be the culmination of the last ten months of the students' training at Freehold.” - Press Release, June 6, 2011

Well, the marketing has started for our final production (aka The Engaged Theatre Program). I guess that makes it official. We’re committed. But then, commitment has been an ongoing theme for this program.

As I thought about what to write here, I reflected on where we started and where we’ve been. Last summer, as part of our submissions to the ETI program, we were required to write a Statement of Purpose. Here is an excerpt from mine:
“If I have it right …. We will immerse ourselves in the craft and work to bring out the best in each other. We will learn new skills from great teachers and immediately put them to use with challenging material. Then we will use all we have learned to perform great works and provide transformative experiences for our community and for communities that don’t usually get to see theater. Then we will go back out into the world prepared to do it again and again. I can hardly wait.”

In short - I had it right.

The work has been immersive and challenging. It has also been revealing, vulnerable, frightening, frustrating, exhausting, and inspirational. My classmates have done some wonderful work and, with their support and witness, I have learned, experimented, stretched, struggled, failed, and done some of the best work of my life.

(with apologies to W. Shakespeare)
We have learned skills from teachers great and wise -
Speech, voice, and movement, text and yoga too.
Stage combat’s fun and real good exercise.
Auditions now are cake, if spoke or sung
And scenes are real on cam’ra or on stage.
Solo Performance was a wondrous thing
To play the Bard some genius skills we bring.

We have performed Great Works from Ibsen to O’Neill to Williams. We have also performed our own works in Solo Fest. They may not have been “Great” but they were great. And, ironically, it was during this phase that we came together as Ensemble, supporting each other as audience members, thoughtful critics, and crew. And, of course, we have performed many works of Shakespeare in scenes and soliloquies, some of which were presented in recital.

Now we are (according to the press release above) about to present a Great Work to our Community and we are about to literally ‘take it on the road’ to underserved audiences.

Today is typical of our process to prepare the show. After some of us met early to polish a dance, the ensemble held a physical and vocal warm-up. This was followed by several hours of working with our Movement Director on dances and scene transitions. Then we collaborated with our fabulous musicians putting original music into some scenes. After lunch there was deep scene work. All of this was under the direction of our incomparable Director, Robin Lynn Smith. We daily incorporate lessons learned throughout the ETI program. It’s the hardest and best work ever.

This experience has been transformative for me. Will our show be transformative for our audiences?

I have learned a lot. Am I prepared to go into the world as a professional actor?

Time will tell.

I can hardly wait.

Melissa Topscher and Phillip Mitchell performing in ETI's Shakespeare Recital (2011)

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