Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Remembering Jessica Marlowe-Goldstein by Daniel Morris

Jessica and I were colleagues when we worked together at Freehold at its beginnings in the early 90's, She as an Adjunct Faculty member and I as Director of Operations. Jessica and I were neighbors with apartments across the hall from each other at the Essery on Capitol Hill. Jessica and I were friends. Jessica and I were both steeped in the humidity of our East Coast youths and as such I feel comfortable in saying that she would not want me to share with you some white washed homily of her life. So I am going to start with this: Jessica could be a real pain in the ass. Jessica didn't particularly care about making it easy on you. Jessica wanted what Jessica wanted. Jessica knew what she wanted.

These characteristics that sometimes made it difficult to schedule her classes and keep her from smoking in the bathroom adjacent to my office, that frankly made it difficult sometimes to just be around her are also exactly the same characteristics that allowed her to do what so many of us aspire to and so few of us achieve: to spend our whole working lives as artists. Jessica did this.

As a result of her passion and determination and her belief in herself and her abilities, Jessica leaves behind her, in the words of Robin Lynn Smith, "a garden of artists." It is a legacy that cannot be underestimated. A few months after Jessica's diagnosis with glioblastoma I was out playing with my three year old daughter Lily in the park. I met another parent, Chelsea, and it turned out we had a lot in common, most centrally Freehold. She began singing Jessica's praises, and I had the unpleasant duty, now all too familiar, of asking if she knew what was going on with Jessica. She had heard that she was sick, and I filled her in on her diagnosis and prognosis. We talked and reminisced and I gave her my card so that we could keep in touch around Jessica's condition. A few days after Jessica's death I got a message from this woman that read in part:

"I just heard the news and my world is rocked. Jessica was such an amazing woman. She is the reason that I chose to act as a profession. I took the leap to act full time and I have not looked back since. I have so many fond memories of her ... Sitting in her apartment on Cap. Hill and Jessica rubbing her pregnant belly. Me holding Jonah when he was just days old. I shared things with her that nobody else knows. She was my mentor. Besides my mother, she was the only one who I allowed to truly KNOW me."

And the thing is, I bet that most of you could find five people that would say something very similar. Not even just at Freehold, but at Cornish, at Rato Bangala School in Nepal, at the University of Alaska and I am sure everywhere that Jessica taught. Like the best teachers, Jessica inspired fierce loyalty and a voracious appetite to learn and excel. I never took a class from Jessica, but I heard from many students that Jessica knew just how to push to get her students to want to do more. Jessica's style was not for everybody, but for those who responded to her, it was a form of deep intimacy. Just like great art.

As Jessica's disease progressed and she could no longer read (which is a tragedy in itself as anyone who ever walked into her house and saw the thousands of plays that she owned would understand) and as conversation and even understanding became more and more difficult, she struck out on a new endeavor. A new art. She began cutting pictures out of magazines and catalogs and I think maybe even books. She made some collages but mostly, I think, collected them and cataloged them. If you were very lucky you would go to your mailbox and find a mailing envelope stuffed with pictures that she had selected for you. I was blessed with two envelopes, the first one I opened with fear of what I might find inside, what could Jessica be sending to me, and I was blown away. For the simple reason that Jessica, who was not always even sure who I was, had picked out images (every one) that I would have selected for myself! The second envelope came just a few weeks before her death; it was less targeted but not random. There were a lot of images of naked women. Not pornography. Art images, abstracts, classic nudes, some advertising images. I don't know what, if anything, it means; maybe Jessica was getting elemental? Maybe Jessica knew me better than I care to admit? Maybe, in the end, everyone just loves a naked lady.

Here's what I do know: Jessica's response to the end of her life was to make art. Her garden will prosper and spread and I believe there is no greater gift you can leave for the world.

Yer Old Pal,


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"A Few Things I've Learned from My Step I Students" by Meg McLynn

Teaching Step I: Intro to Acting has been an absolute joy, not just because I love acting and I love helping people understand why I love it, but mostly because the students are AWESOME! Students come to Step I for all different reasons, at all different stages in their lives. Some are simply curious about the process of acting; some are considering pursuing careers as actors; some are returning to an old love, having enjoyed performing in plays in high school or college but stepping away from it until their careers were established and their kids were raised. Whatever brings them to class, one thing is true of all of them: they teach me something every day.

Lesson #1: It’s scary to show up, but that’s no excuse not to show up.
It’s a lesson I’ve learned many times before, but it seems to need constant re-learning. I mean, Life is full of scary stuff! On a day-to-day basis, I find myself veering away from the less-traveled paths and traipsing along well-worn roads, roads whose twists and turns have become familiar to me, roads that help keep me “safe”. But then, on Day 1 of Step I, I find myself in a room full of students who may find it incredibly intimidating (if not totally terrifying) to be there, but there they are! There’s the retiree who is taking the class because “I try to think of things I’d be really bad at, and then I set out to prove myself wrong”. Or the cyclist who shows up because “after I almost died in that accident last year, I decided it was time to start doing the things I’d always wanted to do but kept finding reasons not to”. It is scary to show up, but if you take that first step forward, it all gets easier from there. (Note to Self: Blow the dust off of that rough draft and get someone to read it!)

Lesson #2: The work we do in Step I is as much about Life as it is about Acting. This lesson comes in a variety of ways. There was the day I was guiding students through some breathing exercises, emphasizing that “breath is the foundation of everything we do,” and one student, a personal trainer, told us how he uses the breath to help his clients connect their thoughts to their physical actions, which leads to better overall results. Or the day we were focusing on articulation, exploring the ways we produce sounds, and it turned into a discussion on interpersonal communication led by a student who works with children with speech disorders. Or the evening I had students exploring physicality, being led through the room by different parts of their bodies, which led to a mini training session on “closing the deal” from a student who works in sales (I never knew there was a “dominant” handshake, nor had I considered the power of stillness in a negotiation). Each week, I find more truth behind the idea that “theatre should inspire people to embrace the full range of human experience”, simply by listening to my students translate our work into their daily lives. An Acting Exercise, at its best, is a Life Lesson.

Lesson #3: It’s called “a play” for a reason. This work should be fun! Yes, it should be challenging and engaging and inspiring and, sure, a little scary. But above all else, it should be fun. In my career as an actor, there’s been much serious work. And at times, it has felt like just that: serious work. After all, it’s a J-O-B. But then I see my Step I students, all of whom have busy lives beyond our classroom, many of whom are dedicated to challenging careers that require massive amounts of time and energy, many of whom have kids to raise and households to run, and yet they will find the time over the course of their weeks to rehearse the given assignments, coming to class with detailed floor plans and duffel bags full of props. And the cool thing about it: they LIKED doing the work, they were HAPPY to stay up a little later to spend time on the assignments, because they were having FUN. Now, I love what I do, I love being an actor and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. But it helps to be reminded, particularly during those tough tech weeks or after a string of unsatisfying auditions, that every day I show up to work, I get to have fun! How awesome is that?

There are many other lessons I’ve learned from my students (and yes, I teach them a few things along the way). But these are the big 3 for me, and they can be combined into this one idea: If I show up, I’m going to have fun. And that applies to Acting, as much as it does to Life. So, thank you to all of my students, Past Present and Future, for showing up on Day 1.

You are an inspiration.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Blog Post #2: My Step II: Acting with Text Journey by Noelle Mestres

Noelle has been sharing her insights as she makes her way through Freehold's Step II: Acting with Text class this past Winter Quarter. To read a previous post by Noelle as she began her Step II: Acting with Text journey, go here. We hope you enjoy the second of her blog posts and stay tuned for more posts from Noelle as she completes her class.


I watched Moneyball last week before my third Step II class, not because I love baseball or the business of it and not really even because I love watching Brad Pitt although that is not a chore for me. I saw it because I think my novice eye has seen him in various roles what I’m learning in my classes so far and I wanted to study that. The drinking of a glass of [I’m not sure], as he does in one scene, can be riveting if the actor in the role is completely thrown into that event as well as the circumstances surrounding it. It’s deceptively complicated and it’s what makes the difference, I think, between a moment that is believable or isn’t. And in that way, between a moment that is captivating or completely lost upon us.

Acting is not easy. And, I’m learning that it is not really acting, per se. That being said, I feel as if I’ve just come upon a book on a sandy beach; buried with only the cover showing. The class is allowing me to push away the sand and see what’s inside; it’s like a fantastic mystery novel that I can’t put down!

Last week, we were assigned scripts and partners. Each pair was assigned a scene from a play. After a series of warm up exercises each pair got up in front of the rest of the class and read the scene; word-by-word, very slowly. I had no idea how much could go, or not go, into a word. That was the point…to play with that, not to read ahead and find out what happens and try to make it sound a certain way. The exercise was simple and profound. When I went running on Friday, I said the words “Ah” and “Meg” over and over in all the different ways I could come up with.

I guess that these are the building blocks of being able to eventually be 100% in a role and be truthful and present and engaged; to drink a glass of [whatever] and be completely believable because it is real. It’s really hard, at least for me. But, I love it. I love it more each week. I’ll admit that sometimes I hate it too. I feel exposed among other things. I practice remaining open to that. This will stretch me in ways that are not completely known at the moment. I can tell I’ll like the effect.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Breaking Through" at Monroe Correctional Center for Men by Jose Gonzales

Jose Gonzales is an actor participating in Freehold's Engaged Theatre program. Jose went to the Washington Correctional Center for Men along with several of his fellow actors and performed several scenes from King Lear and participated in a post-scene workshop with the men. Here is his experience.


Walking into a prison is always unnerving. You have your sensors on full alert, not knowing exactly how to behave except with consideration and caution. You worry the guards are going to turn your group away, you worry that there will be no people in the audience, you worry that you’ll see something that may break your heart.

Once we get into the ‘yard’ I start to see the offenders, dressed in faded out cream colored heavy duty pants, shirts, and over shirts - all cream colored. They’re walking from one area to another, checking us out, wondering who we are. I sense an excitement from them. They’re not used to larger groups coming into their space.

Inside the chapel (it’s just a regular room that looks very similar to many elementary school classrooms) we perform a small section of King Lear. There is a sizable group there, ranging in age from young 20’s to 70’s. They are interested, working at deciphering this strange language of Shakespeare that many of them have never heard before. There are divides in prison, most notably racial. They sit separated by color - whites on one side, blacks on the other. No questions, no comments - that’s just the way it is.

After we perform, we start doing theater and writing exercises with them. This is where they begin to shine. They become engaged, excited, willing to participate. We ask them to partner up with someone they don’t know that well. There is a slight awkward pause - I get the feeling that some of them never even talk to one another. They break through the awkwardness and partner up. After several improv exercises they get loosened up and you can feel the energy in the room. It’s a good energy, a feeling of letting go, a feeling of freedom.

Then we begin the writing exercise. Daemond Arrindell, a Spoken Word artist and Freehold Associate Partner and Faculty Member, leads us, and hands out pens and papers to all. He asks us to write: “Under my shirt is my skin, under my skin is my heart, under my heart is...” We are asked to finish this sentence and then to continue writing, always delving deeper into the exercise. If we run out of things to write, keep your pen to the paper and write “I can’t think of anything to write”, until something sparks. The idea is to keep writing all the time. 15 silent minutes later we’re asked to put down our pens. Again, there is energy in the room - it feels sacred but not pretentious or put on. It’s a vulnerable energy.

One by one, the men are brave enough to share what they wrote. Much of it is heartbreaking and so moving. They write of their personal struggles, of letting down their moms, of “looking up at the sky. One day it’s blue. Another time it’s full of clouds. Why is that?” They write of their children and how much they miss them, of getting on a better track. They get personal, and everybody listens and supports. I feel like we’ve broken through. Like we’ve given them a chance to say something they might never get to say, except in their heads. I’m not sure if our Lear group should share our writings, but the guys won’t have any of that. They want to hear what we wrote, and treat us with the same respect and dignity they gave each other in that room.

8:15pm comes and it’s time to go. We shake hands with the guys, and they tell us how much they enjoyed it, how much it means to have something like this, here, where they never get anything like this coming through. They all help us put the room back in order, some hanging around because they don’t want it to end. As we’re walking back to the gatehouse, I’m joined by Hakim, one of my partners in the exercises. He’s a lovely man, brimming with enthusiasm, telling me about his days of wanting be an actor, about his niece who wants to do theatre and how he encourages her. About how glad he is we came, how much fun it was. Before we get to the gatehouse, he gives me a handshake, we look each other in the eye, and we say goodbye. As the gate clicks open, and we file into the parking lot, I can’t seem to get Hakim’s smile out of my mind.

Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio will be bringing our Engaged Theatre Summer Tour production of King Lear this July to our unique partner organizations including those at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, the Monroe Correctional Center for Men, Echo Glen Children's Center, a hospital and other selected venues as well as to the general public.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Freehold Faculty Upcoming Shows

Daemond Arrindell performed at "BOOST: Poetry to Uplift Your Spirits--A Benefit for Tara Hardy," on February 23rd, at the Fremont Abbey, Tara's friends and colleagues will host a benefit to raise funds to support Tara as she battles a sudden life-threatening medical condition. BOOST: Poetry to Uplift Your Spirits will feature a line-up of Tara's nearest and dearest, reading feel-good poems for this great cause.

Elizabeth Heffron will have another short radio play in the next episode of SANDBOX RADIO LIVE! Episode 4: The Chase, performed live at West of Lenin at 8pm on Monday, April 16th. Past episodes of the show can be downloaded through iTunes, or go to thesandboxac.org. Also, Elizabeth's play Mitzi's Abortion will have just closed in Ithaca, on Feb. 18th.

George Lewis co-created and directed a clown duo last year called AMOR MITO. They will be performing at the Patacomica International Clown Festival in Patagonia, Argentina, on the 17th of February.

Marya Sea Kaminski will be in Clybourne Park at The Seattle Repertory Theatre in April, premiering Riddled at Hugo House June 1-23, and playing Hedda Gabler at Intiman this summer.

Amy Thone, Darragh Kennan, Hans Altwies (as well as Jennifer Lee Taylor) will be performing in "Holy Days" at the Raisbeck Performance Hall on the Cornish College of the Arts campus. March 16, 17, 18 at 8:00 pm. Tickets: 20:00 at Brown Paper Tickets

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Doing things I didn't think I could" by Noelle Mestres

Noelle Mestress is a Freehold student and is taking our Step II: Acting with Text class this Winter Quarter. We thought it'd be interesting to
follow her along on her class journey. This is the first of her blog posts. More to come over the next 8 weeks of class.


So, I’m in Sarah Harlett’s Step II: Acting with Text class. Sarah is a fantastic teacher and has a way of making a safe space to, frankly, let whatever comes about, come about, while teaching, supporting and guiding at the same time.

I took Intro to Acting with George Lewis because “I’ve always wanted to act” (so cliché) but mostly because I’m so darn self-conscious and shy that I figured it was a great way to be literally FORCED out of my shell.

I was right.

And, it continues in Sarah’s class.

I’m completely freaked out to be there yet I love it. I’ve been able to do things I didn’t think I could ... in front of people no less! I don’t know if I’ll really be able to act officially but I’ve found that I’m not really too concerned about that right now; I just want to really get what it means to bring my true self to imaginary circumstances. I thought that sounded so easy. It’s really hard. Before Freehold I thought that acting meant being someone else.

This week, we get assigned scripts and partners. That also completely freaks me out but I’ve found that whether or not I can do it is not the point and probably; I’ll be able to do it. I came home from class last week completely energized, wondering what the heck I was doing, being terrified of this week and not being able to wait for it to get here.


Stay tuned for more blog posts from Noelle!