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.

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