Enrolling in Annette Toutonghi’s Step III: Scene Study Text Intensive class was probably the best decision I’ve made towards broadening my acting skills. I’ve never been in a classroom environment that was so enlightening, gratifying, and restorative as the one she created for us at Freehold twice a week. Having just completed Sarah Harlett’s Accelerated Intro to Acting, I looked towards Annette’s class as being the next step in the development of my craft. What I received was probably double that. Her knowledge, passion, professionalism, and care were transformative. I would not only highly recommend the class to any pursuant actor – but to anyone wishing to explore storytelling and the human condition.
I never felt self-conscious or afraid to perform in front of her, my classmates, or the lovely Christine Marie Brown who shadowed her that quarter. That’s how safe and inviting her classroom was, and it was certainly necessary. Annette demanded a lot of personal introspection and vulnerability from each participant. We were always mining deeper and deeper into our own histories and emotions to bring our characters to life. It was an incredible experience that brought the entire class close to one another.
The framework we worked under was very much the idea of living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. In order to do this, not only did we spend the quarter working on scenes from famous American plays, we also did a variety of exercises and assignments that asked us to delve into and examine our own lives. I’ll admit, despite the excitement, it was a tall order. Annette posed hard scenarios in which we would have to find our own justifications for extreme events. For instance, one required me to justify why I would estrange my father. What circumstances would lead me to perform such an act? How, when, and why did I come to that hard decision? And how did I justify it as right? All these supplementary exercises were about making the circumstances real for you, to engage actively with your imagination, so that when it came to your scene work you already had a well of emotions at your disposal. I found that these emotions came as real to me in my scene as they did in my personal assignments, and this was really exciting for me.
Of all the acting instructors I’ve had to date, I don’t think anyone was so attuned to my acting as Annette and Christine were. Nothing was overlooked or skimmed over. I still remember when my partner and I were working on our scene from Proof by David Auburn; Annette began a crusade to make me act on my impulses (needless to say I had been squelching them without knowledge). She condensed the scene down to a single beat where my character’s impulse to reprimand her sister was being lost. On the third or fourth revisit she could tell I was getting frustrated (she was a dog with a bone that woman!) and she finally told me “Eliza, I’m going hard on you because you’re a very smart actor and I know you can do this. Keep pushing yourself to act on intuition.” In that moment I knew that’s what I would always remember her for. When I finally jumped on that impulse my fifth time round, it was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve ever had in acting. All because Annette held me accountable to my instincts.
The exact same could be said for Christine. Christine is just one of those people who is so knowledgeable in her craft, so dedicated to the development of others’ acting abilities, and so warm and loving to the people she interacts with that one couldn’t help but feel a sense of connection. If there’s one thing I’ll remember most from my work with her it’s the absolute importance of organic emotion over preconceived (or superficial) thoughts. Always she was digging deeper, asking questions, making sure that what our character was experiencing was, in fact, true human emotion.
I can say, without hesitation, that Annette and Christine were two of the best and most inspirational instructors I’ve had the pleasure to work with. It certainly was a lot of work, but they brought me a new depth and understanding for acting which I could not have reached without them. I only hope that I might have the privilege of working with them again someday. Truly, the class was such a wonderful and changing experience that I would hope anyone interested would act on their own impulse, enroll in the class, and experience it for themselves.
Photo above: Elizabeth Wu
Freehold is offering Step III: Scene Study Text Intensive with Christine Marie Brown this coming Winter Quarter. For more information: Step III: Scene Study Text Intensive.