Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"You get it when you get it" by Kate Gavigan

Funny the things that stick in your head.

That very first Step I: Intro to Acting class I took at Freehold some 11 years ago, George Lewis, the instructor, said “This is one of those classes that established professional actors could come back and take time and again and benefit from a great deal.  What you will learn here will serve as the foundation for your acting and will be what you return to again and again in your work.”

Ok, you got my attention.  And away we went on the journey and what a journey it has been.  The memories in that class are still vivid to this day – my reluctance to try to embody an exaggerated walk in a movement exercise and my ability to bust through that reluctance with some well placed prodding from George, the surprise from myself and my scene partner when I was able to respond honestly in an improvised scene and managed (as instructed) to really “get his goat”.  And don’t forget the laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter.

My enthusiasm for Freehold and the classes grew with each class I attended and when the next quarter’s brochures were hot off the presses, I was first in line snapping them up.  It’s not to say that sometimes I didn’t have doubts.  I, on more than one occasion, after putting down the nonrefundable deposit had the post-payment ambivalence and would call the Freehold office asking “Are you SURE the deposit is nonrefundable?”  The very pleasant registrar on the other end of the line would politely note “Yes, yes it is” and upon hanging up I’d remember that I had not yet paid for a class and been disappointed.  This would nudge me on to trust that this next class held promises and gifts that I would not regret having opened. 

And I haven’t regretted a single one. In fact, some classes I have enjoyed so much and gotten so much out of them I have taken them over and over.  One example, is Freehold’s Step III: Basic Scene Study class.  The first time I took it I was thrilled to get to work not with one instructor but two.  Timothy Piggee and Jacqueline Moscou had team taught for several years and their wisdom and that of the other students was inspiring.  I learned what it looks like when actors respond truthfully in the moment.  I learned personally what it was like to fail at doing just that and then to pick yourself up and try and try again.  

I took some detours around scene study work for a few years enjoying the fun of Spoken Word and Voice Over classes but found myself called back to text and scene work.  While I could have moved onto Freehold's Rehearsal and Performance class, there was a wee voice telling me “Nope. You still have some more you could learn in Scene Study” so I registered for my 2nd Scene Study class – this time with Annette Toutonghi.  Talking to some of my previous Scene Study class alums, there was sometimes a “But you already took that class” response.  And while I had moments of thinking the very same thing – “Is this the best move?” – I recalled George’s line re: Step I “You could take it again and again and benefit” and leaned into my own intuition.

To say that my second Scene Study class with Annette was transformative would simply be an understatement. Her commitment to honoring the moment before in the scene, her repetition of “Are you responding to what was just given to you by your scene partner?” and her constructive notes were the road map I tried to follow.  I can’t say exactly when I felt transformed but there was one moment that stands out.  My scene partner and I were doing a parallel improv and I tried to take the direction given:  “Prior to the start of the scene, drop down into your personal circumstances, play your own objective, listen to our scene partner and respond only to what was said by your scene partner.”

It felt like being on a roller coaster flying down the steepest hill.  It was exhilarating, a little terrifying and made me realize that this is the only way I wanted to do it – to act. I wanted to live truthfully in the moment and respond to my scene partner – even if it wasn’t how I thought the scene should go or where I thought my character should be headed.  I left the class excited, a little lightheaded and also wondering when I could get back on the ride.

Later that week, I ran into a faculty member who’d asked how Step III was going.  I shared my transformative moment noting “I wonder why it didn’t click earlier?”  She laughed and said “I see this a lot with students but this work is a process and you get it when you get it – it can be different for everyone.”  

I left reassured and inspired to take Step III for a third time but this time with Christine Marie Brown.  I was able to take what I learned in my previous Step III classes (actually all of my Step classes) and apply it to new circumstances under the supportive and very knowledgeable instruction of another faculty member.  One of the wonderful benefits of taking the class with a different faculty member is getting to hear new ideas (and similar ones) but from a new perspective.  I got that and much more from Christine.  She chose a delicious scene for me to dive into: “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley. In the process, I learned the importance of doing your homework on your character's backstory, the benefit of having a solid warm-up practice and the wisdom of asking yourself what you want from your scene partner. I left the class feeling satiated with Scene Work wisdom. So much so that I finally felt ready to take Rehearsal and Performance. 

Before taking Step III, I recalled thinking “I’m never going to be ready to take R&P” but over time I became more ready.  When I finally took the class, it was under the extraordinary instruction of Darragh Kennan. I have so many vivid memories from the class including times of fellowship with my fellow students, working through directors' notes to try and capture the nuances of the character's motivations and trying to remember all of the ukulele notes I was playing in the opening number.  But perhaps the most evocative was standing in the wings with a fellow actor 2 minutes before going on stage for the first time and saying to her: "Why in the world am I doing this?" and then fast forward 3 performances later with my saying to her "Why aren't we doing this for 3 MORE weekends?"  Heading into this class, I felt as prepared as I could be and the experience was delightful, terrifying, humbling, very powerful and one I will always treasure.  

It is no small thing for me that I can now say “I have been in a play”. 

While the road there might have been a longer one than I might have anticipated, it was the exact route I needed to take for my artistic journey.  I’m looking forward to the next trip and class.  

"Where IS that brochure?"

In addition to being a Freehold student, Kate is the Communications Manager for Freehold Theatre and teaches Artist's Way classes in the Seattle community.
Photo above:  Kate Gavigan in Freehold's Rehearsal and Performance class performing in "Almost Maine" by John Cariani

Monday, January 13, 2014

Emerging in Freehold Classes By Laura Nelson

Prior to taking Step I: Intro to Acting at Freehold in January of 2013, my experience of acting had been limited to being an audience member, engaging in whatever theatrics were required of me as a language teacher (ESL, French and Italian) or as a language student (most recently, Korean), and participating in the occasional “skit” for a friend’s birthday.

I did participate in a high school play once; I was a chorus member, a “mama”, one of several townspeople in a high school production of “Fiddler on the Roof” who did not have speaking roles; however, I was a 30-year-old faculty member at the time and the experience had petrified me. I came away, though, with a sense of the excitement and joy that clearly had drawn both my brother and my son to the stage. I got a sense, too, that the seemingly contradictory sensations of being petrified and being excited, thrilled, were most likely inseparable.

Nearly 25 years later, both my brother and my son having passed away within seven months of each other, I decided to explore acting in part to honor their memories and their shared passion. It was a way of staying connected. I did not know what I would find in an acting class, but I knew that I would learn about the craft they loved, and possibly more about the two of them, and myself, in the process. That was enough to get me into Step I.

It is impossible to overstate the transformative power of the intimacy I have experienced in all 3 of the Freehold classes I have taken so far. Steps I through III are called the “Emerging Series” for a reason; so many actor-butterflies emerging out of so many acting-class-cocoons. It’s not about transforming oneself into a completely different creature. It’s about creating, cultivating and nurturing creative spaces essential to natural change and growth. It’s about participating in the process of change.

In class, participating means you start where you are, with no experience, like me, or with a lot, like many of my classmates. You commit to being open and curious, to being present, to doing the work, to supporting other students, to accepting the instructor’s dynamic involvement in whatever form it takes throughout the process, and voilĂ ! You’re an actor-butterfly! Ok, maybe not. But the cocoon-class environments created by Freehold’s staff are real ones; they are safe, intimate, judgment-free, exciting, challenging, encouraging, and, I repeat, transformative.

I have emerged from each of my Freehold classes (Step I: Intro to Acting with Stefan Enriquez, Step II: Acting with Text with Meg McLynn, and exploring Solo Performance with Marc Kenison) changed, more awake, to myself, to others. Oddly, feeling both more solid and lighter. I have learned how to access feelings and react truthfully – on stage and in real life – with more grace, using elements beyond those provided to me solely by my brain. I have learned that in addition to my brain, where I have been hanging out for decades, I have a body that can be used to communicate in more ways than I’d previously imagined.

And I am still emerging. What we are emerging from is ourselves. Again and again and again.

Freehold's Winter Quarter classes are now open for registration.  More information on Winter Quarter classes HERE.

Interview with Sandbox Artists Collective Member Amy Love on SOAP Fest

SOAP Fest is an independent project initiated by members of The Sandbox Artists Collective, a membership based collective of working theatre professionals, formed as a place for mid-career artists to explore their craft in the company of their peers. It was originally created in the fall of 2008 by Freehold's Theatre Lab in an effort to continue to push for a renaissance of new, courageous and experimental work in our artistic community.
What is SOAP Fest? 

SOAP Fest stands for Sandbox One-Act Play Festival.  It's a festival of brand new one-act plays, written by members of The Sandbox Artists Collective, and performed under the Actors' Equity Members' Project Code.  The inspiration comes from Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon of One-Act Plays in New York, where several Sandboxers including myself are also members.  Leslie Law was having great success with Sandbox Radio Live! (which just transferred to ACT), so the timing felt right.  Thankfully fellow Sandboxers Liza Comtois and Gin Hammond graciously agreed to help steer the ship.  SOAP Fest premiered in June 2013 for three nights only to full houses, with a company of 40 actors, directors, playwrights, designers, and production staff, most of whom came from The Sandbox. This year we’ll be at West of Lenin in Fremont, June 4-June 8.    

"Knocking Bird," by Emily Conbere was performed in SOAP Fest 2013 directed by Andy McGinn, with Seanjohn Walsh (pictured left) and Michael Patten (pictured right). Photo by John Ulman.

You have had an amazing line-up of playwrights for last year's event - including Elizabeth Heffron, Scot Augustson, Emily Conbere, and Paul Mullin.  What have you heard from participants (actors/playwrights) regarding why they are eager to participate in SOAP Fest? 

Seriously, those were some exciting playwrights.  We couldn’t believe our good fortune for the very first year!  Hopefully what draws such talented writers is that SOAP Fest is first and foremost a playwright's festival.  The goal is to provide a workshop-like atmosphere where writers can continue to develop their plays, even during the rehearsal process.  Thankfully the directors, actors, and designers are totally on board for the ride.  We also do our best to get the word out about SOAP Fest, so people who participate can be confident that it's going to be seen. (photo above: With director Julie Beckman and playwright Scot Augustson. Photo by John Ulman.)

What have you heard from past SOAP Fest attendees? 

What was exciting was that people left the theater talking.  They wanted to discuss what they experienced -- the surprises involved in Scot Augustson's Milwaukee, the heartbreaking moments in Elizabeth Heffron's …dispose of me…, the controversial subject matter in Paul Mullin's Openly We Carry, or the incredible transformation that takes place in Emily Conbere's Knocking Bird.  The audience also seemed to really appreciate watching something intimate unfold with terrific acting in a beautifully understated setting.  And because they’re one-acts, they’re complete stories where, in the words of playwright (and current SOAP Fest Literary Manager) Conbere, “the blow of the climax comes quicker and more to the punch.”  I think people also enjoyed seeing the premiere of brand new work.

What are you excited for regarding the upcoming SOAP Fest in June, 2014?

Our inaugural lineup was really thrilling, and we can’t wait to see who will be featured in SOAP Fest 2014.  One of the interesting aspects of SOAP Fest is that the scripts are submitted anonymously.  The plays that are chosen are selected exclusively because they’re great stories.  Incidentally, last year’s playwrights are asked to sit out from submitting the following year, so 2014 is wide open for a whole new lineup.  Even with that guideline, we got over 50% more submissions!  When it comes time to discuss the plays, it’s going to be intense.  But I can already guarantee that SOAP Fest 2014 is going to be good.

For more information on SOAP Fest, go to http://www.soapfest.org

Monday, January 6, 2014

Demystifying Auditioning at Freehold by Bart Smith

Freehold's Auditioning class gives students an opportunity to work on contemporary and/or classical monologues, to learn about audition-specific acting techniques and also to gain real world auditioning experience by participating in mock auditions with several (surprise!) guest directors from the regional theatre community.  More information on our upcoming Winter Auditioning class can be found here.


Auditioning for a play? Sounds like fun, right? Not for most of us. For me, thinking about an audition brings up many flavors of fear, insecurity, trepidation, etc.  I took Christine Marie Brown’s Auditioning class at Freehold this fall in hopes of confronting those fears, learning more about what an audition is, and developing some tools for preparing and performing the audition.

I found the class to be made up of both experienced actors, with long performance resumes, as well as others like myself, who have little experience in the audition room. It was comforting to know that the process can be intimidating and a challenge regardless of your experience. Christine brought in her years of expertise and first-hand knowledge of what goes on during an audition. We practiced our audition pieces (contemporary monologues) in front of the class. The feedback was supportive and informative.  Through repetition, we could feel the progress in ourselves and witness the growth in our classmates. Already the idea of auditioning was becoming less intimidating.

Christine coached us in all elements of the process in class as well as in a private session: selection of a piece, preparation, warm up, the waiting room, acting choices, dress, resume, headshots, entering the room, presentation of your piece, and exiting the room.  We talked about auditioning in Seattle in particular – what casting directors expect, and how to prepare for different situations. We even explored what can go wrong in an audition, and how to cope when things don’t go according to plan. She held a mock audition in which she played the part of the auditor, and gave us a chance to work in a realistic scenario.

Once we had a chance to hone our audition pieces, Christine set up different audition scenarios with guest casting directors.  In addition to our monologues, we worked on a musical theater audition piece and did a call back audition, reading one side of dialogue from a play. These sessions were enormously helpful; we got to practice our craft in front of some of the same auditors we’d see in the Seattle theaters, and get their feedback and suggestions.  Following these in-class auditions, we had great discussions with the artists about how casting works in their theaters, and what they look for in the audition room.

These sessions were instrumental in demystifying the whole audition process and
before we could really think about it, we were all auditioning.  In fact we were EXPERIENCED “audition-ers.” There was an element of “just do it” that worked in our favor. By turning our focus from all the things that could go wrong, and directing it toward the work itself, dare I say, auditioning became fun. Who would of thought?

One of Christine’s many bits of advice that helped me to take the teeth of out the audition experience: think of yourself as the host when you walk into the audition room. The auditors are your guests – they are here to enjoy themselves and are looking forward to seeing you. Make them feel comfortable, put them at ease.

Really the class, in a nutshell, did precisely that for me. It helped put me at ease, made me feel like I hold something valuable, something that needs to be shared, and that an audition is a great opportunity to share it.