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

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