Thursday, April 10, 2014

Interview with Freehold ETI Alums: Riley Neldam and Lori Evans

Freehold's Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) is a program of Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio. ETI will return in the Fall of 2014 offering the only independent 10-month certificate program for dedicated adult actors in the Pacific Northwest. The Ensemble Training Intensive was created for the serious student who is ready to commit to the next level artistically and professionally. The curriculum focuses on developing the skills necessary to meet the technical demands of classical text and extraordinary contemporary material. Freehold will be running ETI again this Fall 2014 and applications are now available auditions: June 4, 2014). We had a chance recently to visit with two Freehold ETI alums, Riley Neldam and Lori Evans, from our 2010-2011 program.

What drew you to Freehold's ETI program in the first place? 

Riley: Initially, I had only heard bits and pieces of what ETI was and what it could offer an actor that was looking to make a more serious commitment to the professional theatre world but it was enough to have me intrigued.  I did a little more research and what really drew me in were the organizations and people that were connected with the program, such as Seattle Repertory Theatre, New Century Theatre Company (with founding company members making up much of our faculty) and many other seasoned veterans of the Seattle stage and local Film community.  Ultimately, I knew I was at a turning point in my life in which I needed to find the discipline to take ownership of my craft and career and it seemed to me that surrounding myself with some of the best working artists and teachers of our city was the way to go and I think that is what I found. 

Lori: I had just graduated from UW with a BA in Drama, but being a liberal arts major did not provide enough practical acting work. I was looking to immerse myself in everything to do with acting, giving myself as many tools to be the best actor I could be, without spending three years in grad school.  Another draw to the program was committing to a group of people for better or for worse and growing together. It is a challenge to be completely honest with yourself and other people and I wanted an atmosphere where I was encouraged to express all of me freely.

What excited and challenged you in the first few months of doing the work in ETI?

Riley: I connected to the physical work that we did in the program: working with Freehold Founding Member George Lewis became something I continually looked forward to.  It was an ongoing challenge to remove the emphasis I constantly put on "getting it right" and just enjoying the process.  That became my Mantra "Process, Process, Process."

Lori: The Linklater voice work with Kim White was transforming, learning a whole new way of releasing tension in my body to allow breath to inspire impulses. But it was tricky to embrace at first as the language is very specific, and my brain rebelled against the form, but once I jumped in and embraced the unknown it all became clear!  Creating a solo piece with Marya Sea Kaminski was unbelievably inspiring. Having the encouragement to create and perform my own work has been tremendously empowering because of the vulnerability of being solely responsible for every aspect of the performance. She worked with such compassion and care which created a safe space for us to dig deep into our own stories and devise performance art that allowed for a talented group of people to shine.

As the program progressed, what insights surfaced as you got deeper into the work?  

Riley: Luckily, I was one of the younger (if not youngest) members of the ensemble and because of this it was not difficult for me to set actor ego aside to seek advice from the other members of the ensemble in regards to the work. Although every member of the group had a greatly different background and set of experiences they were drawing from, they all had something unique to contribute to my understanding of craft and process. There were many days in which I felt I learned as much, if not more, just from watching other members of the ensemble having breakthrough after breakthrough in class, particularly during the Linklater work with Kimberly White.

Lori: The physical movement work with George Lewis was surprisingly insightful. I had heard scary stories about his teaching and was not looking forward to being denigrated in front of my classmates, but I found embracing failure, and uprooting my need to “get it right” a foundation for unlocking acting freedom and having fun!  

Looking back over the 10 month program, were there particular moments that stood out for you?  

Riley: During our classical work with Amy Thone, I got the chance to play Richard III in a showcase performance towards the end of the year.  I realized then how much I prefer playing bad guys.

Lori: I immediately flashed back on my final Shakespeare scene from Richard 3 with Riley playing Richard to my Elizabeth. Working with an actor that was as motivated as myself to discover and try new things was exciting. Amy Thone taught me that Shakespeare’s brilliance is revealed when we allow the verse to sing its music and to embrace the form rather than fight it, and Kevin McKeon’s direction was sensitive and allowing.  Another moment I remember was in movement class when George waved his hand in front of my eyes saying “stay present” as we were holding some IMPOSSIBLY difficult pose and speaking complicated Ulysses text at the same time. This simple wave in front of my face jolted me back into the room and was a revelation of the difference between staying available and present in the moment and the opposite of being off in my own inner thought world. 

How has your participation in ETI impacted the work you are doing currently? 

Riley: This might sound extreme but it is the greatest endorsement I can give: before I went through ETI I was a young actor taking classes at a local community college, the DAY I finished ETI I was contracted to the first professional theatre show of my life and it didn't stop there.

Lori: ETI sponsored members of the theatre community to come and give master classes. We had Dennis Krausnick from Shakespeare & Company come lead us in a class one morning and I was intrigued by his incorporating voice, movement and Shakespeare’s text from the Renaissance worldview. So after ETI graduation I traveled to Massachusetts to continue more training with Shakespeare & Company and I now work in their renowned education department with Kevin G. Coleman and direct Shakespeare plays in schools with kids from 3-18 years old. I get the joy of watching students celebrate each other while saying the most beautiful words in the English language. I draw on all the great instruction from ETI constantly in my work. I still do Linklater voice, movement work, empower myself with thoughts of devising new solo work, use Amy Thone’s brilliant mantra “think the thoughts and speak the words” and her imagery and rhetoric work, I think of Hans Altwies as I teach kids stage combat with imaginary swords, hear Robin’s voice saying “what are you getting from him?” I remember the yoga bliss of Joel when I get stressed, and think of John Jacobsen asking me what choices I’m making each moment as I prepare for auditions. These and so many others are wonderful voices to have in my head. I feel very fortunate to have had their caring influences. The instructors were invested in my life and wanted to see me succeed.

If someone were to ask you why they should sign up to be part of ETI, what would you say? 

Riley: You get what you give so you have to show up for the work, and by that I mean both being brave enough to be present with the process and physically getting your ass out of bed in the morning, the latter becomes a bigger and bigger challenge as time goes on but if you fight through the slumps and plateaus, personal growth can be exponential in this program but it will certainly test your resolve. 

Lori: I have enjoyed wonderful working relationships within the Seattle community from contacts I made at Freehold. Seattle is a small town when distilled down to the arts and Freehold has access to so many of the major influences in the theatre community and they shared their richness freely with me. 

But it’s not for the faint of heart. The program is best for those that really want to focus solely on their craft for 10 months. You have to get up early and go to class and stay up late to study when you are exhausted. This is a group that you are committing your best to for the next 10 months and that expectation is desired for the program to be life-changing. You show up when you don’t want to, when you’ve NOT done your homework, when you are sick or injured because if you don’t, you let the whole ensemble down. You get out what you put in. Leaping off the cliff with hands in the air is needed to fully embrace what the program has to offer. 

Freehold is offering its Ensemble Training Intensive program beginning in September 2014 and running through June 2015.  Auditions will be held June 4, 2014.  For more information about Freehold's upcoming ETI program or to apply:

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