Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Intro to Acting Experience by David Caldwell

My interest in performing is rooted in musical theater. And although I’ve sung my entire life, I haven’t played an official role since age 12 in a community production of The Music Man.  I finally decided 2014 was my year to audition for local theater. But my stomach would churn every time I read “please come prepared with a 1-2 minute monologue…” I knew I needed help with my acting so I asked a few performer friends for advice and they all pointed me to Freehold Theatre Lab/Studio.

If, like me, you have never taken an acting class, you are in for a fascinating challenge. I was nervous that first day in our Step I: Intro to Acting class, as our teacher, Andrew McGinn, guided us through some warm-up exercises. Andrew is a rather imposing, hirsute redhead with a deep, raspy voice, but these exercises seemed really silly. The nine of us laughed anxiously at ourselves and one another trying to get acclimated to this bizarre parallel universe where neither shoes nor ego were welcome. During that class, Andrew dropped his first of many gems when he said, “It’s ok to be nervous. Acting is really, really hard. If it weren’t, everyone would do it and no one would care about theater anymore.”

For the next few months we worked, slowly and deliberately, to wrap our brains around what acting really is – essentially, reacting authentically in artificial circumstances. Borrowing techniques from teachers like Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner, we spent many hours learning how to “get grounded” and “drop in” to a scene. This became the primary focus of our class: learning how to identify the true nature of a character (or in many cases, ourselves) and maintain that nature throughout a series of imaginary circumstances. It sounds simple to me. But it is deceptively difficult to clear your mind, place yourself in an imaginary setting, and accomplish your character’s goal by reacting to what is actually happening on that stage, not what is expected or assumed. Not surprisingly, this process involved many conversations about sociology, psychology and even Buddhist philosophy. It is still my favorite part of the acting process.

As we moved through the exercises I came to appreciate the difficulty of being truly present in a scene with another person. What is really incredible, though, is learning how this process, which demands patience, concentration and awareness, is directly applicable to real-life personal interactions beyond the stage. If nothing more, this class has made me a better listener.

I have only scratched the surface on my work as an actor. But what I learned in this class has given me the confidence to move forward and keep practicing. In fact, I was recently cast in the first musical I auditioned for. In just a few weeks I get to try my techniques as a slightly sadistic hospital chaplain. I can hardly wait.


To check out our upcoming Intro to Acting classes and other Freehold classes, go to:

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