Monday night was the first night of the 8 weeks of introductory acting class.
I tried not to think about the pouring down rain as an omen to my first night of acting class. Nor the fact that the freeway I was driving on was filled with potholes (I hit them all) and that I didn’t have my new glasses so I was very nervous about driving. But none of that would be an omen, right?The closer I got, the more I could feel myself start to disassociate. The good news? There were only 6 people in the class. The bad news? The low number didn’t make me feel any less nervous about it all. It’s weird because I have spoken to larger groups of people but because this was so new (and I don’t “do” new well) and so outside my comfort zone, I felt pretty shaky. The class meets at the San Jose Repertory Theater. The good news? It is NOT being held on the big stage but in a little side room. More good news is that before class I was able to check out the second floor balcony of the place as a potential venue for my book launch. It’s a long, somewhat narrow and irregular shaped balcony that looks over the main lobby with lots of windows and great art. There’s a bar area at the end. I actually thought the price was very reasonable and there’s lot of parking around the place, even free parking, if the event is after 6pm.There were, like I said, 6 of us in the class with an age span of 40 years. Three men and three women. Some of them want to be actors. Some of them want to be better presenters. Some of them want to grow as a person. We all exhibited various nervous signs. For me I disassociated a little more. My heart raced and I felt the rosacea flush start to build. Just being here, doing something new, and I was on the edge of quitting. I can’t remember the last time I did something new, something I didn’t know how to do already. I can’t remember the last time I pushed myself to the point of being this uncomfortable. Because I can’t remember, I know it has been too long. I had to stay. Stay or just go ahead and give up on taking myself and my career to the next level. It was time to get out of my own way.
The first thing she had us do is introduce ourselves and tell what it meant to us to be an actor. Of course since I don’t aspire to be an actor I felt awkward right away but the instructor was good about the idea that not all of us want to be on the stage. She talked a bit about her background and a class she teaches about acting with emotional honestly. I actually relaxed for a moment when she said that because of my strong beliefs about writing with emotional honesty. We stood up and did an exercise called “yes, and” where one person would say, “You have blonde hair” and the other would answer “Yes, I have blonde hair and you are wearing a red shirt.” It went back and forth for a while, building some energy and breaking down some barriers. Mostly I was okay with that but my face was very flushed (so much that my partner commented on it) so perhaps while I’m at the theater I’ll learn some actor’s makeup tricks to hide the damn pink face that is rosacea. Grumble, grumble.
She led us through a guided meditation that instead of relaxing me made my heart race even more. Throughout it all my arms and legs felt very shaky. My heart raced. My face continued to flush. But my torso felt devoid of anything. Odd.
She put on some tribal music and had us MOVE around the room. The instructions were simple – just move. You could go off to a corner, sprawl on the floor, whatever. It was hard. Hard for all of us. I don’t dance. Not ever and this was dancing without instructions in front of strangers. I never completely relaxed and found myself instead watching the other people, envying their ability to be silly and wishing I had it too.
We did another exercise where we paired off and asked the other person for something we really wanted. The other person was to respond positively. Then we did it again and we were to respond in the negative. The idea was to notice the change in the energy and how we felt.
Then we made a semi circle of an audience and each took turns standing up in front of everyone. First just standing there, making eye contact with each person, waiting, arms by your side, silent. Then we had to talk about something we were passionate about. I talked about Hugging the Rock (big surprise as I had just received the galleys that day) . It was interesting to see, as you would expect, how people came more alive, their energy increased, the energy in the room increased, when they spoke about something they felt passionate about. After sharing their passion each person shared something that it wasn’t likely other people knew. More talk about building a safe place, which it did feel like by the end of the night.
The last exercise was “share the impulse” and I’ve done versions of it before. You hold hands in a circle and one person starts a squeeze and you keep it going around the room. After a lot of false starts we kept two of them going in opposite directions for a few rounds and then called it a night.
It was a wonderful but exhausting 3 hours. For homework she handed us questions to ask ourselves, stressing that the better we know ourselves the better we can bring ourselves to the performance. This, of course, is exactly what we writers try to do when we create a character. Next week we bring a video tape and a monologue, or for those of us who are working on other presenting skills, we bring a speech.
None of this class will be easy but all of it will be educational.