I began my classes this afternoon. There were only 6 other students – all of whom had been there at least four times already. The warm up exercises were not unlike those I’d done in my Perfecting the Pitch class so as silly as they made me feel, I didn’t implode!
When the exercises started in earnest, as the newbie I was given one on one attention from Dave, the instructor. He went over the general philosophy of the method they use at this school – I’ve come to realize there are as many theories about how to “act” as there are dyed blondes in Hollywood. Each one certain their’s is the “real” way.
This school is based on teaching you not how to step into a character but in being that character – abdicating yourself in the process. Sure you bring your own history, feelings, expectations to the role but the goal is to step out of yourself leaving all that baggage behind so all you think, feel, observe in a scene is through the eyes of the character. To that end, the first exercise I was given was to venture outside the class and to talk to at least 6 people with the goal of gaining enough insight into who they are that I could, given the chance, become them in any situation and react appropriately.
As a writer, this exercise appealed to me. I know that my motivation was supposed to be that of an actor but after just a half an hour in class, it was premature to expect me to cloak myself in that guise. Fortunately I’m not a shy person. Walking up to strangers and starting to converse was oddly easy. Granted, if someone had come up to me and just started to talk, I’d likely run for the hills but the people I approached stayed put and spoke with me. I met some fascinating characters. I met a woman at Ralph’s with a single bottle of Champagne in her cart. She’d just come from seeing three houses and once she’d poured over all the data on each, she was going to decide which to put an offer on and celebrate with a glass of bubbly. I loved that she was enjoying the life step often described as the 2nd most anxiety producing event after the death of a loved one. She’d saved and now she was ready to take the plunge. She’d thought long and hard about where to live, how big a house to buy and how much money she’d need. She was a planner, not unlike me. I enjoyed speaking with her and wished her the best.
I also met a security guard. A thirty year old man who worked seven days a week. I asked him what he did for fun and he looked at me blankly. When I asked what he’d do with a $1000 given to him on condition that he couldn’t spend it on bills, he thought for a long minute and said he’d save it. He never stopped smiling but he did admit that he didn’t enjoy his work because no one ever spoke to him. Made me glad that I’d chosen him to talk to.
Back in the class Dave explained character drills then I joined the students already working on them. Three in a row, with an intentionally short time between each so you can’t over think it, you are given a character to become. Characters ranged from Lion Tamer to Pick Pocket. The trick is to be the character without using their “job” – for instance the pick-pocket having lunch with his mom. What of his pick-pocket attitudes does he bring to the lunch? How to portray that? After thirty of these, I began to stop thinking and began to just “be” – baby steps with much room for improvement.
The class finished up with performances. Using a character from the drills or, in my case, someone you’d met, be that person in an improv scene. On the black stage with nothing visible beyond the lights, it was remarkably easy to become that Security Guard I’d spoken with. I hope I did him justice. I’m actually looking forward to next week’s class.