The first three weeks of class were fun, educational, and a little exhausting. I decided to bring cookies this week. Then things got dramatic.
June 28 – Missing Person
Class starts at 7:00. Students were there, but no instructor. Caitlin Lopez, where are you? About 7:20, I informed the Community Theatre staff that she was missing.
Turns out that she’s a real trouper. She was working on sets that morning. Heat advisory for the Inland Empire: temps around 105 degrees. She got heatstroke.
The staff told us we could use the room till 9:00. Some of us practiced our monologues, and the group gave feedback, but we ran out of steam by 8:00. We need you Caitlin.
Afterwards, I went outside and contemplated the meaning of theater with my pal Bill Shakespearski.
July 5 – The Return of Caitlin
Caitlin, Associate Artistic Director for Ophelia’s Jump Productions, returned, looking somewhat tired but claiming she was better than ever. Maybe it was just her new tan.
Students practiced their monologues. After each attempt, she critiqued and offered suggestions. Improvements in the monologues, except mine, were amazing. One of the students is about 12 years old, but somehow she had talked her way into this adult class. Her monologue was from a version of Cinderella. She played one of the evil stepsisters, bemoaning her fate and how unfair life was treating her.
“Does a prince ever ask me to dance? Nooo.”
The first time she delivered it, I leaned forward to try to hear it. By the third attempt, she was belting it out and we were all laughing.
I shared with Caitlin that I had auditioned actors a couple of times, but only using cold reads. A cold read is an actor reading a script they have not seen before with minimal preparation. I asked her what I should look for in actors delivering monologues.
She emphasized appropriateness of choice. A 60-year-old actor should not be delivering Marlon Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” monologue from On the Waterfront. Then she said that if they passed that test, look to their confidence and how well the piece is acted.
July 12 – Back to My Secret Identity
I skipped class and returned to my superhero identity as DarnGoodWriter to attend an out-of-town film festival. Darn it! I had to go to Las Vegas again. But, it was a good festival with amazing films and my latest screenplay is now in the hands of two producers. Score!
While I was gone, classmate, Trystyn Jackson, took notes on Cold Reading Night. Her takeaways included:
– Try not to spend too much time thinking about what to do or how to feel or act the character out. Go with your instinct, the first thing that comes to mind when skimming through the script.
– Trust yourself and always follow your intuition. This is as true in acting as it is in life.
– Don’t be afraid to ask questions to further your knowledge of the character you will be acting out.
– Take your time. Don’t be afraid to take the time to read the script all the way through. Usually an audition panel will allow you a few minutes to look over a scene. Take them.
– Remember your basic acting technique. Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly. Even if everything falls apart, make sure they can always hear you and see your face.
July 19 – Fast Food Stanislavski
We all got secret identities this week. We repeated the exercise where the first student picks a name, the second picks a profession, the third picks a deeply held belief, and the fourth ad-libs a monologue based on these factors
Then we took it one step further, into Fast Food Stanislavski.
Constantin Stanislavski developed the world’s most famous method for training actors. The system encourages actors to find an emotional memory to use to give life to the character they play.
Caitlin sat two actors, using the same personas developed earlier, facing one another over an imaginary table in a restaurant. Then she gave each one a secret objective, attitude, or situation that they needed to work into the conversation in a natural way.
As a writer, I heard the “subtext bell” go off in my head. Screenwriters are often pinged for writing dialogue that is “too on-the-nose.” For instance, in the previous exercise we learned that my character had a drinking problem. My secret was that he had decided to go on the wagon. In the scene with my partner, I did not say, “Hey kid, I’m giving up drinking.” Instead, when the waitress, played by Caitlin, came over pushing drinks, I ordered a diet Coke.
This lets the audience figure out what’s going on for themselves. Audiences like that.
July 28 – I Get Scary at the Final Exam
On the final night of Acting 101 the students delivered their monologues. Cinderella’s stepsister and other fictional friends from the past eight weeks were there. Recalling that Caitlin said that an actor’s monologue choice should be age appropriate, I decided to ditch Prince Hal and brought Hannibal Lecter with me instead.
Serendipitously, the Lewis Family Playhouse where the class took place left a temporary stage set up in our practice room. We were on stage for our final.
For my monologue, I used Hannibal’s put-down of Agent Starling delivered from his cell. My first attempt was clumsy. For the second attempt, Caitlin had me hold my hands up as if I were holding prison bars and stare forward as if I were looking at Agent Starling, not the audience. That went much better; however, I didn’t do nearly as well as my classmates.
Eight weeks earlier, I couldn’t spell akter, and now, I’m still not one, but I came away with an increased respect for the folks who have to make other people’s words their own. Was, from a writer’s perspective, the experience worth it? Definitely. Thank you, Caitlin and classmates for helping me become a better writer.