Thursday, April 13, 2006

Acting class = surprisingly fun

I wrote last month that my scary goal for March (and April) was to take a five-week "acting for non-actors" class through my local community college. I thought it might teach me some techniques to help with my anxiety over public speaking.

Just like the presentations class I took in February, the common refrain for avoiding anxiety was to "be prepared and know your material." Beyond that, we've worked on lessons in observation, memorization, enunciation and improvisation. (I do like those "ion" words!) We've also worked on breathing, using the senses, body language, emotional recall and understanding stage direction.

One of my favorite exercises in the class is saying tongue-twisters to practice enunciation and projection. Try to say "unique New York" or "mixed biscuits" five times fast. If you want to be particularly tricky, try some of these:

"I split the sheet,
the sheet I split,
upon the slitted sheet I sit."

"Whether the weather be cold
or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not."
Or, the one I had the most trouble with: "The Leith Police dismisseth us". Dismisseth is just not a word meant to be spoken aloud...

What surprised me about the class is that I don't mind the improvisation exercises. Think of the television show Whose Line is it Anyway? but lower your expectations A LOT. One, two or a group of us will go in front of the class and be presented with a situation, and then we have to make up the scene as we go.

I can't boast that I'm overly entertaining (although I do hear laughter at times) but I don't think I suck, either. I think improvisation is sort of like, as an author, writing a scene of dialogue. It's a matter of turning off the internal editor and just going with the thoughts that pop into your head. And, when you go blank, letting your partner take the lead for a little while, then you work off of what he or she has said.

I confess, I have many moments of "I can't do this. I suck at this." but I've gotten through those moments and actually found it enjoyable. Sometimes I have to refrain from volunteering for every exercise. There are nine of us. I need to let the others have a chance!

Another exercise that I liked, we did on the first day of class. We played a game to practice both our listening skills and our memorization skills. We turned our backs to the class, then took turns introducing ourselves and saying one thing about ourselves. What did we notice about the people? What did we remember about the people?

Then, facing the class, going clockwise, we took turns introducing ourselves again, this time with a different piece of information. But there was a twist: when it came to be our turn, before introducing ourselves, we had to say what the people in front of us had said. When it was my turn, I had to remember that Jackie liked Jazz, Natalie liked art, Anna had a dog named Gibson and Joe liked to golf. There were only seven of us in class that night, so it wasn't that difficult. But, since I'm horrible at remembering people's names, I liked the practice. I was interesting, too, to learn about the devices people used to remember the names. Me? Maybe the reason I suck at remembering names is that I rely on straight memorization, instead of associating people with other people, words or situations.

Now there are two classes left. Looking at the syllabus, it looks like we'll be working on character development next week, and vocal interpretation in two weeks. Be on the lookout for future reports.

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