I see the professional actor as a human whose ordinary skills have been sharpened – skills such as understanding another being, truly listening to and seeing what is said and unsaid, making strong and effective choices, being present in the moment, using and comfortably inhabiting their own body, and understanding the signals they send to others. This makes teaching acting vastly rewarding, and the corollary gives us one of our learning outcomes: the student must be able to see what they as humans have to offer the art; how their unique combination of skills, stories, imagination, and physicality form their own foundation for professional artistic work. My job is working with them to identify their own strengths to help them stand out in competitive professional markets, as well as the skill sets to thrive within them.
My work is rooted in the analysis and discipline of Stanislavski, supplemented by the imagination and joy of Michael Chekhov, the physical journey and play of LeCoq, and Meisner’s conviction that the best theatre lies in genuine extra-textual interaction. Throughout the acting approaches a student may be exposed to the constants are their instrument (body) and mind/soul/creativity. Thus a through-line of physical and vocal training helps create continuity and tangible progression for students, while periodic reflection and synthesis with their creative aesthetic helps them grow as artists.
There is an element of via negativa, of removing the blocks that prevent us from being our better and more natural selves, and I think some of this parallels the ideal collegiate journey of self-discovery for a young adult – but to get them there I’m not above sharing that ‘bag of tricks’ approach either. These may serve as specific performance techniques, training drills, or just a placebo, like Dumbo’s magic feather, helping students express what they had in them all along. Eventually students must come to see how their personal combination of skills, experience, creativity, and physicality form their own unique foundation for artistic work. This makes theatre accessible to all, while helping aspiring professionals know how to distinguish themselves in a competitive market.
In classes I seek a balance of academic, physical, and creative. Reach into one area of study need to be accompanied by its complement. Imagination without understanding or the ability to execute it is just daydreams. Understanding without creativity and execution produces nothing. Ability without understanding or creativity will never reach its full potential. Most students will find some of these aspects come naturally to them, but a supportive, collective inquiry process means they can assist each other, finding not only the common ground but, more importantly, the areas where their skills and knowledge are complementary. This is key to productive diversity, the kind that infuses our way of approaching working relationships.
My acting classes include exercises from established practitioners, script and character analysis, improvisation, application to monologue or scene work, and group discussion. Students should leave class with a deeper understanding of their own relationships to their selves and others and how to use their voices and bodies effectively as storytellers and active agents in the world. They gain the tools to make intelligent choices based on character, story, and integrated sources of inspiration from a variety of fields.
Special topics such as period movement or stage combat may appear to be primarily technique but must transcend the face value skill and be seen as a way of exploring and expressing character in unfamiliar contexts. Stage Combat is a specialty of mine not just as a skill set but as a chance to explore how characters handle immediate pressing concerns and face the ultimate existential dilemmas, all set to a clear physical score of collaboratively devised theatre.
I constantly involve students in exploration of underlying concepts, of why something works or was done a particular way, to develop theatre artists who can eventually go beyond the techniques they’ve been taught and apply their deeper understanding to break new ground within the art. If I can teach them to bring their whole being to what they do —life experience, imagination, intelligence and body— then they have a chance to do what all students should; to learn not just what we can teach them, but move on to what they can offer the world.