Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Stories from the Summer Theatre Intensive: "How I Spent My Summer Vacation, or, 'Drop! And give me twenty (lines)!'"

I'm Sean, a middle-aged community theatre actor/director/playwright from Kitchener, Ontario. This summer, like last summer, I spent a week in Theatre Ontario's Summer Workshop Intensive program. You could also call it theatre boot camp.

Last year I took Andrew Lamb's "Directions on Directing"—a brilliant course that filled my head with much knowledge useful not only as a director but on-stage as an actor. 

This year, I chose to focus on my acting skills and signed up for Brenda Kamino's "Hot Scenes." I had no idea what I was getting into.

Not exactly true. I knew I'd be in for five days of almost constant intense focus not only in class, but in collaboration with my peers. Classmates, all of whom were people like me, taking a week out of their regular lives in dedication to improving their theatre craft.

But what would my class be like? I was told to prepare a new monologue for presentation. And to have read Death of a Salesman so we could discuss it in class. And that we would be assigned scenes to work on based on our needs and desires as actors.

The first day we did some warm-ups then delivered our monologues. I don't know if I've ever seen a more intent observer in Brenda Kamino. Not so much pinning one to the wall as being very aware of everything one is doing. After a brief bit of feedback we were sent off to lunch and told upon our return we'd be assigned specific scenes and partners that would expose and exercise our acting gaps.

When we came back, we got our assignments; several pages each of our doom. For when one is weak in an area, one must exercise that area, right where one is weak. 

My scene had me playing completely against type, in situations I would never choose, expressing emotions I found personally revolting. But I am an actor, yes? I should be able to act! 

I can do this thing, this is why I am here, to grow and learn, to become better at my craft, though it will eventually lead me to weep on stage, to shout violently, to profess undying love, to forgive, and to beg forgiveness.

And not just me. Each of us, receiving scenes and characters that challenged us, made us fight our habits, forced us to examine and confront our own personal truths within the characters we became.

And then Brenda asked us to perform. And then she said, "you can do better." And when we didn't know how, she showed us how. By observing so carefully, she saw what was missing, and by working with us in minute detail, she gave us the tools to become better.

It was emotionally exhausting. And astonishingly rewarding. In a week I learned new techniques to not just be a better actor myself, but how to be a better actor for my fellow actors on stage. To be more open to them, and to respond to their own openness. To make  it real for ourselves, and for the audience.

That's what I did on my summer vacation. Maybe you want to do it too?

--Sean Puckett (Kitchener, ON)

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