Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Stories from the Summer Theatre Intensive: Learning to Love Again

by Cassel Miles

This past summer I learned how to love the craft of acting again. I am a professional actor with more than twenty years experience. I thought that I knew what I was doing. My original intention when signing on for a Theatre Ontario Summer Intensive course was to take a course on teaching drama to children. Apparently I was the only person who had signed up for that class and so it was cancelled. The option to study with Peggy Coffey was presented as an alternative. Would I be interested in a course called ‘Learning to Love Your Monologue’? Hmmm, not really, but “something” said DO IT!!! And I am SOOOOO glad that I did.

"Learning to Love Your Monologue" at our
Theatre Ontario Summer Theatre Intensive
Peggy was amazing. We were a small group of four and we had an upstairs space (three rooms) where we had the opportunity to explore a whole new world of acting technique in our approach to a monologue. We were four completely different people with vastly differing levels of theatrical experience. We all had at least two monologues prepared. We all expected that we would present these within the first couple of days, at least, but noooooo. What unfolded was the most incredible week of exploration, both personally and character wise.

Peggy teaches the Michael Chekhov technique to which I had never before been exposed. She is one of three accredited teachers of the technique in Canada. By the evening of the first day, through exercises and games, she had successfully alleviated all of our anxieties and expectations. Yet, what had any of this to do with loving our monologues? Everything! What Peggy was doing was taking us on a journey into ourselves as artists and, eventually, into our characters “selves.”

Thanks to Stratford Mazda for donating our shuttle
for Summer Theatre Intensive participants
Each day began at 9am (thank you Rachel for shuttling us so enthusiastically) with a crossing of the threshold that grounded us in the space and ourselves. We played. We laughed. We cried. We supported each other. And I got to know four magnificent women with whom I ate lunch and dinner everyday. Peggy even drove us to a health food store during a thunderstorm. That was a fun adventure for us all. I swear that by the third day, it felt as though we had been playing together for weeks.

Every one of us was transformed. Between the first time that we presented our respective first monologues until the last time that we presented our second one, everything had changed. The second monologue that I had been “doing” for years was also completely transformed. For the first time, I was BEING the character, wearing it like a long cherished overcoat. The feeling was beyond incredible if that is possible. Through the exercises and games we found unimagined depths of emotion, meaning and purpose.

Everything and anything became possible during that week. So energized was I that, beyond the scheduled play reading and Stratford production show, I took myself to see three more productions. Amazingly, I discovered that I was falling in love with acting all over again. As a result of this experience I have enrolled in two upcoming Chekhov workshops. Do yourself a favour and take this course—You will learn to love your monologue and the craft of acting.

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