A few months ago I began asking myself, “As a kid, what did I truly love doing for the sake of doing it?” In addition to ‘recording myself reading excerpts from Reader’s Digest‘ – acting came to mind. Plus, I am basically living in Hollywood, so I figured the time would never be more right!
Being from small town Canada, my acting credits are minimal compared to many of the kindergarteners I’ve taught here in LA, but they do exist. I was once in an educational film (think ‘high school teen gets caught up in the wild word of partying’ and then add a ghost…) and I also had the the lead role in a college theatre production where I shocked an audience with my out-of-character use of “sailor language” – so I’ve had enough “real” experiences to know that I enjoy acting. I remember loving the feeling of learning lines, interacting with other actors, and the sort of magic or state of flow I experienced, even in rehearsals.
After all that reflecting, and because one of my goals for my unplanned year is to push beyond my comfort zone, I decided to go for it. I happened upon an acting studio within walking distance of my house, took it as a sign and literally “acted” upon it. The place had great Yelp reviews and I felt excited during my introductory meeting, so I signed up for the minimum (2 months…) on the spot and started the following Monday.
Oh, by the way, 2 months = 8 weeks = 16 classes x 3 hours each = 48 hours
It was a big leap.
And apparently, “taking action” is hella different than simply “reflecting on taking action.”
First of all, many acting schools are scene-study based. You get a scene and a scene partner, practice together, learn your lines, perform, and get feedback from the teacher. But this was an improv-based environment, which meant the teacher would put a few people on stage, say “You are a plumber and you are a doctor, and you are stuck in a mine – GO!” and then you would take on the character immediately and improvise the entire scene.
Let’s remember that I’m someone who scripts my days to the point of writing “make tomorrow’s to-do list”on my to-do list. So yes, this was a stretch. For the first few weeks, I was a walking disaster before each class. A ball of anxiety, ready to explode on anyone in my vicinity. It was so unpredictable at first and overwhelming I would say to myself, “YOU FOOL – WHY DID YOU PAY GOOD MONEY TO FEEL THIS WAY???”
Secondly, this school has a ‘no criticism’ policy, meaning the teachers and other students will only ever give you a neutral “good” after completing a scene. The logic is that we need to trust our inner instincts and stop striving for approval. For me, a classic teacher’s pet and people-pleaser, this was one of the greatest challenges. My thoughts were often, “How do I know I’m doing a good job if you don’t tell me?”
So wanting to push myself into improv despite my fears, and seeking to combat my desire for approval were the main reasons I chose this particular school.
Each 3 hour class went something like this:
- 30 minutes of Warm-Ups to get out of our heads (i.e. pass embarrassing guttural sounds from person-to-person quickly around a circle, or look someone deeply in the eyes for 2-3 minutes carefully mirroring their expressions)
- 45 minutes of Cards – an exercise to support rapid-fire character development (i.e. You would get a card that would say “be an anxious teenager,” then a few moments later another card would add, “with a club foot,” then after you got that a new card would say something like, “you feel you are in immediate danger,” and then finally, “and you are taking out the trash.” Then moments later, you would be given a whole new character card like, “be a gingerbread man”). I loved this exercise! It was a great way to lower inhibitions, make space for creativity, and increase flexibility.
- After that, we would spend an hour or so doing some sort of Technique Training or emotion exercises (i.e. “Go outside, approach a random stranger, and start a conversation. Notice as much as you can about them, so you can take on the character later. Do this over and over for an hour or so.”)
- The last part of class was Performances – this involved getting up in front of the class and improvising ‘flash scenes’ where all the dialogue was improvised. (I had actual night terrors about having to do this after the first class…)
But then something interesting happened.
I just did it.
Words came out of my mouth that I didn’t plan. I just became the character and said what the character would say; I was in the moment. Those flash scenes became my favorite part of class. It got to the point that when I didn’t get to do one, I would feel genuine disappointment. I started to trust myself.
Another exercise we did was emotion shifting. “Now you feel sadness,” to “now you feel joy.” As someone who tends to deeply feel whatever I’m feeling for as long as I need to feel it, this exercise helped me learn that it is possible to shift my emotional state using just my thoughts. WHOA.
I learned so much from this experience. Acting feels like playing, which is something I (and probably most grown-ups) can use more of. Although going to class never became “easy,” it did reignite my passion for acting. It also helped me learn to silence my inner critic, and that was certainly worth all the “good money” I spent. I want acting to remain a part of my life, and even though it was scary, I am so glad I made this investment in myself.
Thanks for reading!