With fall break rapidly approaching, we thought this was an opportune moment to ask a few of our theatre students to share their breakthrough stories. Read on to hear from Nicole, Billy, Alan, and Sage about moments in or outside the classroom in which they found a new perspective on themselves as a person or performer, or found a new way to see the world we live in or the art they create.
In the month that we’ve been here at the Accademia dell’Arte, so much has changed. I feel different physically, mentally, and emotionally about myself as a performer and a person. As a collective group, we have really become comfortable with each other and this has helped us work together quite well. However, I feel like work I bring into the theatre group has come a lot from what we’ve learned in our voice class with Dory, and contact improvisation classes this past week with Alessandra. Coming into this program with pre-existing voice problems, I was nervous to start working with this art form that not only has a lot to do with the body and physical gestures, but support from the speaking voice as well. After the first few weeks here, I already felt the difference in in my speaking voice. And not only has that helped, working on posture and alignment with Dory made me so much more aware of my resting body. I had no idea how much tension I carried! The past week of contact improvisation really pushed a lot of boundaries. Sometimes, I’m afraid of being wrong or doing the wrong thing. But contact improvisation helped me realize there is no wrong way to use your body. My trust with my classmates has grown, and my self-awareness and trust in myself is growing daily, and I think my personal breakthrough has been shaped by these two classes.
My breakthrough moment happened fairly recently, in our first ever Commedia acting class. It is always nerve-wracking to some extent to perform in front of other people, let alone twenty incredibly talented fellow actors. Our movement, voice, and contact improv classes have worked to help us bond together and begin to create a group ensemble, but up until Commedia we had done very little acting performance. In one exercise of the class we had to create three person improv scenes that ended in a conflict, which resulted in all the characters leaving the scene. Two groups went before mine, and our professor gave feedback and provided them with specifics to how it could be done in Commedia style. After our scene, she got even more specific. She gave us all characters and showed us the physicality they would all assume, but then told us to run it again, with these changes. The character I had crafted was a shy “nerdy” boy whose mother had hired him a prom date because he could not get one himself. With the Commedia changes, the scene became about my character’s inexperience with romance. My nerves doubled as I prepped to try something totally new. Our professor had me run it several times, adding more outrageous movements and dialogue each time. As terrifying and nervous as it made me, I am extremely grateful for having been pushed out of my comfort zone. I felt my opinion of myself as a performer shift and my confidence in my abilities heighten. Now, I cannot wait for Commedia class, where I can use my knowledge from my other classes to further push my craft as an actor.
Alan Mendez (Muhlenberg College, PA)
My most influential experience at the Accademia so far has definitely been learning about the political role artists can play in society. From the art of comedy and art as activism workshops with Leonidas Martin to the lectures on the origins of cabaret and Commedia dell’Arte with Scott, I learned how much artists can do to influence the world around them. The first cabaret we had in October was a wonderful culmination of that mindset. I was in two pieces: a mime/movement piece called “The Bird and the Hunter,” and a juggling act called “An Apple a Day.” The first piece, using no stage equipment other than a few sheets of paper, communicated the consequences of war and innocent, fledgling lives lost, while the second piece was inspired by the problem of the scarcity of fresh, affordable food in the United States. Before coming to ADA, I tended to think that political theatre had to be overt in its message, but now I’ve come to realize that all art is political. I now appreciate the extent to which hilarious, heartbreaking, and powerful pieces can speak to any social issue without necessarily feeling like a sermon. Moreover, I’ve come to learn that artists have not only the ability, but the responsibility to serve their society in immediate, effective ways through their art and the stories we tell therein.
Sage King (Bennington College, VT)
To be honest, I have not yet had what I would consider a breakthrough in my development as an artist. I have had many moments in which something is unveiled in my vision or something has shifted my perspective, but nothing that has concretely changed the way I view myself as a person or performer, but only have evolved it or in some cases hindered or periodically stunted it. Moments like remembering that if I need a change of perspective, just to turn my head upside down. Or when I went into the studio because I was angry at myself and the world, and flopped around on the floor with the intent of releasing some of it. My friend came in and told me that she could tell from just my movement that I was mad. As someone who is not consistently good at communicating with words and as a dancer and physical performer, that was enormously reassuring. I may not be able to put my thoughts into words effectively, however I can be confident that they will make their way out of my body. There was one evening in September that I stumbled upon an incredibly lit sunset completely by chance, lost all control of my feelings, and started yelling until other people came out and started yelling, spinning, and rejoicing in their own ways in the unreal scene. I felt full of light, excited about how the simple happening that excited me so much. Being aware of these small instances means more to me than carefully sifting through my life thus far to find the story of my breakthrough. I don’t think my breakthrough has happened yet, and that’s okay. I’m just at the beginning of my growth and survival as an artist, and at the moment that growth and survival includes ravenously devouring microwave mac n’ cheese at 2:30am in a beautifully constructed couch fort, while trying to memorize a poem about babies.