“Instructions for living life.
Tell about it.”
— Mary Oliver
Last month, I attended Regent University’s three-week theatre residency program. Monday through Thursday from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM was the Acting class, and Tuesday through Friday from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM was the Directing class. I was one of eight students in the program, and we are all stuck together during those three weeks. The training was intense – at times, abrasive and even sharpening – but looking back on it now, I am so glad I went.
The brightest point for me was getting to meet the professors. Both were (and still are) working professionals in the field, and both have let their love for God instruct their paths. April Poland (Acting) has been a professional actor in Seattle since 2003 and has somehow found the time to teach theatre at the College of William and Mary during the academic year in addition to teaching at Regent for the summer.
BUT! There’s also Dr. Gillette Elvgren, Jr. (Directing), who has been doing his playwright and directing across the world for the past thirty years, and even though he’s technically retired from teaching full-time, he still makes time to help out Regent whenever he’s called upon. It was a blessing to experiment under their tutelage, and I’m thankful for them.
First day of class, I thought April was a student, and then this five-foot-something ball of fire starts stretching and warming up. She began each class with a round of warm-ups; everything from stretching the facial muscles and vocal chords to rolling down the spine. April’s mission then was to get us to understand the difference between “action” and “tactics” and “being present in the moment” and “remembering to take time to be astonished in those moments” and that one of the harshest and cruelest things an actor can do to an audience is to expect them to overlook his or her not being in that moment.
To be honest, I think a lot of her words went over my head while I was there, but I think that now – since I’m a couple of weeks removed from the whole thing – it’s all starting to click. Then again, I can say that sitting down, but I won’t know until I get back up and start practicing what she preached. I want to play.
(One thing I think I’ve realized about myself during this month is that whenever I “learn” something new, I have to play it out without being enraptured within a flux in order to fully grasp it. Sixteen-week courses being crunched down into three-week courses – for me, at least – creates a flux. It’s an intense pressure…like the middle part of an hourglass – a bottleneck, if you will – and, again, for me, it’s difficult to soak in the knowledge without it being distorted by the time constraint.
BUT! That’s just me. Not making excuses, just giving the reason.)
Gil began each class with a Bible reading and a prayer. Then, it’s off on the Gil Train. Careful now, though: if you ain’t in the right car, you’re gonna get steamrolled. For my personal example, I thought I had a good concept for Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. Well, it may have been decent enough for the scene I was assigned, but it would have not nor would it have ever been good for the rest of the play. Gil quickly told me to nix it and come up with something else. At the time, it hurt, yes, but I knew that Gil knew better than I did, so I trusted in him, and I actually came up with something that I personally think was better – more workable, more playable.
Gil’s got a certain quality, though, for encouraging what works and dousing what doesn’t. And whenever he saw something that did work on the whole but still needed some tinkering, he would gracefully explain what did work and why, then exclaim “BUT!”, and then proceed to mold and craft and elevate the scenes to new places. He’s an older gentleman, but that didn’t stop the gleam in his eye and the fire within him when he saw a good idea that needing prodding or a bad idea that needed quenching – when he saw something that “really cooked” and something that…well, didn’t.
Second best part was getting to know the classmates. Like I said earlier, there were only eight of us students in the program, and we all spent a lot of time together – class time during the day and self-disciplined rehearsal at night. Some I had already known (kinda-sorta) through the online classes I took in the Spring, and some I had met for the first time while there. For the ones I already *knew* from the online courses, it was nice to finally put a living face and a beating heart to those entities behind the discussion board posts.
And these fellow students hailed from all kinds of backgrounds. A stage director and a collegiate technical director came from Mississippi, a high school theatre teacher of twenty years came from Georgia, a recently made high school theatre teacher and a professional Michael Chekhov actor came from Florida, another high-school-age theatre teacher came all the way from Arizona, and a practitioner fresh out of Regent’s undergrad program. We were all strangers in the beginning, and now…well, we’re all Facebook friends…BUT! I know what while we were there, we were a family, and it was so refreshing to have all of them there.
To say that the whole experience was anything shy of a blessing would be a lie. I know I consider myself blessed and encouraged and even provoked to use these new storytelling skills and start implementing them whenever I can. And no, I still don’t know what form that will take, but I do know – now, with certainty – that I am closer to meeting that goal because of my month at Regent.