Monday, April 2, 2012

Life Stories: Beginning the journey to the Kennedy Center

It’s not often that a group of individuals with no formal training in acting are given the opportunity to perform at a place like the Kennedy Center. It’s even more special when you consider that the work these individuals will be presenting is drawn directly from their own life experiences and struggles.

My Soul Look Back and Wonder: Life Stories from Women in Recovery represents the culmination of a journey of self-exploration for a group of fifteen women in substance abuse recovery at N Street Village. For the past two months, these courageous women have used theatre exercises under the guidance of Thomas Workman to give a voice to their own personal stories. Through scenes, monologues, poetry, and song, the women have found a way to express their struggles with addiction, homelessness, domestic violence and much more. Their words and their work have been structured into a script by playwright Jennifer L. Nelson and they are now in rehearsals with Theatre Lab Co-Director Deb Gottesman, getting ready for their Kennedy Center debut.

For most of us, these topics are distant and removed from our own lives. We may see homeless people on the streets as we go to our jobs, or hear about drug addiction on the news, but we rarely have the opportunity to see past the surface of these issues and learn about the individuals who have been caught in such situations. This performance gives us that chance.

What you will see at the April 30th performance at the Kennedy Center will be a fully-produced theatrical work, complete with sets, lights, and costumes. At the center of the performance are these fifteen women, most of whom have ever stepped on a stage before and, in many cases, never even seen a play. As we begin the rehearsal process with them we are starting from square one, explaining the differences between stage left and right, and upstage versus downstage, even as we struggle to unpack the characters and situations at the center of the play’s narrative. Sometimes the women play themselves; sometimes they take parts in other people’s stories.

These women are not trained actors, but therein lies the magic of this performance. You will see something that is unapologetically raw and direct. You will hear these women tell their stories with their own words and in their own voices in one of the nation’s premiere venues for the performing arts.

Over the next several weeks we will continue to use this blog to provide updates and insights into the rehearsal process as the women draw closer to sharing their work in The Terrace Theater. This promises to be a wholly unique and moving experience for the performers and audience alike. We hope that you will join us.

-Jeff Scott
Marketing and Events Manager
The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts

My Soul Look Back and Wonder: Life Stories from Women in Recovery
Scripted by Jennifer L. Nelson from original dramatic work 
by the women of N Street Village
Conceived by Thomas Workman
Directed by Deb Gottesman

Monday April 30 at 7:30pm
at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Terrace Theater

Tickets available online or call 202-823-0449

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Experiences of an Honors Student

Karin Rosnizeck
Why I Would Do It Again
 Experiences of an Honors Student

I decided to do the Honors Conservatory because I was looking for total immersion acting training which was professional, not too long, and affordable. As an actor with some stage experience already under my belt, I wanted to do acting “for real,” with the goal of working as a professional actor in DC. I was ready for a year of intense work in a supportive environment, good team spirit, some performance opportunities, and a competent and well networked teaching staff. The Theatre Lab has offered it all and so much more.

More comprehensive than a patchwork of acting classes here and there—and at the same time not as time-intensive as a two- or three-year MFA program (I already had an M.A. degree from loooong years of study in Germany)—this program is intense and covers a wide range of techniques, tools, and exercises, from scene work to dialect, voice, movement and a theoretical base which I wouldn’t want to miss: history of theatre and an un-dogmatic introduction to Stanislavski’s acting concepts and the “methods” of the major acting teachers.

The trio Buzz-Deb-Kim is simply amazing. Not only are they very supportive and attentive to each student’s needs, but they also challenge every student. I always feel that the scene assignments are especially geared to my specific acting needs. The small class size—just ten students—provides an intimate learning atmosphere. Getting regular feedback in class or in student-mentor meetings for an honest reality check and discussion of my experiences has been one of the most important aspects of the program for me.

 I’ve loved the different “larger” projects which structure the year and present opportunities to expose our work to the public. Three showcases to present scenes and monologues to invited friends and DC theatre professionals are highlights and milestones of the program. The big challenge of the “final project,” where the entire production of a play is in the student’s hands, is a wonderful way to dig deep and to find one’s own creative process. I especially loved “Acting in a Professional Production,” a fast-paced class where we staged four public readings in cooperation with Woolly Mammoth Theatre. These projects have taught me a lot about the director-actor relation and true ensemble work.

 I especially value the process-oriented approach of this program, which has given me the opportunity to focus on the development of my skills, rather than the “perfect” end-product. Observing the changes happening in my own acting and that of my fellow students has been most instructive. The program provides us with a variety of tools and techniques, inviting us to make our own choices, to embrace the contradictions, to risk and to fail. Giving us that safe space to explore the artistic process—trial and error, checking out boundaries, learning to accept the fears, uncertainties and ambivalences in the creative process—has been the most valuable benefit of the program for me.

The Honors program has helped me find the courage to discover and follow my own specific way as an actor. And after graduation I’ll look forward to continuing the journey—toward becoming an independent and open, ever-learning artist.

--Karin Rosnizeck

Since graduating from the Honors Acting Conservatory in 2010, Karin has performed with Washington Shakespeare Company, No Rules Theatre Company, and Factory 449: a theatre collective. 

The Honors Acting Conservatory is currently accepting applications. Complete information and application materials can be found online, or email Buzz Mauro for details on the program.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why I Teach: George Grant

George Grant

I never intended to be a teacher. I never intended to be a life-long professional theatre maker for that matter.
I had been a professional and semi-professional performer for most of my life by the time I got to undergraduate school, and fully intended to become a lawyer. The acting seed, however, had been planted and nurtured and yearned to blossom. I was enticed back to the stage and haven’t stopped since, but another seed had been planted. I was taking an advanced English course at my small liberal arts university, when the professor, Peter Fritzell stopped me in the hall after class one day. I didn’t know he knew me, but he said: “Grant, have you ever thought of teaching? You’d be good at it.” I replied that I hadn’t thought of teaching, and that was that. But the seed had been planted. That planted seed lay dormant for many years.
After graduate school, many years later, I needed a job. I ran into the Director of Education for The Shakespeare Theatre Co. at a performance, and mentioned I’d like to take a stab at teaching. That began a second career for me, and one I could not now give up.

So that’s the how. But why?

I love people, for one thing. My classes at TheatreLab have students from such varying and interesting backgrounds, who come together with the common endeavor of learning to act. I’ve had engineers and lawyers, spies and high school students, people from all walks of life in my classes and I’ve found them all fascinating.

More than my love of people is my love of acting. When I can teach a student to strip away all the blocks and show me their humanity, that something our hearts and imaginations know, even if our minds do not, it is the quintessence of satisfaction.

I tell my students that actors should never cease training. Teaching has become a form of training for me. I constantly search for new techniques, theoreticians, and teachers to help me articulate, demonstrate, and teach the craft of acting. I find the student who has the most trouble understanding what the craft is about to be my best teacher. That student inspires me to find a way, an exercise, a word, or a phrase to break through to that student. Research for classes has broadened my knowledge of many techniques, compelling me to find the techniques that will help the talent of each student grow.

Teaching makes me a better actor and director. Before I became a teacher, I went to rehearsal and acted. There was no need for me to articulate what I was doing if the results were Truthful and in the moment. Now I have to be able to act, but I also have to articulate the details of my technique so my students can adopt my processes into theirs if they choose to, or else understand exactly what they’re rejecting.

Teaching makes me feel great. It takes the focus of play (watch a nine year old boy playing soldier with a stick and you’ll understand complete focus) to teach. It’s like carrying a very full glass of water, trying not to spill a single drop. When I go into a class room everything else vanishes: the headache, the phone bill, the broken microwave. All those worries fly away as my focus goes to the lesson at hand. I always leave a class happier than when I walked in.

The big rewards come when I see a student progress from enthusiastic amateur, to craftsman, to artist. Or when I run into a student from a high school residency on Metro and they call out “Hey, Shakespeare!” Or when a former student becomes a professional colleague and collaborator. Or when I get a letter telling me a former student was able to correct their English teacher on a point of Shakespeare’s verse structure. Or when a former student gets their first paying acting job.

I’d like to thank Professor Fritzell for planting that seed, and I hope that some of the seeds I plant grow, flourish, and bear fruit.

George Grant

George will be teaching Intro to Acting in the upcoming Late Fall session.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A First Trip to the Opera

This past summer, longtime Theatre Lab student and supporter John Feist generously donated two tickets to the opera Tosca at The Kennedy Center. The tickets were to be given to one of our teen students who had never been to an opera as a way to introduce them to the art form. We held a raffle during our Musical Theatre Institute for Teens and Bri Eul was the lucky winner. Below is her story of her first trip to the opera.

Having never been to a proper opera before, I was unsure of how this performance of Tosca at The Kennedy Center would shape my pre-existing opinion of opera. I will admit, after the first act, being a lonely Theater Kid, submersed in a world of over exaggeration, big facials, and an unidentifiable language, I was confused. Despite the use of electronic subtitles above the stage, I found myself so focused on the actions, that by the time the first of three acts concluded, I realized I didn’t exactly have a grip on what I had witnessed. Luckily, my neighbor was a veteran opera-goer and quickly filled in the pieces of the plot I had missed while being so intrigued by the way emotions were portrayed so clearly, regardless of the language barrier.

 Twenty minutes, a bathroom break, and a kit-kat later, I was ready and pumped to watch Act Two.

Act Two was EXCITING! Not only did the plot pick up, but having understood more of the intricacies of Act One, I started to be able to appreciate the props, set, and costuming while continuing to follow the plot. Although at the end, when Tosca stabbed Scarpia in the heart (*spoiler alert*), and there was no gory blood splatter (in fact, none at all) I was a bit upset, however, the death scene itself was so masterfully done; not too ridiculous, nor too understated, that I think I was actually concerned for the actor’s wellbeing.
 Curtain, 20 Minutes, and we’re back.

Act Three, the one I was looking forward to, the grand finale of the show, and… I was confused again. The first seven (yes, seven) minutes of the act was silence. Dead silence. The set was a monumental and intimidating inside of a prison. Guards paced and passed out bread rolls. The Prison Guard entered, mimed some words and sat, alone, onstage. Silence.  Opera, I decided, has no issues with having dead time on stage. Silence is a tool used to build intensity, forcing the audience to lean forward in their seat, waiting, with bated breath, for the first words to be uttered. And oh, what glorious words they were. (No, I don’t know what they were; it was in Italian, silly). After that, the world went insane. Love was declared, bullets were fired, promises broken, and tears shed. The grand finale left no questions unanswered.

My first experience with opera is one which I will soon not forget.  Although it is theatre, it is so different than the Musical Theatre I have grown accustomed.  It is intense, exciting, and allows the audience to submerge themselves totally into the action and voices on the stage. After Act 1, I forgot there were sub-titles, and had no problem following the story by using the score, inflection, and action to lead the way. It is said that music transcends all language; Tosca serves as beautiful example.

-Bri Eul

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Honors Acting Conservatory Accepting Applications

Theatre Lab Director Deb Gottesman talks to the Conservatory class of 2010
Are you an actor looking to make a break into the professional theatre world? Are you interested in receiving advanced acting training, but don't want to quit your day job just yet? Do you want to study with some of DC's leading professional actors? We have just the place for you to take charge of your acting career.

The Theatre Lab is currently accepting applications for its Honors Acting Conservatory program. Coursework begins in January 2012 and continues through December 2012.

The Honors Acting Conservatory is a one-year professional training program. Classes are held evenings and weekends, allowing students to continue working while they engage in in-depth study of the acting craft. The program is led by Theatre Lab Co-Directors Buzz Mauro and Deb Gottesman and professional actress Kim Schraf. Students will complete a variety of intensive courses, all taught by some of Washington’s leading theatre professionals.

Conservatory students also have the opportunity to attend special workshops and master classes with acclaimed professional actors and directors. Prior master class leaders have included Oscar-nominated actor Bruce Dern and Helen Hayes winner Rick Foucheux.

Over 85% of Honors Acting Conservatory graduates have been hired to act professionally with companies such as the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Folger Theatre, Theater J, Keegan Theatre, Olney Theatre, and the Classical Theatre of Harlem. In addition to coursework, the Conservatory provides regular performance opportunities to students, including a final showcase for area directors and casting directors.

Application to the Conservatory is by application and audition. Once application materials are received, students will be contacted to schedule an audition. Interested students must submit their application materials by October 14 to be considered. Following submission, students will be contacted to arrange an audition with the program directors. The Conservatory will accept ten students for the class of 2012.

For more information on the program, visit The Theatre Lab's website, or email Theatre Lab Co-Director Buzz Mauro.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Inside Directed Scene Study

Actors often wish they could get inside a director’s head, and find out what exactly he or she is looking for. This is true both in an audition setting and in the rehearsal room. Every actor has experienced a situation where it seemed like the director was speaking a totally different language, and no choices made seemed to be correct. This situation is a frustration and fear for many performers, because not only do we as artists want to do good work, but we also want to be part of a successful collaboration and ultimately get hired again. While most students receive in-depth training regarding various aspects of performance, it’s not often that a class focuses primarily on director-actor relations. That’s where our upcoming Directed Scene Study course comes in. It's the perfect setting to learn how to bridge the communication gap between director and actor.

Enrollment to this advanced acting course is by audition only. Interested students will prepare a 90-second contemporary monologue and be ready to answer the question: What tools do you hope to acquire from learning to work with directors?

The course will focus on achieving the following goals:

  • Understanding what a director is looking for in your audition and in the rehearsal room, i.e. "directability"
  • How to translate direction into action, no matter what the direction
  • How to integrate blocking and stage business into your work
  • How to be the best possible collaborator with your director - and get hired again

Students will work on monologues and scenes and explore exercises that demystify the director's role in the process of playmaking, and empower actors to bring more to the collaboration. The class is taught by Jessica Burgess, founding Artistic Director of The Inkwell and member of the Round House Artist’s Council. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work one-on-one with one of the DC area’s most in-demand artists.

Interested students should contact The Theatre Lab’s Program Administrator, Nia Medina, at (202) 824-0449 or by email to schedule an audition time. Additional information on the course can be found on The Theatre Lab’s website. Note: while the course may display as sold out online, students can still call to schedule an audition for the class.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day Weekend Theatre

Are you in the mood for some great (and inexpensive) theatre this Labor Day weekend? Theatre Lab faculty and students are performing at several venues around town, so check them out and show your support for their fantastic work!

Featuring Theatre Lab faculty member Rick Foucheux with Jennifer Mendenhall and Mike Nussbaum.
The much anticipated premiere by OBIE Award  winner, Deb Margolin. Unrepentant Ponzi-schemer Bernard Madoff sets the record straight from his prison cell, recounting an all-night study session with Holocaust survivor, poet and investment client, Solomon Galkin. With testimony from Madoff’s personal secretary before the Securities and Exchange Commission, we delve into the minds of two towering men, as their mutual will to confide and confess accelerates through the night.
Use code 'LABOR' online or by phone and get $15 tickets for the following performances Labor Day weekend:
Saturday 8:00pm
Sunday 7:30pm
Monday 7:30pm

With Theatre Lab student Michael Hammond
As swift and enthralling as a political thriller, Julius Caesar portrays the life-and-death struggle for power in Rome. Fearing that Caesar’s growing strength and imperial ambitions threaten the Republic, a faction of politicians plots to assassinate him. But when Caesar is killed, chaos engulfs Rome. Alive with stunning rhetoric, Julius Caesar investigates the intoxicating effects of power and the dangers of idealism. In Caesar, Brutus, and the young Marc Antony, Shakespeare created three fascinating, dynamic characters.
Running through Sunday, September 4. Tickets are free, available on a first come, first served basis. The line for tickets usually starts forming around 4pm, so get there early!

With Theatre Lab students KyoSin Kang and Emily Gleichenhaus
The Kennedy Center hosts its tenth annual Page-to-Stage festival, featuring more than 40 D.C.-area theater companies. This three-day event offers free readings and open rehearsals of plays and musicals being developed by local, regional, and national playwrights, librettists, and composers.
Saturday, September 3 through Monday, September 5. Tickets are free, available on a first come, first served basis.

Have any other great theatre ideas for Labor Day weekend? Let us know, and have a safe and fun holiday!