When a few of us originally gathered to talk about the struggle of being cast in local productions as women "of a certain age", we quickly released our frustrations because we figured out we could create our own opportunities. We knew how to write, how to create characters, and how to put shows together. We began by reading scripts of all kinds and learned how much we loved playing all roles, many of which we knew we could never be cast to play. When we eventually committed to performing some of the pieces we were reading, we researched the art form of dramatic reader's theater (DRT).
As a former forensics coach of more than 30 years, I can attest to how much I didn't enjoy coaching the reader's theater event. The event rules said that my students couldn't interact with one another, and to me, that was the whole point of teaching them anything about acting.
Luckily, our group learned that DRT demanded thoughtful and thorough creation of characters who DO interact with one another, despite having a script in one hand. It became normal for all of us to hear in virtually every show we did-- "I never even saw you were holding a script!" It felt as if our audiences were truly connecting with the characters we brought to life, as there is no distraction from costuming, make-up, props, or lights. We found we loved making them care about the stories our characters were telling.
Further research led us to the work of Jerzy Grotowski, a successful Polish theater practitioner known for his intense actor training. Posthumously, he is recognized as one of the great directors of the modern theater and a significant innovator of the experimental theater movement. He placed emphasis on the skill of performers and creating the relationship between actor and spectator. His goal was to create non-commercial theater which would never compete with film or television.
This is what we hope to do in every show we create using the dramatic reader's theater art form. The conversations we have with audience members are proof that they leave thinking about the stories and ideas we've shared. We also love that we have been privileged to bring shows to venues never before having had live theater. After all, we can carry in a few stools and music stands and turn them into just about any set piece we want.
Are we doing "real" theater? We think so. So do the local authors whose work we have brought to life, and the playwrights who have graciously allowed us to perform their published works, and the organizational leaders who continue to reach out to us to put together an event. Even better, our audiences tell us they think so. And even better than that--we're definitely not doing fourth grade reader's theater!
Tuesday 9/18 was our first of six two-hour evening classes. Our instructor is Arthur Grothe, who teaches theater at UWEC and played firefighter Bob the One-Eyed Beagle in Michael Perry’s stage adaptation of Population: 485.
Thirteen of us wandered into the acoustically bouncy “rehearsal space” Room 322 that evening, awe-struck by its panoramic view of the Chippewa River afforded by massive windows.
Over the next two hours, we got acquainted by playing warm-up and break-down-barriers games like “Mirroring” (pair up, one leads, the other mimics their movements) and “Hotseat” (one at a time we sat in the chair facing everyone else who peppered us with any-question-at-all).
As Arthur said, we need to learn to trust those with whom we’ll share the stage. And, the hardest and most powerful thing we can be on stage is: vulnerable.
When I got home, I made a list of everyone’s names, from memory, and wrote down a few notes about each based on their answers to “hotseat” questions. My impression, so far, is that getting to know these people, and interacting with them, is going to be the biggest gift of this experience.
Acting Class Journal: Part Two – OWNING THE TEXT
At the end of the previous week we’d been handed a 16-line “Contentless Scene”* for two speakers, A and B. Half the class was instructed to learn the A lines and half the B lines.
This week, we returned to class exhibiting a variety of degrees of memorization, but it was ok to have script in hand when we ran the lines. Professor Grothe then led us through several exercises. Just so you get the idea, these 16 lines included:
A. How’s everything?
B. Fine, I guess.
A. Do you know what time it is?
B. No. Not exactly.
In one exercise, we were paired up and asked to create content for the lines and “act” them accordingly. Each group took a turn, portraying such things as:
Sue Fulkerson, Sara Bryan and Ann Pearson