This past Thursday I wrapped up my latest acting class, Acting in a Professional Production, taught by Deb Gottesman at the Theatrelab in downtown D.C.
I signed up for the class for two main reasons. First, it centered around four staged readings of George S. Kaufman plays. I have been in a George S. Kaufman play, You Can't Take It With You, in which I played Alice Sycamore, and I remember it very fondly. Secondly, the class was audition-only and seemed very focused on preparing actors for professional theater. One of my goals before leaving D.C. has been to act with one of the professional companies in town, so this lined up well.
After what I thought was a horrible audition (I was LATE, which happens to me a lot in real life but almost never in acting life), I made the cut, much to my surprise. We wasted no time preparing for our first staged reading, Once In A Lifetime, only a week out. Deb gave us some quick and dirty reminders of what it is to act in comedy. What kind of comedy is it—a comedy of situation, of character, or of manners? Who are you in the comedy, are you the character? Are you the agent of the comedy? Or are you the straight man, the reactive one? Do you have an innocence of focus—is this funny to you as the character? And of course, she reminded us of essential elements: clarity, precision, commitment, pace.
We worked with four different guest directors—Bill Largess (Artistic Director, Washington Stage Guild) Shirley Serotsky (Theater J), Chris Henley (Actor/Director, and former Artistic Director of WSC/Avant Bard), Laura Gianarelli (Actor/Director, Company Member, Washington Stage Guild)—and four guest actors—Joshua Dick, Jim Zidar, Susan Rhea and Tonya Beckman.
We met for about twelve hour a week, each week culminating with the staged reading, a strange but interesting medium. My first role was Florabel Leigh in Once in a Lifetime, which lent itself to some really fun vocal comedic opportunities (think Singin' In The Rain, "Pierre you shouldn't have come!"). My most meaty role was definitely that of Paula Jordan in Dinner at Eight, a feckless, headstrong young woman who doesn't quite get what she wants. Apparently my most realized performance was that of Jean in Stage Door, the actress who leaves New York for LA in pursuit of a career on camera. I felt a strange sense of communion with that character... why ever, do you imagine... ?
I'll certainly come back to some of the many important lessons I learned from Deb Gottesman. She was an inspiring teacher so brimming with wisdom that I could hardly write down her offhanded pearls quickly enough. Now, to find my next class...!