Monday, July 7, 2014

“…Go not till I set you up a glass”: An Intern’s Reflection

What a whirlwind of a month! After our final SIT performance of Hamlet last night and thinking all the way back to orientation and seeing The Comedy of Errors during our first night together, it is truly overwhelming to think of all that has occurred in between. I met one of the most unique, humble, and cohesive casts I have ever worked with, worked alongside truly wonderful and passionate artists, and felt a new level of personal growth and satisfaction that I do not believe I would have achieved if I had chosen to spend my summer working at any other theatre.
Our first day began with our check-in process, a way we would begin and end each camp day that helped to establish a judgment-free, safe and open environment that was less about the rest of the cast hearing about each other’s feelings and more of giving each student a chance to self-discover and sort through what they were bringing in and leaving with each day. I struggled with this process for a few reasons. To begin with, in this day and age, with how bombarded I judge most of us are with all manner of stimuli and responsibilities, I know that I find it difficult to find time to be with just me, in a quiet space, and reflect on how I’m doing that day and how what has happened to me that day has affected me. I also struggled with wanting to be the perfect role model for the students and what that meant to me, which turned out to be that I felt I had to simply claim to be happy all of the time and then I was done. And I wasn’t being dishonest; I am usually quite an optimistic, hopeful, and content person. However, I also needed to recognize that I’m human, struggle and go through hard times too, but more importantly, I had to realize that it was okay for these kids to see that too. It would give them permission to also open up and admit that they weren’t always a bright and bubbly, box-stepping and jazz-handing theatre student. By the end of the month, and definitely for our final check-in (during which I was able to remain relatively dry-eyed until it was the directors’ turns), I was a lot more comfortable with admitting to how I felt, honestly, and expecting nothing more than a listening ear in return.
I almost just began to recall ‘the most challenging part of the past month was…,’ but truthfully, ‘challenge’ tends to have more of a negative connotation, I judge, than what I’d like to convey about a particular part of the camp. I was invited at the beginning of the month to consider what sort of class I might like to teach the students. I had a whole plethora of ideas and had no idea how to narrow it down to one concentrated class. So I didn’t. I observed that we were spending a lot of (extremely valuable) time working text, whether it was from the show or not, and thinking about choices, relationships, motives, tactics, etc. I decided it would also be beneficial for the students to expand on those concepts by working on how best to convey them on the stage, by way of projecting one’s voice, hitting the consonants that would help communicate emotion, letting the sound of the vowels resonate throughout one’s body, breathing correctly, releasing tension in one’s body, and furthermore, exploring different ways one’s body can move. I consulted one of my acting professors from DeSales University to brush up on my Linklater technique and she guided me through some breathing, neutralizing, and vocal exercises. I also consulted my notes from a movement class taken a few years ago that focused on a fun and explorative animal exercise. Finally, after having taken three years of classes in Zumba at college and absolutely adoring it, I put together a few of my favorite routines for a short dance/exercise session. I had an absolute blast sharing this particular passion with the students and was so excited when a few of them would request songs or even ordered their own Zumba workout kits. I also did my best to reinforce the Linklater technique with a fun lyric-inspired exercise we did a few times per week. I mostly just wanted to get the students up and moving and experiencing the text they were working with as much as they were thinking about and analyzing it. Based on the moving and committed performances given by all, the feedback from my directors, and the hint of self-satisfaction I had, I would like to think the class was a success.
Working with the other directors was also an absolute blast. I had taken a directing class at school and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I realized it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue at great lengths. However, working alongside my set of directors this summer and sitting in the metaphorical passenger seat of the directing process, I was able to step back and see how I could apply the ‘directing by asking questions’ technique to my own acting experiences. This technique, I judged, gave the students permission to make bold choices, explore on their own, and sometimes come up with something original that perhaps wasn’t in the director’s initial blocking or notes. Based on these observations, I predict that I will better be able to challenge myself during my own performance work and not be afraid to “just try it!”
My time spent with the SIT students and directors this June was certainly an experience that has had one of the most memorable impacts on me so far. I respected and learned from every single person I had the pleasure to work with and it is so hard to accept that few of us may see each other again in the near future. Yet one thing that will connect us all, no matter where life takes us, is this single lesson that I hope we will all continue to carry close to our hearts: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

-Emily Wisniewski