Acting Out

The following is a dressed-up version of a series of anecdotes I found in some old college emails to a friend.  There's no punchline to this story, and I didn't want to manufacture one, but I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Introductory acting classes really don't have you doing much acting.  There are a lot of fundamentals to the art of acting that must addressed first.  Most acting teachers get at this indirectly by having students perform sometimes bizarre exercises whose purpose is sometimes so obscure you end up feeling like Ralph Macchio in the first half of The Karate Kid.  Fortunately, by the middle of the semester, students finally start to get around to playing with exercises that at least have some semblance to acting as we recognize it.

The assignment at one point in my first (and to date only) acting class was to perform a task as fast as possible.  The constraints our teacher, Juancarlos, laid out were that we had to do it in three minutes and that the task itself was impossible to accomplish in those three minutes.  We were to bring in an idea (and whatever associated props were required) and do whatever we wanted with it.

The next class period there were some pretty good projects, but most were flawed.  The first one was a girl who got up there and painted a picture (as in with brushes on a canvas) of a flower really quickly, but the class got bored watching her after the first minute.  Juancarlos, our teacher, said that was okay because we would all have something wrong with our acts.

Another guy in the class got up and tried to eat a whole box of cookies, but failed to bring himself something to drink.  What started off at breakneck speed ground to almost a halt and nearly a trip to ER after the third handful.  One girl tried to make a dress really quickly, but she was cutting up the material so fast that she was practically shredding it.

Since many of the projects were somewhat ambiguous (since there wasn't any narration or introduction, these being solo pieces), after each routine Juancarlos would ask us what we thought the performer was doing.  I said that the girl with the dress was cutting up bandages for wounded soldiers, and busted up Juancarlos.

There weren't too many good ones though.  One girl got up and attempted to recopy her notes for six chapters of biology in three minutes.  Dullsville!  We learned that what might be emotionally rich can sometimes be really slow and boring to look at.  I knew that it would pick up by the next class meeting on Friday since by then everyone who had been in the class would have revised their ideas to avoid the now-obvious pitfalls.  I wasn't scheduled to perform until that next meeting anyway, I always had a plan in mind but right from the first description of the assignment.

While I was downstairs studying in the lobby of my dorm the night before that next class meeting, my friend Erin came in and asked me if I wanted to walk to the Kinkos on the edge of campus with her because she needed to get something color copied.  I said, "Sure, but you don't mind if I dig in trash cans the whole way, do you?"  I got one of the strange looks my friends always give me.  I grabbed a huge black garbage bag from the janitor's closet and we went on our way.  By the time we had returned, Erin was furious that we looked like a couple of vagrants walking across campus, but had I collected probably a couple hundred soda cans

The next day, a couple hours before the class began, I snuck over to the room and dropped off the bag.  This being the theater department, the classroom had small bleacher-style seating for the students/audience and an open space in which performances could be delivered.  However, there were piles of generic set pieces, partitions, and even a piano filling much of the rest of the room.  It wasn't hard to find a place in the chaotic landscape to stash my bag, big as it was by this time.  It wasn't simple misdirection that motivated this deception though; I had another class before acting anyway, and I didn't want to lug the noisy bag to a lecture hall.

When it finally got to be my turn in class, I got up there and just threw my bag full of cans down in a huff, then literally threw the few pieces furniture there out of the way to clear a place on the floor.  All of this was perfect for me because I was pretty nervous.  The guy in the class who took his turn ahead of me was as well.  I could see his hands shaking and could hear it in his voice whenever he spoke to the teacher afterward.  I burned off a lot of the nervous energy with the big(ger than necessary) intro.

I opened up the bag on my hands and knees and started standing up a row of cans until it was about 8-10 cans long, then I got up on two feet and just started jumping down on them, smashing away.  The entire class gasped audibly.  I just went crazy and as soon as I cleared the next batch of cans, I stood about 16 cans up close to one another and picked up a table, turned it over with the flat top down, and smashed them all in one blow.

The entire class did not know what to make of anything, nor probably did anyone in adjacent rooms where I'm sure they could hear the racket.  No one in the audience laughing, no one talked out loud, and even Juancarlos was glued to his seat.  As I went for the bag to set up a third round of trash compaction, Juancarlos halted me and said not to go any further.  He said he had never seen anything like it.  The plan was to develop the activity, he said.  Of course, we never did since, this being the theater department, he came up with other nutty ideas the next week instead and we moved on.  I'm sure the neighboring classes were relieved.

Copyright 1995, 2007 Alexplorer.
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