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
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.