“You are clearly a very experienced performer. Your performing muscles are very strong, but you haven’t exercised the others yet. You must do that. Your work must feel less like a performance and more…real.” Todd Peters, my summer Acting teacher at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, said this to me about four weeks ago, immediately after I had executed Uta Hagen’s Fourth Wall Telephone Exercise in front of the entire class. When he told me that, I had heard him, but had not truly understood. I remember nodding (a lot), but honestly, at the time, I was, well, confused. Don’t they call this ‘performing’? Don’t people call us ‘performers’ for a reason? What exactly is the problem? I kept asking myself, frustrated thoughts running rampant through my mind. I would not fully begin to comprehend what Todd meant and incorporate it into my scene work until the last week of the program.
Yesterday afternoon, I performed in a final acting showcase (in which we performed scenes we had been assigned a few weeks before) with the rest of my Section 6 AADA classmates. This event marked the end of my time of my time as part of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ five-week, all-encompassing drama program, and also marked the end of my time as a 2015 summer student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Now that I have completed my summer studies there, when I think back to the confusion I felt five weeks ago as a result of Todd Peters’ initial feedback concerning my work, I see it as a place from which I can trace the growth I underwent as an AADA summer student.
Directly before I began my training as part of AADA’s five-week program, I had completed AADA’s two-week musical theatre intensive. I had acted in dramas in the past, but my central focus had mainly been musical theatre up until I took part in the five-week program. (I have such a strong love for musical theatre, and to be frank, nothing else truly compares to the way I feel about musical theatre.) However, before AADA, the amount of official acting training I had received (both in musical theatre and in drama) was infinitesimal; I had gained the extent of my knowledge of performing mainly through experiences I’d had performing in shows. This is why I decided to apply to AADA in the first place: to start to gain a foundation of official training in both musical theatre and drama (training which I could continue to expand upon as I complete my senior year at Bryn Mawr College and after I graduate). Through AADA’s two-week musical theatre intensive, I took Vocal Technique, Song Interpretation, Dance (Tap/Jazz/Ballet), and Acting classes. The smorgasbord of training I received through the American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ five-week program included, in addition to Acting, Voice and Speech, Movement, and electives in Improvisation, Stage Combat, Theatre Dance, and Shakespeare. Although I took classes in a wide variety of different disciplines during my seven weeks at AADA, I noticed an overarching theme that I felt each and every one of them pointed towards: finding and exploring truth within imaginary circumstances.
According to my various AADA summer teachers, there is a difference between the literal definition of “performing” and the figurative definition. Obviously, performers “perform” in front of audiences, for they present all sorts of forms of entertainment to audiences; that is what the literal definition of “performing” is. However, if a person is figuratively “performing” on the stage, that person is conveying the opposite of truth to an audience. The audience can see through the “performance,” for it, frankly, seems like a lie, and causes the audience’s belief in the imaginary circumstances to morph into a sense of disbelief and distrust for the actor. Actors must strive to find their own truth within their characters and their imaginary circumstances; we must always find a way to connect to our work through the lens of emotion (which we, as humans, have felt infinite types of throughout our lives).
People are conditioned to give into self-consciousness and deny vulnerability from a very young age; over the years, we develop a sense of internal shame and insecurity that restricts our ability to connect and formulate honest relationships with others. This, in my opinion, prevents people from being able to lead lives that are truly fulfilling, and as a result, is a huge challenge for any actor to overcome (due to the fact that actors strive to emulate the human experience as truthfully as we can). Being available to emotion and refusing to cut oneself off from vulnerability are both crucial skills for those who wish to pursue some sort of career on the stage. The best actors never play connection, but rather are emotionally connected to their work. Ideally, actors should not completely pre-plan their work; they should feel so connected to it that they start to live and explore within it. Due to their ability to discover and connect with truth, even in the most complicated of circumstances, “actors are the most human of people” (Todd Peters, AADA).
Throughout my time at AADA, I worked diligently to develop and hone my skill set as an actress, and even discovered some new skills I had never utilized before. But above all, I began to work towards becoming the most truthful performer I can possibly be (although the irony inherent in the phrase “truthful performer” still isn’t lost on me). Of course, I have not fully perfected the art of communicating truth on the stage yet; I still have a LONG way to go.
However, thanks to AADA, artistic honesty and integrity have taken on a completely new meaning for me. Within the artifice of imaginary circumstances, I will strive to always keep truth in my heart and in my work.