I had the opportunity to once again return to Princeton, NJ this summer and tackle two sessions of Theatre Camp at the McCarter Theatre Center. Camp began in late June, with alternating afternoons of torrential rain and unendurable heat. Inside the air conditioned confines of the McCarter's spacious rehearsal rooms, though, art was being made, young minds were being shaped (twisted?), and scores of young actors were writing and performing roles such as "Ted the Bed" and "Pointy the Knife" (original characters inspired by BEAUTY AND THE BEAST).
My first two week class- IN THEIR SHOES, an exploration of Point of View- was an incredible learning experience. It had been some time since I'd worked with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. Their unbound creativity and un self-conscious sense of play was inspiring. As an ensemble they created a fractured fairy tale based on the story of THE THREE BILLY GOATS GRUFF. Their original play was called THE FRIENDLY TROLL AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING. In this story, the Troll repeatedly says to the Billy Goats, "I'd like to have you for dinner." But the Goats are missing all sorts of context clues like the friendliness in the Troll's voice and they fail to realize that he is, in fact saying, "I'd like to have you [over] for dinner." Tragic. We changed the point of view and the story assumed a whole new shape. The students rocked their final performance and I ended the first session feeling incredibly proud of the work they'd done. I was sad to say goodbye to the little Oliviers and Duses.
In the second session I moved up one weight class to teach the middle schoolers. In this class- CREATING A CHARACTER- we focused on making specific physical and vocal choices to reveal character. We went through the process of doing character research (naturally, the school-weary students took to the image research board assignment more than the historical background presentations). We studied the Laban Effort Actions. We played with Kristen Linklater's resonance ladder. We walked the Princeton campus and did some (rather unsubtle) people watching. The students were up for the advanced lessons and began making vivid, bold choices in their scenes. Once again, the final presentation of the two person scenes was a triumph. This group became very tight, too, and were furiously exchanging numbers on the afternoon of the final pick up.
It never fails to amaze me how much I learn about my own process when I attempt to teach a process to students, what I learn about my artistic instincts when I ask young actors to engage with their own. I feel very fortunate to have spent these last four weeks leading exercises and games, creating final sharings, and facilitating discussions about why acting matters to young people. Thank you, McCarter Theatre for another unforgettable summer.