Acting Classes Are Not Just Child’s Play
Lessons from The Playground, the premiere Acting conservatory for children in Los Angeles and Orange County
by Gary Spatz
The mind-set of play is a large part of our consciousness when we are very young children, however this ability must be encouraged and challenged as we grow up so the older actor can pretend he or she is living the imaginary life of his or her character.
We use improvisational exercises/theatre games to focus and help train the student actor not only to use their imagination but also to learn to trust their instincts as they play. What’s vital in this process is that the young actor begins to learn to truly listen to his fellow players as they create the scene. Part of this process is not denying what the other actor brings to this type of creative play. A typical phrase you might hear in class is, “Yes, and…” or “Don’t deny,” which is a simple way of saying that if an actor says, “I’m your big brother! You have to listen to me,” the other actor shouldn’t deny this statement by saying, “What? I don’t know you!” This just leads to confusion within the improvisation and with your fellow players. We need the actors to build on each other’s statements. This helps to establish characters as we create the scene through positive choices.
The work becomes more specific and dimensional when one player accepts the “gifts” (statements) that the other player adds to the improv. In this way, the actors build the scene by creating relationships, environments, and situations.When one uses specifics, the scene begins to take on a life, and it becomes easier for the actors to react to each other. Additionally, it makes the scene more accessible to the audience.
Once again, it’s through this creative play that actors allow themselves opportunities to explore not only their imagination, but the emotional world of their characters. This imaginative work should feed the actor’s technique for working on memorized material (film and television scripts as well as plays). Although it might seem like child’s play,it takes focus and discipline and a great deal of practice to fully develop this as part of the actor’s craft.