Blog #32: A Fourteen-Year-Old profits from acting training –just not for acting…
Please bear in mind that in this writing I am not referring to teaching professional children and teens. By ‘professional’ I mean kids who have agents and managers who regularly send them out on auditions, and who usually show up with copy for speaking roles in one or more of the following: commercials, TV shows, films, or theatre. Although I always hope to find a very quick way to reach the mysterious – children and adolescents do not reveal themselves easily - frequently small and beneath their professional calm, frightened young creatures who face me in a coaching session; it is my job to focus primarily on the copy.
Here, I am describing my experience with kids who are exploring the possibilities of acting, both as an art form and a means of self-expression; this process, if successful, may assist them with all manner of issues relating to personal growth and/or bring out their acting talent.
I remember Bonnie with great fondness; an attractive girl, no affectation, at every glance her blue eyes suggesting an eagerness for experience. Her mother brought her to me when she would have been a freshman in high school – except that she had always been home-schooled. At first, this may have been the main reason for the acting lessons. Bonnie had done some children’s theatre and the lessons gave her something to do that was interactive
She started at fourteen and we spent an amicable four years working together; her acting progressed through three interesting stages. During the initial period she continued with children’s shows in her hometown, playing small roles that required minimal assistance. So we talked a lot, which can be a good thing to do with kids because the manner in which they express themselves, not so much what they say, is the basis for their acting. It is actually from children like Bonnie, who are able to tune in, that I finally learned how to listen with my whole being – very important for an actor - because that is what they are doing. Absorbing and mirroring; receiving and giving ‘authentic impulses’ is an acting exercise in itself.
Establishing trust with Bonnie was like falling off a log. There was little initial shyness; she looked forward to lessons and thought of them as ‘a good time,’ even when she was required to do difficult emotional work. Mutual trust and respect are important when working with young actors – helpful with adults, as well, but absolutely essential with kids. Hardly ever does one know for sure what a young student actor is going to do later on – so few of them actually enter the profession. But I teach them ‘seriousness of intent,’ as I would an adult. Otherwise, there is no point in doing it at all.
The difference between teaching kids and adults lies in how the curriculum is presented. With adults, one has a program – mine is the Integrated Acting Process (see detailed description in earlier blog entries). It is the basis for teaching kids, as well, but how kids get connected to the ‘concept of acting’ is totally individual. This is why I teach them privately, or in very small groups after getting to know each individually.
For the first year and a half Bonnie and I continued to talk a lot, read through scenes and monologues, using baby steps of the Meisner and Method approaches to acting. She became interested in going to high school instead of being home-schooled, and her mother was helpful, filling out the applications for two public high schools with professional programs. Bonnie’s worked hard on her audition monologues and was admitted into a prestigious acting program at the junior year level. It was a smooth transition, for several reasons. Her mother, who at first opposed the idea, when she realized the seriousness of her daughter’s intent, became a willing collaborator in facilitating Bonnie’s decision and bringing it to a successful conclusion.
The third phase of our work was the two years our classes gave support to Bonnie’s acting training at her high school. The private coaching calmed her fears, which were not grave, but reflected the shock of attending a large school for the first time when she was already a teenager. It also gave her a more profound understanding of the scenes and plays in which she participated, by providing more thorough discussion of complicated questions that the teachers at the school didn’t have time to address.
In the end, she and her parents decided she would not enter a college program for acting, but instead would seek a liberal arts degree. She was accepted into one of the SUNY colleges, and in the end decided to major in writing. One thing I want to stress before I close, her mother was on top of what was happening without being pushy or interfering. Their relationship had the usual mother/daughter ups and downs; but in the end her mother listened and was on the side of Bonnie’s ‘true self.’
More about kids in the next entry and what it means for parents to nurture their children’s ‘true selves’ in relation to acting…