In The Spotlight

Reprinted courtesy of The Almanac
By Patricia Van Horn
The Almanac
pvhorn@thealmanac.net

In less than a week, a group of people with little or no acting experience will step into the spotlight.

They’ll perform a scene from a play in front of an audience – maybe as long as 20 minutes on stage – but they are up to the challenge.

The performers are students in the adult acting class taught at Little Lake Theatre by artistic director Sunny Disney Fitchett and actor/director Art DeConcilliis, a veteran of 110 Little Lake productions. Since early July, the dozen students have met weekly to learn improvisation, movement, memorization tips and other skills.

Now the class will culminate in a performance showcase set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24.

“Class is so much fun,” said Rebecca S. Herron of Washington. “We’ve been working hard on the skits we’ve been given and I love my part.”

“Classes are going well,” added Valerie DeCesar of Canonsburg. “Art and Sunny are wonderful teachers. I enjoy the time I get to spend with them.”

Herron said her focus is on trying to analyze her character from the play, “Stanton’s Garage” which focuses on the lives of eight people at a garage located on a Missouri interstate. Herron plays Mary, a surly garage worker.

“Learning the lines and blocking is just a matter of commitment and repetition… the challenging part, at least for me, is to do what Art and Sunny have been teaching us: to really analyze the character we are playing, try to understand who they are, where they’re from, what happened in their life that made them who they are. And then climb inside the character and perform the part.”

Classes began with theater games to break the ice, build self-esteem and stress teamwork.

One of the exercises involved guessing the person’s identity based on questions asked and another teaming up with a partner to learn more about them.

“This was an experiment in choosing character type,” DeConcilliis said. “People visually make a judgment call within 2.5 seconds after you meet someone. It is no different in the theater. When you go into the audition, a director starts to make a judgment call very quickly when she first sees you. I learned to accept the type I was and just go for that role.

“But if you get anything out of class I want that you will just be in the moment as the character and be comfortable with that.”

As part of the class, the group watched a dress rehearsal of one of the mainstage plays, “The Farnsworth Invention.”

At the following class, “we discussed what we learned from the dress rehearsal and learned about blocking,” said Mary Kieler of Bethel Park. “Showcase should be interesting. I learn something with each class.

“It’s a challenge for me–and I welcome it–to learn the lines I have for ‘Enchanted April’ although my part is easier than (my partner) Julie’s who has a much bigger task ahead of her.”

Fitchett has been teaching the adult acting classes for ages 19 and over since 1994 with DeConcillis joining her a year later.

“There were a couple of years when we didn’t hold a winter class and we have actually only taught in the summer once before.”

Fitchett said she loves the classes.

“Teaching gives me the opportunity to find new ways–and fine tune ways–of finding and communicating the most important elements of character development. It reminds me that when I’m directing I don’t have to know all the answers, I just have to understand the important questions to ask.

“Also, I have always admired people who value lifelong learning and I find I really enjoy the people who are brave enough to jump into an acting class, of all things.”

The classes help the students develop as actors, she said.

“It gives adults permission to be imaginative and creative and brave. I hope it also gives adults new regard for the work of an actor.

“We teach our students new ways of looking at the play and ways to contribute specifically to the playwright’s vision. I hope they gain new insight about the depth of communication that is necessary in ensemble work. Acting is so much about putting yourself on the line, being vulnerable, exploring and opening your mind.”

Fitchett said working with adults is similar to working with children.

“The youngest children are comfortable pretending, but by the time they are pre-teens and teenagers, all the restrictions of self-consciousness come into play. Adults, unlike most young people, often know they are battling with self-consciousness and, in fact, this is often the reason adults come to an acting class. The most interesting and most beneficial thing adults bring to acting is life experience–enabling them to meld their life knowledge into character development.

Little Lake will offer the next adult acting class beginning in late February or early March. More details are available at www.littlelake.org

“We have a fun bunch of people in our class,” Herron said “and I think several of us are looking forward to taking the winter class, too.”

“I am considering taking the winter classes,” DeCesar