Why everyone should accidentally take some acting lessons
There I stood, in the middle of what looked like an industrial classroom in Midtown New York — looking at a group of total strangers, singing a Sinatra standard as though I had blue eyes myself.
Although I had plenty of vocal experience within the safe and enclosed parameters of my bathroom, doing it in front of anything more lifelike than a bottle of shampoo made me very uncomfortable — and rightly so, because in my humble opinion, I can’t sing my way out of a paper bag. But that all didn’t matter, at least not to my acting teacher, who was just as fearless and forward as she was vulnerable & empathetic.
It all started months earlier, when I arrived in New York to study film. Initially the plan didn’t involve acting at all, but when one of my courses dropped, I was urged to pick another. After a talk with a student advisor, I was recommended this course that would involve directing and working with actors, which sounded reasonable enough.
As I got settled, attended a few parties and got to terms with actually being in the city I’ve been dreaming of ever since I could reach the button of the TV, I attended my first class. It was every Monday evening, for an hour or two, or three, could have been four. You’ll understand my loose grip on time in a minute or two.
As I entered my first class, I was pretty confident. Like I said, with a couple of parties under my belt and the city at my feet, I felt ready to direct some actors — Little did I know that in order to do that, we were gonna become the actor first. I remember very vividly how the teacher spoke about how important relaxation is. I remember myself thinking:
hell yes it is, now why are you taking it from us!?
Before I knew it, everyone stood in a circle, taking turns on acting like a clown experiencing a seizure. Believe me, when your turn comes, that’s like jumping out of a plane without a parachute and bricks tied to your ankles.
It took me a few seconds to get into it, but the moment I let go, I didn’t find myself falling at all. Instead, I found an elevated version of myself (I know how it sounds). A version that didn’t take into account how stupid I looked, but a version that could take a few steps back and actually enjoyed the ridiculousness of it, like those who were watching me. I know, that got meta pretty fast, but how does one really explain the result of an action with words?
I found my presumptuous self being more relaxed than before the class had even started. I went from Mr. rooftop-cocktail to Mr. Wabi-sabi, like I took a trip from New York to LA in less than a minute. As we resumed, I was assigned to a classmate to act out a scene. I guess it’s true that behind every mountain, there’s an even bigger one to climb — because instead of some lines or instructions, we were given the assignment to envision the other person to be someone who had hurt us in the past. Phew, this class started to resonate more with my puberty than it did with film(I knew that clown part felt familiar). But I had come this far and I decided it was only reasonable to plummet back to earth after jumping out of that plane earlier. As we looked each other in the eye, I was just drawn into the assignment. Without going too much into detail here, we both ended up having some external emotional reaction to it. Even the teacher was surprised by it and continued to pair us up for the coming classes & assignments.
Now we’ve arrived at where we started. Me standing in the middle of that classroom with at least 16 eyes and ears silently observing my every micro-expression — Just another relaxation exercise. The objective was to sing a song from which you knew all of the lyrics, for as long as you could. As I jumped into my first sentence, I slowly raised the volume of my voice as though I was asking permission from my audience. As I progressed through the lines, each line became easier, lighter & louder. Before I had really noticed, my arms joined the party and were ‘waving’ the notes in the right direction. The truth is that I lost touch of everything else. Once again elevated from the ground, which was ironic since the song I was singing had something to do with flying away. I finished my last note, took my applause and a lot of praise from the teacher. She almost made me believe I came out the right end of that paper bag after all. Still somewhat in a trance, I sat down and watched others do the same.
I remember walking out of the building that evening — right into vibrant midtown, feeling lighter than ever. The sensation I got from just walking around was unparalleled. It was like watching the outro of your favorite movie, still lingering on the soundtrack and already anchoring that feeling to a memory. A memory to preserve a very valuable lesson in. I would go on to attend all of the classes, visit the famous Actors Studio and made many more fools out of myself. Something I now believe anyone should willingly put themselves through, even if it’s only by accident.