Tag Archives: Reviews

Stay Classy: Three Performance Courses to Take in Atlanta

1 Jun

The serious professional in any industry knows the importance of continuing education, and artists are no exception. But after an entire college education in theatre performance, in everything from storytelling to Shakespeare to sketch (not to mention dance from kindergarten), you can get a little over going to class. For a considerable amount of time, I rested on my educational laurels, relegating my training to the school of hard knocks that performing in real time affords (which let me tell you – are neither small nor few).

But earlier this year it struck me that after *cough* years out of college, it might be time to brush off the books. I had just finished a writing project and a large production, and had only a small choreography project going for the winter. So when my friend M asked if I wanted to join her in an acting class, the time seemed ripe. After that I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop.

So for any of you who may have a gap in your schedule and are looking for something to sharpen the tools in your box, check out my review of the following classes around town.

The Alliance Theatre Education Program

The Skinny: Befitting the regional mecca of theatre that it is, the Alliance offers the most comprehensive set of classes, serving all levels and all ages.  They’re also probably the most traditional. For adults, classes are offered in three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I took the intermediate class, which at four weeks is the shortest and least expensive course. Each level covers slightly different material; intermediate level is a scene study.

Who to expect: People from related industries with limited acting training. Business people who want to break out their shell. People who Googled “become an actor” last week.

What to expect: There are several instructors employed in this program, all qualified and experienced. The instruction is more or less from the classic Stanislavsky-Chekovian school. There is a small formal lecture component so bring a notebook and pencil (or a camera to snap the whiteboard). You will do some actor-y warmups – nothing too off-the-wall, but it involves yoga so don’t wear a skirt. The course will be spent applying the lecture concepts to a short two-person scene from a classic stage work (ours was Glass Menagerie, and yep, you have to memorize it). Be prepared to find a new scene partner after your original one ghosts the class (adaptability! it’s a skill).

My favorite part: Although I’d already covered most of the ground with my degree, there was one neat technique we learned in the very last class that involved using physical hot spots in the body to reflect various emotional centers (head, heart, and groin). It’s a handy shortcut for when you get the nebulous “can you try it another way?” in an audition. As dancers M and I could really get down with the kinetic aspect.

Tip: Take the free intro workshop first – not only will it give you a sense of whether this is what you’re looking for, but you’ll also get a discount code to use when signing up for a full course. Details and info.

Meisner Foundation at Pinch n’ Ouch

The Skinny: Pinch n’ Ouch, named after a core concept of the Meisner technique, is a tiny professional theatre that presents edgy contemporary works. The Artistic Director, Grant McGowen has fingers in multiple pies including video production and headshot photography – and of course, teaching. Meisner was a school of acting I’d heard of but never studied, so when Grant suggested I audit during our headshot sesh in January I was all about it.  PNO offers other classes in film acting and scene study but the Foundations class is a required prerequisite unless you’re already a working Meisner actor.

Who to expect: Film actors who want to get into stage, stage actors who want to get into film, people who have met Grant personally through other avenues (the dude’s guerilla marketing strategy is on point).

What to expect: Bring a pencil and paper here too, but only to capture tidbits from Grant’s non-linear notes given after chunks of activity. You’ll spend the first several classes of the 12-week program working on variations of one single exercise – the basis (foundation? ha) for more advanced work. The commitment is pretty extensive – the class itself is three hours long, and you’ll be asked to get together with classmates outside of class time for 2-3 hours of practice. Many actors don’t care for the Meisner technique, and PNO isn’t the only shop in town offering it, so you’ll hear mixed reviews. Personally I found it helpful and interesting, and also very challenging. If nothing else, it’s another tool to have in your kit.

What I love: The Meisner technique is excellent for the overly analytical actor (hello, Stanislavsky training) because it’s all about getting out of your own head and focusing on pure reaction to a partner. (By the same token, if you’re more of the instinctual actor you might benefit more from Chekhov). You don’t even use written material. I also love that the PNO circle is very cozy, but not in an exclusive way. You’ll be welcomed in to this little community with open arms.

Tip: Even though the time commitment is huge, don’t let it scare you off. Grant knows many of his students are working professionals and allows you to make up missed classes in other sessions. Details and info.

Listen Up! Audio Narration

The Skinny: If you’re looking for something a little bit different (and a lot less emphasizing on physical type or ability), you could do a lot worse than this series on audiobook narration. Audiobooks are a huge market right now, and we have a little share of that pie right here in Atlanta.

What to Expect: The class is half lecture half experiential, and the small class size affords ample time to practice and ask questions. Bring a mobile device to read your practice sides. You will go on-mic and read a short piece, but try to get past the actual sound of your voice – it’s totally not the point. The focus is all about giving life to the story – acting through the voice. You’ll be learning what makes people late for work sitting in their car listening to a book.

What I Love: I’ve been wanting to get into audiobook narration since I first visited a studio during a Maymester in NYC my senior year. I’m good at cold reading (my primary audition skill), I have an acting and storytelling background, and I love books. As I found out during class, there’s more to it than that, but in a way…there’s also not. You don’t even need to be an actor or have an NPR-worthy voice to be a good narrator. My mom, who has never performed a day in her life, even came with me to the last class and knocked it out of the park! (Guess where my reading and storytelling skrills came from?).

Tip: This set of courses can be taken a la carte but there’s a small discount for purchasing all four as a package. If you don’t take all four, there is still a discount code available for signing up for the next in the series. Also good to note: these classes are NOT offered on a consistent and regular basis – it’s up to the discretion and schedule of the instructors – so if you see the class come up, jump on it quick!  Details and info. 

In addition to these, I also picked back up on voice lessons where my vocal therapist left off. I’m fortunate to be working with the fabulous and lovable Lyn Taylor. Lyn has done considerable work with youth and schools, which means her teaching style is right up my alley – broken down into small chunks and explained in five different ways with vivid imagery and a heaping helping of encouragement. But make no mistake, this lady really knows her stuff, and is super organized too boot (think lesson plans and recorded warmups). Vocal coaching is a very personal thing, depending on your needs and your level, but in general I recommend finding someone who can a) play the piano well, and b) has a good ear. Because those two things are nearly impossible to do for yourself when you’re training your voice. Everything else really just depends. I’m well on my way to getting my voice whipped back into shape, hopefully in time for some fall auditions! Lyn doesn’t have a website, but if you want to know more email me at cushioncut at gmail dot com.

Taking class is a great way to experiment; to get out of your comfort zone without the high stakes a tight timelines of an actual performance. It gives you rooms to stretch your legs, both figuratively, and in the case of dance classes, literally. Things are picking back up for the summer (choreography rehearsals for my next project, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at OnStage Atlanta, started this week!) so alas, I may not get another golden opportunity to indulge for a while. But if you have the time (and the funds,  WAH for all time) do yourself a favor and get in a course or two, or at least a workshop. You won’t regret it!

Keep it classy, friends.

Weekend Getaway

12 Aug

We took a trip to the Smoky Mountains last weekend to ride the “real” Dinosaur Train, T’s current franchise obsession.  Because of our work schedules and budget, we could only stay one night, but it turned out to be the perfect little getaway!

DSC02033

Bryson City, NC is about three hours from Atlanta, driving mostly via those endless roads that have about four numbers and two names each. I just call it memory lane, because on the way, we passed the college P attended when we were doing the long-distance thing, and the turn off for Highlands, where we did summer stock together for a few years when we were PYTs and T was just a fleck of glitter in our eyes.

We arrived at our destination, the Hemlock Inn, right before the dinner bell on Saturday. You think I’m joking. Hemlock Inn is a bed & breakfast that also serves dinner, and they for real ring a legit bell to call people to meals.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

It was a charming little place, and about as close to roughing it as this girl gets. That is to say, they had indoor plumbing and actual beds, but no central A/C and no TVs in the rooms. But there was an awesome private screened-in porch on our room. Plus, who needs TV when you have a panoramic view of the mountains from the rockers on a huge wraparound porch?

DSC02021

There was also a library, free board and lawn games, and a TV common room if you really can’t quell the urge. Meal times were rather fraught for me, since the family-style dining experience required sitting with a bunch of strangers and engaging in my least favorite pastime, small talk. But the food made up for it. It was served on a gigantic lazy susan that makes it painfully obvious when your greedy ass goes for seconds–which was inevitable. The staff is crazy-ridiculous, bend-over-backwards friendly. Which almost made up for the fact that the whole digs was teetotalling. It just didn’t feel like a vacation without a cocktail. #firstworldproblems

There was also a little hiking trail attached to the property, which we enthusiastically ascended after breakfast the next morning, killing some time before our 2:30 ride on the D-train. Enthusiastically, that is, until we got to the top. The man that lived there (??) had a little yippy dog that pounced on T, and then he offers us this pleasantry as we set off on our way down: “Y’all watch out for Rattlers and Copperheads now. The Inn likes to tell people there aren’t any Copperheads here, but I killed three on my porch last week!”

Greeeaaat.

Might want to check the other side of that log first, big T.

Might want to check the other side of that log first, big T.

After we’d safely made our way back to the room and taken scalding showers to rid ourselves of sweat, bugs, and poison ivy juice, I asked Patrick if we planned to do any more nature activities, trying to figure out what to wear, and he goes “I hope not.”

We’re such an outdoorsy clan, we Youngs.

Then it was on to the Dinosaur Train! All ABOARD!

The Smoky Mountain railroad is right in the downtown of Bryson City. You might, in fact, call it its raison d’etre. We browsed through the train museum and bought the requisite souvenirs before boarding the train.

First Class, SUCKAS

First Class, SUCKAS

T, who missed naptime, promptly fell asleep on the train.

DSC02055

He didn’t miss much. Side note: for those of you familiar with D-train, the time tunnel was totally lame. You closed your eyes and shouted a lot.  But when we arrived in the Cretaceous period, there were a lot of cute little activities. There was following the footprints to the dino that left them.

Up high, Troledon.

Up high, Troodon.

There was digging for treasures in the sands of time.

DSC02089

To some children who shall remain nameless, it was more fun to bury the fossils than dig them up.

There was, of course, the prehistoric slide.

And by of course, I mean unfortunately

And by of course, I mean unfortunately.

And we got to meet Buddy the T-Rex.

I've been there, bBuddy.

I’ve been there, bBuddy.

There was a lot to do; we stayed busy the whole time.  The ride did feel like a trip back in time–maybe not to the Cretaceous, but at least a few decades. We passed over a river where the bank was sedimented with layers of – get this – cars that had fallen off the road above and smashed into the side of the bank. T managed to stay awake this time and we got humongous ice creams to cap off the trip. I think T was as excited, possibly more, by the double chocolate chip cone then by the train itself.

And of course, they like to hit you up for one more swipe of the credit card when they present you with a professional photo, all printed and inserted into a keepsake card, for your optional purchase. P pulled a Debbie Loetell (aka my mom) and took a picture of the picture so we wouldn’t have to buy it.

DSC02100

Before you judge, would YOU have paid $22 for that? Think about it.

So next time you’re in the Smokies, we highly recommend the Hemlock Inn, and a ride on the Smoky Mountain Railroad if your family includes little ones and/or nerds. Definitely a good time had by all!

What I’m reading

18 Sep

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the reviewers on the jacket called the book a cocktail made with battery acid that still manages to taste delicious. It’s a perfect description. A plot that should be totally ludicrous (and is certainly disturbing) is made believable by the spot-on depiction of that most ordinary of tragedies: a failing marriage. This one just so happens to be a failure of epic proportions. You’ll spit venom at the characters and fiercely pity them in the same breath. The mystery keeps the pages flying to the end, where you learn that not all “morals of the story” are, well, moral. So good.

View all my reviews