Last night was the culminating night for my acting class. I had memorized and rehearsed a monologue from the play Lunch Hour by Jean Kerr. I had worked on a difficult scene from Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abair with an acting partner—a scene in which we argued about a 4-year-old child we had lost to a car accident. The class had worked together on understanding the inner workings of each character, and the characters’ intentions throughout the scenes. We had worked on movement and voice, tone, and pace. During the last 30 minutes of this final class, we had invited family and friends to watch us in these scenes, so there was an audience of approximately 30 for our ten-person class. So how was I feeling heading into that final half-hour of class? Quite nervous.
The irony is that I’ve been involved in much bigger productions before. In college I played a bit role in a musical, a more substantial role in a play about the Holocaust, and the lead in a two-person play about college roommates. Since that time I have periodically been asked to play extremely minor roles in student productions at schools where I have taught. (My favorite role allowed me to have ONLY the very last line in a two-hour play by simply walking on stage and announcing “I’m home!” I then took a bow with the rest of the cast, feeling very guilty for receiving any applause at all.) These plays were in front of audiences numbering in the hundreds.
So why was I so nervous now, performing in front of my family plus a few strangers? As I reflected on that question, I came up with reasons that tie into our philosophy of education at AJA.
- I wasn’t as well prepared as I like to be. We hadn’t had long to learn our lines, get to know our blocking, or even our acting partners. I like to really know the roles I’m playing, including how my characters grew up, their likes and dislikes, and even what time they wake up on a typical day. Lesson: The best and most comfortable learning takes place when you dive into a topic deeply over a period of time.
- I didn’t know the other members of the class or the teacher all that well, and they didn’t know me too well. Don’t get me wrong—in spite of the 30-year age gap between the youngest members of the class and me, we all liked each other quite a bit. We just didn’t know each other. Lesson: The best and most comfortable learning takes place when you really know the others in the classroom and are known by them.
- It’s okay to be nervous. Seinfeld used to joke that because the fear of public speaking is the #1 fear in the U.S., above even the fear of death, you would actually be doing someone a favor by killing them before they had to speak in front of a group! I was certainly nervous back then—yes, even for my one-line performance—and there is no reason I shouldn’t have been nervous this time. Lesson: Good (and fun!) learning can still take place even when you experience nerves!
As I anticipate the start of the school year—and, simultaneously, the start of my stand-up comedy class—I will continue to reach back to the lessons I learn as a student in my various forays into continuing education. See you soon!