by Meagan Cole
Roanoke College students and graduates alike had the privilege of working with a theatre company from the very heart of America’s stageâ€”New York City. The New Yorkers, as the company is known, is comprised of five individuals who have all recently graduated from the New School, one of the best acting schools in the country. One of the members is also a Roanoke College alum. Cory Lawson graduated from Roanoke in 2008 with a Theatre major and is now fascinated by his work onstage along with his colleagues. He and the rest of The New Yorkers arrived Saturday, September 29th and began their workshops with a meet-and-greet promptly that afternoon.
The meet-and-greet provided a chance of a lifetime for aspiring actors and actresses to get a first-hand account on the work it takes to make it big in an even bigger city. The New Yorkers couldn’t stress enough their recommendation for everyone to travel and take away as much as possible from different cultures, regardless if it means sleeping on the floor or in a car instead of in a four-star hotel paid by the parents. Actors need perspective, and The New Yorkers have toured a great many places such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, and even Holland, bringing something new to the table each time, whether that means studying diction and dialects or focusing on specific songs in musicals.
With constant aid, students began with the first workshop the very next day. The New Yorkers introduced a variety of exercises including imagination, motion, urgency, and filling a space. At times, music was involved, and then there were also moments when the actors themselves created the noise, following along with some seemingly awkward movements, like becoming a bird and walking backwards through Jell-O. The New Yorkers even asked the students to prepare a brief, solo presentation, allowing them to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses within each scene and then explore the potential of it by adding minute differences.
The New Yorkers presented three additional learning opportunities separate from their workshops. One explained the Business of Acting. They helped students who are serious about perusing acting by setting up resumÃ©s, auditioning, and how to pose for headshotsâ€”don’t try to make yourself look like somebody you’re not. Some rules they live by are always write a cover letter and thank you notes, mention any special and/or ridiculous talents, send an invitation to agents in the area, and never lie. Also, if the actor is specifically interested in a film or television career, then set up a reel running through various monologues.
The second involved studying Shakespeare. That could mean studying the improvements a performer can make to his/her skill set, understanding a written analysis as an audience member or reader, or the various forms and interpretations that can be taught. The New Yorkers used two brief scenes from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for practice and aided the students in realizing the ultimate action, objective, and obstacle of their characters after they first understood what Shakespeare was initially saying with his language. After all, it’s impossible to play a character if the actor can’t decipher what’s happening within the scene.
Lastly, The New Yorkers spent some time on an art form that’s most often lost on people today: clowning. The students were placed in ridiculous scenarios where that in and of itself was funny, but the audience needed to be scolded any time they laughed. A lot of motion was involved until groups began with segments like weight lifting an elephant via index fingers or synchronized Spanish dancing after emerging from a war zone; all done without prior preparation, too.
No matter which workshop or lecture people attended, everyone agreed without a
doubt that the one-on-one experience was beyond beneficial to theatrical students, regardless of their acting background. While some students present have never acted outside of Acting I at Roanoke College, other students are Seniors who have been cast in several TRC productions. Both groups took something away from the workshops as a whole. The members of The New Yorkers were understanding, engaging, and definitely interactive on both an educational level as well as a personal one. Their enthusiasm always sparked an infectiously fun atmosphere while also challenging the students by pushing them to play to their actions rather than their thoughts.
With most of the exercises out of the way, The New Yorkers brought their hard work to Olin Hall’s Main Stage on Friday, October 5th. The abstract performance was unlike any other ever staged at Roanoke College full of wild interpretation and laughter. Not only that, but the students participated in their very own segment, created from the previously mentioned solo presentations, after spending a week in rehearsals with the acting troupe. All in all, it was an opportunity of a lifetime for the campus to see up and coming stars break a leg with equally enthusiastic and appreciative students.