Participating in school activities can get you all kinds of places. Madison College Performing Arts arranged a 24-hour field trip to Milwaukee last Friday. I and four other students had the chance to tour the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, meet with actors and crew, eat some awesome food, and see a fantastic show.
The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar is playing on the theater’s Stiemke stage. It tells the story of an American businessman kidnapped by Islamist extremists in Pakistan in the near future. The small cast played this difficult and thought-provoking work so engagingly and the crew and designers created a beautiful piece of work, which we were able to enjoy all the more potently because of our tour and talks beforehand. It was a hugely educational and fun experience, and talking to the actors and crew not only about the play but about their vocations at the professional level was an exceptional opportunity. Kelsey, Shalin, Owais, and Audra were all kind and wonderful, and I hope I have the opportunity to meet them all again.
Heading up the Performing Arts Leadership on campus gives so many opportunities to have and create these experiences. We went on this trip because a month or so ago a faculty member suggested that a field trip like this might be a good experience for performing arts students. We all latched on to the idea and began looking around for theaters in nearby cities, asking what kind of workshop or special educational
experiences we could have. The Milwaukee Rep was so enthusiastic and supportive in organizing the trip that we simply had to go there.
The theater is an awesome building. Each shop has its own distinct style, right down the playlist. The props shop was definitely the coolest. The walls are covered floor to ceiling in the bizarre and wonderful objects that have been used in different shows. Jim Guy, head of the props department, is super cool and a master of his craft. It would be an honor to meet him again and work with him.
Shalin and Owais, two of the performers in The Invisible Hand, spoke clearly and honestly about the actor’s process and the life of professional actors, from auditioning to balancing screen and stage time to the differences between living in L.A., Chicago, and New York to the choices involved in working versus training. And, of course, scrounging up enough money to support yourself.
Owais led an interactive workshop on Laban Movement Analysis. I had heard of it, but never knew anything concrete. The exercises we did required that we push our physicality to creative limits, focusing on ourselves and our bodies as well as the world around us, taking in details about objects and people. One exercise, finding a partner and staring into their eyes for 2 minutes, prompted us to truly see the other person and accept them, as well as let yourself be seen.
We also learned some the vocabulary used in Laban. The eight terms were Dab, Slash, Punch, Flick, Float, Glide, Wring, and Press. A few of us used these concepts and applied them to monologues we had brought. Though I had not brought a monologue Nick, one of my classmates, was kind enough to provide me with an awesome monologue. I got to work that speech with Nick and Owais and play around with objectives and Laban movement. It was incredibly enlightening how much it could change how the monologue worked out. I hope to be able to apply the concepts I’ve learned in future acting and directing adventures.
Owais was an exceptional instructor. He was able to get everyone involved and onboard with all of the exercises, even the people who hated acting and the people who normally struggled opening themselves up. His enthusiasm and passion was infectious and made the whole experience wonderful for everyone.
Speaking with Audra, the assistant stage manager, was also informative and interesting. She walked us through the process of a stage manager in bringing a script to the stage. The meetings, organizing, question asking and answering are all vital to the work of an SM and their process of collaboration with the director, actors, and techs. The work of an SM is truly incredible. It requires so much dedication to bring artists together and facilitate that kind of creation.
The efforts that artists take to share their work with young learners is one of the things I love about the arts. Madison College hopes to arrange more opportunities like this one, and I hope I can participate in all of them.