On Drill Class & Saying Goodbye to Winter

“Actors go to class, actors go to class, actors go to class…”

These are the words of a teacher of mine whom I very much respected in Los Angeles. It has become a sort of mantra to me in the last few months.

I feel like this winter was hard on everyone. The snow seemed to be piled impossibly high on my little street in Astoria. The black puddles of city slush filled our shoes with freezing water making even the simplest trips miserable. I considered hiring a personal assistant to keep track of my scarf, my gloves, my hat, and my three stupid jackets. In retrospect I probably should have; I spent a king’s ransom on new ones for every piece I lost.

Winter aside, it was a personally hard few months. The details are not for this blog, but by the end of it I found myself seriously doubting if this path was for me. The highs are highs, and the lows should be renamed because ‘low’ seems innocuous, like saying big fish instead of shark.  Two things got me through this slump, I’m going to call them the F’s.

The first “F” should probably be a “D” for Drill, but Drill class is taught by Fred Wagner so it seemed appropriate. Describing Fred’s class is difficult. The official description is a class…”To practice relaxation, getting in touch, sensory and repetition exercises. An excellent way for those returning to the profession to warm up and reconnect; crucial to the new actor to build a foundation.” But that doesn’t quite capture just how mind-blowingly work changing Fred’s class can be.

When I started with Cay she mentioned Fred’s class. At first I didn’t have time, and then when I did have time my ego said I didn’t need it. When I finally stepped into the studio on a Friday afternoon I did so because I thought it would be important to know the class as the Blogger, not as the Actor. Ironic since the Actor was the part of me that needed it.

Trying to describe drill has been my block with this post because it is so hard to capture just how much fun it is to be in that room on Friday. The class always starts with a relaxation exercise followed by an energetic body and vocal warm up. From there our work move’s through exploration of imagination using sensory techniques. We play theatre games, do basic work on scripted dialogue, repetition, and improvisation. We have fun.

The fun is really what has saved the artist in me. It becomes so easy to let acting be a wall, this serious obstacle to be overcome. But didn’t we start down this path because it was enjoyable? I know I did. I remember this time last year I was in call backs for a top tier Theatre graduate program. I expected it to be a day of intense vocal work, or of having to defend my decision to be an actor to an audition panel. What actually happened was an incredible day of games with the other artists who had also been called back. When I didn’t make the final cut I remember being disappointed, but I also remember being sad because I hadn’t had that much fun in years and I wasn’t sure if I would find that kind of environment again. I didn’t know that kind of experience was already available to me through a class being taught at my own studio.

The second F is friends. I am a fortunate person. I have a group of wonderful and supportive friends surrounding me. Some are in the arts and some are not. I haven’t found the perfect mix yet but it seems the right friend group cocktail for a healthy creative mind benefits from two ingredients: one part fellow artists and one part people who aren’t sure what “Pinter” is but have a vague notion that it could be a British term for something naughty. The classmates I’ve come to know over the last year and a half at the studio play an important part of that cocktail. Sometimes it’s an encouraging message after a bad scene, sometimes it’s a talk during a walk to the train. Sometimes it’s just a pat on the shoulder. Although our time together is limited to only Tuesday afternoon they’ve seen me at my best and my worst as an artist, and I at theirs. And through it all they have kept our few hours together a week a safe place in which for us to practice our craft together. For that I am grateful.