Everyone should take an acting, improv or dance class.
Often I catch myself being sucked into the tiny sphere of just my Self—and my phone. Sometimes it seems like it is hard for people—myself included—to express thoughts and opinions in articulate, thoughtful ways.
Selfies and carefully-sculpted social media lives seem to be the norm these days, and it seems like society is losing the capacity to connect. We live in a screen-dominated culture, but there are ways to step away from the anti-social pull!
Once upon a time, we were hunter-gatherers; our bodies were lithe and fit due simply to the demands of survival. We now live far more sedentary lives, but many of us do make a point to take time to exercise our bodies and keep them in shape.
We can do the same with social skills.
I’m super fortunate that I get to practice “being a person” every day—I’m an actor. I feel that every time I walk into a rehearsal, I check back in with people. I put my phone down, I look someone else in the face, and I share feelings—even if they’re actually the character’s feelings.
This is why I think that everyone should take an acting class (or improv, or social dancing, or even group therapy).
I used to be emotionally blocked. I never felt more than a most basic level sympathy for other people’s problems, although I wanted to feel and connect more. Just this past month, in a rehearsal process, I was asked to go to an emotional place that had long been blocked. Now, I cry just about every day!
Maybe that doesn’t sound like a great sell for acting, but the point is that this practice has really humanized me.
And it’s amazing.
Acting classes are just for those who are or want to become professional actors. There are all kinds of introductory opportunities out there (see the bottom of the article for some ideas), and not everyone who is in a class is required to “practice” being emotional (although some people just naturally will).
Contrary to popular belief, acting is not about becoming someone else. It is about finding how we can be honest under a set of given circumstances. It is about finding those parts of us that line up with a character who seems vastly different. It’s about finding active, cat-like stillness. It’s about empathizing with people who have never truly existed.
Above all, acting is about listening and moving and communicating with fellow humans in a playing space.
In an acting class, we practice looking someone in the eye and saying what we mean. We practice listening intently to what someone says, even if we have a scripted response. We practice adapting and reacting to the unexpected. We practice using our entire bodies to communicate an idea.
Even a beginning acting class will offer this much. It may be as simple as a scene with a partner, or it may take the shape of a solo monologue. We turn need and emotion into words and action, and we witness others doing the same. We cultivate mindfulness by focusing on one action at a time.
It’s also just plain fun!
There are all sorts of other ways to keep this practice up, which is why I mention social dancing or group therapy—just something that feels comfortable. It’s just a skill we can start to actively keep cultivated.
There are acting classes, improvisation classes, and dance classes offered in most large cities in the United States. If you don’t live in an urban area, you might see if a local university has classes that are available to non-majors. People in the theatre love to share what we do.
Theatre is, in my opinion, the art form most dedicated to the study of human connection and interaction. It’s not clinical, but it is methodical and yet highly inspired. It is a welcoming, warm, quirky world.
As society shifts, we can easily continue to practice being humans connecting with other humans. Acting is just one of many ways to do this—go ahead and give it a try!
For Chicagoland folks, I’d suggest looking at The Second City, iO Chicago, or The Annoyance Theatre for improv classes. In New York, Michael Howard Studios and The Stella Adler School of Acting both offer workshops and summer programs, as well as their full-time programs.
Author: Talley Beth Gale
Apprentice Editor: Alicia Wozniak / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Vancouver Film School at Flickr