Moderating “The Classical Cure”

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it, but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour.  The search is your task.” – Harold Pinter

Janellen Steininger in the CF2013 reading of Little Women. Photo by G. Wade

Janellen Steininger in the CF2013 reading of Little Women. Photo by G. Wade

This past May, I attended the Antaeus Academy auditions. I enjoy taking part in the evaluation, whether or not I am going to teach for the upcoming term, in order to meet the potential incoming students, and observe my colleagues work with them.  I was particularly interested in Ron Orbach’s interaction with the auditionees.  He was scheduled to lead a new class: Take Two Aeschylus and Call Me in the Morning … The Classical Cure.  It was a pretty daunting undertaking to lead a class to diagnose and tackle the particular challenges and obstacles each student felt was holding him or her back in their craft.  “He’s a braver man than I,” I thought.  Then, as so often happens at Antaeus, Ron booked a job at the last minute -in this case, the Broadway show: THE SOUL DOCTOR,-  which prevented him from moderating the course. So the very morning of the first class, I was notified that Rob Nagle and I would switch in to moderate the first session.

It doesn't get more collaborative than this.

Janellen & Rob teach. It doesn’t get more collaborative than this. Crappy iPhone photo by D. Murphy

That evening was great.  Rob and I volleyed the comments, warm up exercises, and feedback on the students’ first monologues back and forth by the seat of our pants, and we complemented each other’s work with the actors.  The actors in the class were extremely straightforward and candid about their goals and what they felt were their shortcomings. Some common threads from their issues included trusting themselves and their skill, harnessing their fear and letting go, commitment to the process, and getting out of their own ways.  After this first class, it was decided that I would helm the course, as Rob already had a class to teach for the term and had prior commitments, which would conflict with some of the sessions.  He would join me to moderate when he could.

Janellen teaches "The Classical Cure"

Janellen teaches “The Classical Cure”

I felt a tremendous responsibility to honor the students’ commitment to face their demons and work toward releasing their best art – their best selves as an actor.  And this is where communicating the craft of acting, of expressing the emotional core and intent of a character, can be the most abstruse. It’s not easy to articulate the intangible processes of such intricate work; therefore clarity in my comments to the class would be imperative.  I instructed the students that when I comment on their efforts or offer adjustments, the question “Does that make sense?” is not rhetorical; they mustn’t let me go on unless we’ve connected!  I have found that no matter the era or style of a play and its unique demands, our approach as actors to the characters and their circumstances must be grounded in emotional reality. I feel that the great pleasure for actors is digging, exploring, and discovering what the text reveals and then connecting that to our own inner intuitive inner life and imagination. This “geekery”, as I fondly call it, is nurtures the freedom to grow in a role and live in the play, and here at Antaeus it this is part of the process that fortifies our ensemble.

J. Steininger in our 2012 production of You Can't Take It With You. Photo by. K. Flaathen

J. Steininger in our 2012 production of You Can’t Take It With You. Photo by K. Flaathen

Everyone in “The Classical Cure” class has been eager and willing to take the plunge to deeply probe not only the texts of the assigned scenes and monologues, but also the depths of their own emotional core.  We also flex the instruments of their work – their bodies, voices and imaginations- with exercises to keep them strong and pliable.

 In the past several weeks I have witnessed some frustration and fear, yes, but also overwhelmingly, courage and breakthroughs from every actor in the class.

Fears, obstacles and bad habits are gradually giving way to risks, stumbles, laughter, and a lot of huge steps forward. The line between “moderator” and “student” has become blurred as I continue to learn from them how to communicate, to commit, and importantly, how to stifle the demons and release the joy of acting.  Thanks Ron Orbach, and Break A Leg, and thanks to my students for your perseverance to reach that elusive emotional truth in drama.

STEININGER_JANELLENAntaean Janellen Steininger is the current moderator for “Take Two Aeschylus and Call Me in the Morning: The Classical Cure.” Last year, she introduced our students to Absurdism.  Auditions for our Fall 2013 Classes begin next week: for more info.