An Academy Interlude: I Have No Idea What I’m Doing

by Nick Healy, Academy Student

Let me begin by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing.

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Nick in class (wearing a very appropriate shirt) with J. Apicella moderating. Photo by K. Canavan

I’ve never written a blog. English essays, college applications, emails, yes, but never a blog—and certainly never anything for public consumption. Nevertheless, the Powers That Be thought that my perspective as the youngest student in the Archetypes Class would be at least not uninteresting, so I said I’d give it a shot. With that in mind, please bear with me as I try to make the next few paragraphs as fun and painless as possible for the both of us.

Basically, I’m an eighteen year-old high school student trying to keep up with twenty professional actors. My acting experience is limited, to say the least; and that’s to say nothing of my never having even heard of half of the playwrights from whose works we are choosing scenes. Take Beaumarchais—until Wikipedia told me otherwise, five years of French led me to believe his name was Bon Marché. I know (or think I know) Shakespeare, Chekhov, Mamet, Williams and some Sophocles, but give me a Shaw or a Plautian scene, or a character who embodies different Commedia archetypes at different times, and suddenly I devolve from the hot-shot high-schooler into the caveman rubbing two sticks together in hopes of a spark.

Nick NOT botching The Cherry Orchard

Nick NOT botching The Cherry Orchard

I decided to audition for the Academy after a like-minded friend emailed me the Spring Antaeus Academy audition bulletin with “Let’s consider this?” as the subject heading. We were finishing a production of The Cherry Orchard at school, and with the student-written/acted/directed Playwright’s Festival not long afterwards, I did not have an unlimited amount of free-time to spend walking around as Aphrodite; nevertheless, I immediately decided to audition. Having just botched my way through my first Chekhov, the notion that a character could be understood and crafted in terms of simple, established cultural constructs appealed to me enormously.

Fast-forward one month to the first class. At the requests of John and Geoff, our instructors, we each performed for the group the classical monologue that got us into the Academy. Watching these speeches was its own course on the art of the monologue. Everyone at once conveyed a sense of character, of continuity between the past, present and future and an in-the-moment vitality that seemed effortless. Meanwhile, in Nick Land, I struggled to maintain focus while vomiting out would-be poetry. Don’t think I am overly harsh—I am very proud of my work on that soliloquy (Hal’s “I know you all, but will awhile uphold”), and of having placed into the Academy in the first place, but, and sorry for mixing metaphors, there’s nothing that puts you on your toes quite like being thrown in over your head.

None of this—my lack of experience, the intimidating talent of my classmates, of my teachers, of the institution itself—none of it weakens my resolve to do the work, to, as they say, fight the good fight. On the contrary, studying at Antaeus is liberating because of my relative inexpertise. “Failure” means nothing in a room full of experts willing to instruct, so in class I should err freely on the side opposite caution. To do otherwise would be a waste of time and money.

Something happened after class this past Wednesday that speaks volumes about the supportive environment at Antaeus.  John stopped me as I was leaving the theater. I had struggled that evening with a scene from The Revenger’s Tragedy by Middleton (or Tourneur—nobody knows!).  To cure my stylistic ignorance, Geoff and John spent much time explaining in depth the nature of Jacobean drama.

John Achorn teaches Commedia.  Photo by G. Wade

John Achorn teaches Commedia. Photo by G. Wade

Of course, the scene then immediately made perfect sense.

“Did you understand all of that?” John kindly asked, obviously sincere. Before I could say yes and thank him for the earlier discussion, he continued, “’Cause we’re not giving you the A B C’s here. We’re just jumping in.” I agreed with a somewhat exaggerated, self-deprecating laugh.

A silence. Then, his eyes pointed straight at me, “But you are keeping up just fine. I’m proud of you, man.”

N HealyAcademy member Nick Healy admits to the fears that every actor faces on a daily basis.  He is currently enrolled in our Classics: Archetypes class, which meets Wednesday evenings this Spring.  Lead Moderators: John Achorn & Geoffrey Wade.  For more information on the Antaeus Academy, please visit our website: www.antaeus.org/theacademy.html

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