I attended the AADA (American Academy of Dramatic Arts), where they pummeled my Southern accent clean out of me, taught me the finer points of Improv, and tweaked my acting skills to an all-time high. How did they manage the latter?
The AADA provides some of the best and weirdest exercises, some of which caused my friends and I to literally cry whilst stifling laughter - a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by the Broadway directors who teach there. And they were not amused.
How could we have resisted? Imagine 8 cute young 20-somethings placed along one long rope, then told to pick it up. The part you’re holding now belongs to you: do with it as you please. Some nursed it like a child, others growled over it. No idea what we did as we were too busy howling over the guy crouched over his like an insane Cro Magnon specimen!
I’d posit that most of you haven’t had the, uh, joy of such intense acting exercises. That being the case, I’m going to share one with you, one that was, to say the least, extremely intense for all of us. So, play along at home...
Normally I’d tell you to close your eyes, but as that makes it a tad difficult to read, we’ll bypass step 1 and go straight to 2.
Take a deep breath, expel it. Along with that air goes the essence of you. Now you’re a blank slate ready to take on another persona. To begin, imagine that when you woke up this morning, your day stretched ahead of you like a mountain covered with broken glass. You knew you’d be hurt at one point or another. The fear is pervasive, never fully leaves.
Take another deep breath and slump your shoulders forward, hunch a bit, hang your head. Now open your eyes and peer up: all the better if your hair is hanging in front of your eyes. You do not want to be noticed, above all, except by your kids.
Time to learn to walk. Do it in short steps, as quietly as possible. Remain on guard with your entire body tense. He’s never far, and he can reach out quick as a snake. So now walk across the room, wondering where he is. What he’ll find fault with. What form the punishment will take. Empty your mind of all else.
Go into your bathroom in the dark, sit on the toilet with the lid closed. This is the only peace you’re going to get but you don’t have long. That voice will interrupt at any moment. At the thought, tears fill your eyes.
Can’t cry? What is the WORST moment you’ve had in a while, something that did make you cry? Focus on that until the tears come.
Back into character. Still in the dark, stand facing your mirror. Ponder your future: more of the same, no end in sight. No help forthcoming: nobody knows, you’re far too ashamed this has happened to tell anybody.
One more deep breath. This time, several years have passed and you are blessedly in your own tiny apartment with your kids. You aren’t free - friends do your shopping, you can’t leave the house for fear he’s out there. Can’t sleep, he might break in.
Still in the dark, one final deep breath in and out. Turn on the light and look in the mirror. Look at your own face for a moment: that’s exactly what she sees every day of her life. Those haunted eyes, that trembling mouth. She hides it well but it’s always there.
Look into the mirror again. Now it’s not you: it’s a sea of faces. Screaming, clapping, cheering. You have just sung your damn lungs out: something you never thought possible in this lifetime. Moreover, you’re on the last American Idol ever.
And, all things being equal, you’re going to win it, La’Porsha. For all of us.
I don’t know the details of her ordeal, of course. And personally I’ve not experienced what she did. But, thanks to the AADA, I can put myself there after a moment or two of concentration: now, so can you.
One last deep breath, in and out. As you inhale, bring all of you back in: your life, its joys. Physically shake off the character you became: shake your head, arms, hands, legs. Now stride across the room, wherever you are, as if you own it.
Thanks for reading and if you know someone who needs this sort of help, by all means reach out. If you yourself need help: reach out! People understand far, far more than you think. Trust me on that one.
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