This fall, for the first time in many years, Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory offered a new scene study class focusing on the playwrights Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and David Mamet. Written and taught by Joy Zinoman, this class recently completed its culminating public showing on January 26 and we took the opportunity to get some reflections from the students in the class.
Madeleine: These are four major playwrights, creators of a new styles in English-language theatre and I felt I did not have enough of an understanding of those style or how to approach their plays as an actor. I found Beckett and Pinter particularly intimidating and I hoped a thorough exploration might give me more ease with their texts.
Liz: I think it is vitally important for actors to keep growing, to keep exploring, to keep stretching, so when I am not performing I take a class. A class keeps me moving forward.
Madeleine: Yes, indeed! I sort of knew what to expect, as I had taken the other scene-study class that focused on a group of playwrights, Shaw, Ibsen, Chekov. I knew what the format would be like, but since it was a new class, I think there was an element of surprise from everyone—including Joy. I think discoveries were made about the playwrights from everyone. We found that some pieces are amazing—there are all these little short plays by Beckett and Pinter that are so powerful. In less than 8 minutes you can have some real content.
Liz: The class was exhilarating not so much because it was new but because we were in an environment where free discussion and exploration were encouraged. The similarities and differences, the good ,bad and in some cases, the ugly were coaxed out of us by an instructor who completely understands the playwrights and their styles, but more importantly understands the value of discovery.
What surprised you the most about the class or what you learned?
Madeleine: How much I loved the plays of Samuel Beckett! I had always found his plays to be depressing and gave me a feeling of claustrophobia. I had a fear of his world—it was too abstract for me. But, once I started working on his pieces and observing the work of my classmates, I found so much of it moving and powerful. I want to see more!
Liz: I learned not only how to interpret these playwrights for acting, gaining access to their style, but also how to watch them as a member of an audience. The class reminded me to stay open as an audience member. That there is a certain freedom in letting go of the literal.
Which playwright challenged you the most and which one did you have the most affinity?
Madeleine: I think Beckett was the biggest challenge for me; I am very much a player of Realism and this style, this world, which for the actor has to have a realistic base, but in the playing and in the given circumstances isn’t really realistic, was hard for me to grasp. I’m not sure I really got it, but I was fascinated by it. I felt the most affinity for Pinter. His world seemed to make sense to me—I feel I have an innate understanding of the post-WWII world in England; and I love his mixture of vaudeville and abstraction and realism.
Liz: Finding purest form of an emotion, an action or objective has always been of great interest to me, so in that respect I found Beckett to be thrilling. To have the opportunity to experience love or sorrow or anger stripped away to its core form is a gift. Yet, I am a creature of the realism, so Albee's style is more in my comfort zone of creating a full character. Working on Pinter allowed me to merge these two together, a realistic character who reveals the purest of emotions in the subtlest of ways. Studying the first playwright informed the next playwright and the next.
What was your favorite moment of the class?
Madeleine: There were a lot of great moments…But, the second week of class we had an assignment to choose a scene from Caryl Churchill’s Love & Information and watching how everyone interpreted these very short scenes was so exciting—a great lead-in to the other playwrights. I wish we could have thrown Caryl Churchill into the mix of playwrights, because she clearly belongs there!
Liz: The moment of discovery which happened again and again.
Interviews and conversations with members of the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory community.