On & Off Campus Blog

Embracing acting for the first time as a senior
Embracing acting for the first time as a senior
By Simru Sonmez-Erbil ‘20

A wise nanny once said that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Well, lucky for us in the Mary Poppins cast, there's been no medicine to swallow as it's been smooth sailing and good times in our rehearsals!

Though we planned our first rehearsal for Monday the 2nd, the weather refused to cooperate, and after an early closure and a snow day we finally gathered for singing and acting exercises. The first week offered a unique take on rehearsals in a number of ways. We began each rehearsal by gathering around the chairs that formed a semicircle in the middle of the Chorale Room, picked up our music, and rather than splitting the songs into parts that a certain character would sing, the entire cast sang every line of every song together as Mr. Horning guided us on piano and gave us pointers.

Unlike past years, we started our rehearsals in December as opposed to January. This gave us the chance to practice acting techniques before diving into the script, and for these couple of weeks in particular, we're focusing on the physicality of performance in an effort to leave behind any restrictions that might hinder our acting.

The second half of rehearsals has been devoted to acting. Mr. MacDonald instructed us to start walking around, loosening up, and then told us, when he said an emotion, to act out the emotion on every fourth step.  As he said "love," the cast clutched at their hearts and walked on air. As he said "fear," the cast shrank back with terrified looks on their faces. We did a few more exercises which involved acting as if we were being pulled by a string (embodying the character of a toy), and standing in line trying to replicate the action of the person in front of us. These exercises were designed to prompt us to embrace naturalism in our acting—to not over-intellectualize how a character would act, but to blend how we would realistically act with the intentions and feelings of a character.

I think we all can agree that when we watch an actor that seems very forced, it's not a very enjoyable performance. I had thought about this a little before--what makes a performance "good" or "bad"--but I had never known how to put words to it or figure out exactly what the key to it was. Now I have a better understanding of the balance between one's instinct and natural actions, and those of the character they're playing.

As a senior with no prior theater experience (with the exception of a BB&N Lower School production of Dr. Dolittle, but can you really call that theater experience?!), these exercises were incredibly useful to me. I really had no idea how to think about acting, or rather, not think about acting. All of us in the cast now feel more prepared to interpret our parts keeping these techniques in mind, and putting our hearts into our roles.

Mr. MacDonald also shared his philosophy of the importance of the process of a theater production; that in such a product-oriented world, we should strive to place more emphasis on the process. The same philosophy can be applied to all things in life, and I left rehearsal that day with the mindset that the next day, I would "enjoy the journey" more as I went through my routines.

I wanted to do the musical as a senior because I wanted to seize every opportunity available before graduating, and because learning about acting would make me a more well-rounded person. So far I've learned a lot and I'm looking forward to rehearsals after break.