Posted by Stephen Buescher, Head of Movement and Physical Theater in the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program
Stephen Buescher teaches movement and physical theater in the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program but has never performed in an A.C.T. production. Now, for the final M.F.A. Program production of the season—featuring the outgoing class of 2012, whom he has spent the past three years training—he takes to the stage alongside his students, playing Puck in a wildly romantic take on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at The Costume Shop, A.C.T's intimate new performance space.
Stephen Buescher in rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream with Master of Fine Arts Program student Rebekah Brockman. Photo courtesy Rebekah Brockman.
It all began with [Midsummer director and A.C.T. Associate Artistic Director] Mark Rucker saying, "Stephen, I have a crazy idea!" Then he proceeded to ask me if I was interested in playing Puck in Midsummer.
Ooooooooh! Puck!!! I have wanted to play that role forever. I ran home (via BART), and asked my wife Emilia what she thought. She thought it would be great for me to perform at A.C.T. I asked my kids, and they were excited that they would get to see Pappa in a show. All is well.
Wait a minute.
That means I have to perform with my students. Uh-oh . . . that means I may have to practice what I have been preaching. Uh-oh . . . I haven't spoken any Shakespeare in 20-plus years. I was secretly looking for a way to back out, but some of the tenets of my teaching are "take risks" and "put yourself in an uncomfortable position."
Here we go!
I remember being so nervous at the first table reading of the play. I felt like that driver’s education student who puts both hands on the wheel and holds on waaaaay too tight. My fears were soon assuaged. The M.F.A. Program students made me feel at home right off the bat. It was clear to me, in that moment, how at ease they were in the work. It was great to see how they owned the space, the play, the language, and their choices. They were clearly in the practice of the craft . . . and I was clearly (at least in my mind) out of practice.
I also remember watching them rehearse.
They would go for a while in a scene, stop . . . go back . . . stop . . . go back, stop . . . until they landed on something they wanted to stay with. WHAT!? You can't do that. Can you do that? You didn't have to ask the director if you could go back, you just kept going back? Hmmmm, can I do that? I was always under the impression that you keep going until the end, make a mental note of what needs some work, and then NEXT time, you try and change it. This was a whole new idea for me. Witnessing them rehearse in that way has given me permission to try it in rehearsal as well (but hopefully not during the show . . . ).
The other major impression on me was how much this group felt like a company. There is a trust and a sense of knowing, which allowed them to touch, kiss, lift, hit, slap, and jump on each other, all with no self-consciousness. What's more, they directed each other, which is often considered taboo. An actor would get an idea and then articulate the idea to their scene partner. The idea would usually involve the scene partner responding in a certain way. For example, "I want to try this exit, so when I say this line, will you block my way so that I have to go around you, and then say your line and then I will come back to you and kiss you?" This happened throughout the rehearsal process and people were always willing to try the idea. It made me, yet again, value what happens when people work together over time.
It has been an amazing experience for me to be able to play with the third-year students, and more recently, with the second-year students as well, as they have joined the fairy ranks! But enough of this learning-from-students crap. I can't wait to get them all back in class so that I can tell them what to do!