A Summer of Transformation: Two Student Perspectives on A.C.T.'s Summer Training Congress

by Elspeth Sweatman

Week One:

How did you come to learn about A.C.T.’s Summer Training Congress?
Lauren Richardson: An actor friend of mine participated in the STC last summer and told me what she learned here changed her life so I knew I had to apply. And I have learned so much in this past week! Just one of the many transformative things is the importance of maintaining awareness of your breath. When you let the breath in, you are relaxed and are more present within your work.
STC student Lauren Richardson.

Drew Olvey: A.C.T.’s Summer Training Congress attracted me with the promise of advanced technical training, personal growth, and a better understanding of my role as an actor within a community. And even in week one, the program is providing me with the acting technique I need to advance my career and the understanding of the power of theater as a tool for social, political, and personal transformation.

What has your STC experience been like so far?
LR: One class, my acting teacher assigned us the same neutral, open-ended scene and we all came up with completely different interpretations. It helped me to learn that a text can be played out in so many different ways depending on the actions we infuse in a script.

DO: I have realized the tremendous patience, dedication, and fortitude required to become a skilled actor. To use a playwright’s vision to create meaningful patterns onstage that impact an audience demands total engagement from the actor. I now have a richer understanding of the process involved in becoming an effective storyteller.

What do you hope to have learned by the end of your STC experience?
LR: Character work. I would love to know some ways to go about creating an authentic character and how best to go about conveying it within the body and in vocalization.

DO: I hope to develop greater insight into my strengths and weaknesses as a performer. This foundational self-awareness feels so important as I prepare for MFA auditions next year.

Week Seven:

How have your seven weeks been in the Summer Training Congress?
Lauren Richardson: The STC exceeded my expectations. My whole body became way more reactive, responsive, and present. I’m considerably more aware of my breath. Instead of constricting and losing connection with my breath during a performance, I consciously let the breath in and it makes me more relaxed and present. It became easier to truly connect with the other actors, which is one of the main goals in acting. In one of my scenes, there was a moment where I was 100 percent connected; I achieved a state of real truthfulness. I was able to access that more and more throughout the program.

STC student Drew Olvey.
I’ve learned that everything that occurs onstage conveys a meaning. The energy in a scene can shift considerably depending on an actor’s movements and proximity to the other actor(s). This was a huge revelation for me because it made me much more meticulous with the way I move onstage. Every movement matters, every movement conveys a meaning.

Drew Olvey: I expected the STC to concentrate on one or two areas of technique, but it was like an expansive buffet, with the opportunity to sample a myriad of concepts, styles, and techniques in a short period of time. Before the program, Shakespeare’s plays felt old, otherworldly, and arcane to me. I didn’t have the skills to read and interpret his writing, and lacked any real interest in performing his work. Through the Shakespeare Intensive, I have learned so many tools—such as marking the scansion to understand iambic pentameter—to decode even the most complex soliloquies. Now I feel confident to not only read Shakespeare but audition for roles.

I have to admit, I felt intimidated by A.C.T. when I first arrived. But everyone I met—from my core acting teacher to the volunteer library staff who helped me find new monologues—was warm, down to earth, and welcoming. I was impressed by A.C.T.’s spirit of inclusivity. Every class began with students sharing their preferred gender pronouns. Classes were diverse in regards to race, sex, gender identity, and sexuality, both with respect to students and faculty. My heart is full of gratitude for the skills I am walking away with, and I will deeply cherish the memories I’ve made at A.C.T. this summer.

For more information about A.C.T.'s Summer Training Congress, click here.

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