BSC Thespians Work with New York Theater Pro
Published: Sep 11 2015
“Time” – Natasha Sickler.
“Time management” – Karter Dolan.
“… and more time” – Dillon Sailer.
“A lot of time, energy and emotional support” – Jeff Jung.
“Very time consuming” – Natasha.
(Like a call and response chant, the above answers came quickly. Then a pause, some thought ...)
“Trying to keep yourself healthy” – Dillon.
“Self determination to keep yourself going” – Natasha.
For the theater inclined, being an actor in a play is a two-month commitment within a four-month semester. It means five rehearsal nights a week from 6 to 9 p.m. and then every night for a week during dress rehearsal before opening night. The “Spring Awakening” cast actually started work in November with BSC music faculty to learn the music, a semester ahead of the March musical.
“Whenever you find time, you don’t socialize. You do homework before work, after work, and for two to three hours after rehearsals, usually until midnight,” said Sailer, a full-time student from Hazen with a 16-hour-a-week job.
The student with a lead role takes on the additional challenge of finding brain space to remember facts and figures for a test, while memorizing 600 to 1,000 lines of dialogue, when to say it, how to say it, and where to stand on stage speaking it. In educational theater, these are the known acting challenges. Unknowns trigger improvisation and, because such things happen in theater, they will – in comedy and in tragedy.
Christopher Zinovitch of Bismarck’s Dakota Stage Ltd., the original guest director who cast the musical, became ill suddenly with cancer and died in late January just days after his replacement arrived. Spider Duncan Christopher, a New York City professional actor, director and choreographer, first had to deal with a shocked and grieving cast. The transition began with a healing circle and dedicating the play to Zinovitch. Then he re-auditioned the 13 cast members to find the best fit for challenging roles in the explicit story about adolescent sexual awakening.
He had eight current BSC students,
two BSC theater graduates, two high school seniors, and a non-student from the community.
They began and in six weeks received what Christopher said he usually teaches over two years – essentially a seven-week master class in theater performance. Here is what transferred from a master of the craft to the students in their Broadway-class experience. Dillon: “What we did had a lot of structure, but I didn’t feel as pressured as with other directors. I’m a better actor with new routes for emotion.”
Natasha: “I’ve never worked with anyone like that before and was so excited. First thing I learned was how to make a scene real and find something in real life to bring there. And little things, like jiggling your foot. We’ve all learned to keep our feet still.”
Jeff: “I was worried I wasn’t talented enough. I knew Chris [Zinovitch]. He knew what I could do. But from the first time I met Spider, I thought this guy is great. He became like another parent to us. I’ve learned that it is more beneficial to me and the audience to react in the moment and to say my line like it’s for the first time, and not just speak words at each other.”
Dillon: “It was interesting and new every time – the same show but always different, always in the moment. I play an abusive character and left rehearsal for two weeks constantly angry, but I worked with Spider on how to disconnect. I didn’t know where the anger was coming from and made it go away. I can shut myself down and forget everything that happened in the last
Spider Duncan Christopher: “Dillon plays nine men in the show, a very tall order for character acting with some difficult emotional realities. Differentiation is what I teach, to have fun but leave the drama on stage. Acting is not easy and these kids put in very hard work to achieve this reality.”
Jeff: “I had the same problem as Dillon. I had to disassociate because I’d do the part and then just bawl. Now I get off the stage and I’m fine. I have become adept at listening to everyone on stage and reacting to everyone
Karter: “This was actually not my first time working with a New York director, but I just wanted to give the best performance I could. The main thing I hadn’t had before was the completely new approach to acting – living in the moment and being able to draw yourself in and out and keep repeating it. I can pull from that forever now.”
The interior character is what Christopher wanted to leave behind with his tight, close and grateful cast.
“I hope they become their own directors,” Christopher said. “This is what I wanted to come to do – to show what it means to really act on stage and to bring out truth and reality under imaginary circumstances. In the next show, they will know what to do to bring something to the table.”