Shapeshifting Class

I do not have any ambition to be a professional actor. However, I truly enjoy and take acting classes whenever I can.

The practice of acting affords me an opportunity to examine myself from a completely different perspective within a safe and mostly anonymous context. In classes, I am provided with unusual scenarios and different personalities to try on for a while. It is a good stretch for me to let go of my usual way of doing things, seeking to submerge myself into a new role and then feel for the personality nuances that bring it alive.

Acting is a form of shapeshifting: changing from my usual way of experiencing and being in the world into someone or something else. It is a deep, experiential exploration of my personality parts, learning to let go of them and to move as fully as I can into a different form, trying on a different skin.

In improvisational acting class, I learn that “Yes and…” is much more powerful than, “Yes but…” or the deadly “No.” “Yes and…” builds energy and excitement, even when — or perhaps especially when — it goes into extraordinary dimensions of absurdity.

Let’s get some ice cream!
Yes and put lots of chocolate and sprinkles!
Yes and ride our bikes with them down the block!
Yes and let go of the handlebars!
Yes and right into that space ship overthere!
Yes and wow! Eating ice cream on the moon!
Yes and with aliens from Planet 9!

Every actor in the scene must play off every other spontaneously, and that leads to a tight interaction among them. There is not much time for daydreaming or planning very far ahead. Flexibility and fluidity are the rule in this form of shapeshifting. Action is in the moment and builds upon the sparks of talent, awareness, and intuitive spontaneity that each actor brings.

From improvisational acting I learn spontaneity, flexibility and fluidity in the moment, and how to play joyously with others.

In acting for camera, I learn something different about shapeshifting. It is about character and about how to be real while playing a role. It is about creatively crafting a scene built around a specific script and delving into nuances of behavior and psychology that bring characters to life.

The way any scene plays out can go in many directions based on the way the character is written, crafted, and enlivened by the actor. How I interpret the character can feed the story or kill it. How I think as the character can either bring it to life or make it dull and flat. How well I shapeshift into the character can make it real or laughable.

Acting encourages observation of real life in greater detail than one ordinarily does. Actors learn much of the craft of shapeshifting by observing how people move, what they do when they talk to each other or when they sit quietly by themselves, and the thousands of other behaviors that go unnoticed most of the time.

Actors are students of life because they must be real while expressing themselves into their roles.

My very first assignment in an acting class was to observe myself from the outside in. What is the first thing I do in the morning? What is the sequence of how I dress – pants before shirt, or shirt first? Left leg first or right? How do I react to how socks feel when I put them on? What is the expression on my face as I shave? How do I swing my arms when I walk? What happens if I change that?

Every day is a laboratory for actors. There is never a moment when there is not something to be learned.

On stage, I get to put on a new skin and use everything I have learned about shapeshifting to make it fit as though it were tailored just for me. Among other actors — certainly more experienced and talented than I — I feel freedom to put myself on the edge and fearlessly dive into something brand new without concern for how people who know me might react.

When I begin feeling the edges of the everyday rut getting too deep, when I’m feeling stuck and dull, I resolve to look for an acting class to attend. Not only are they about trying on new behaviors, acting classes allow me to connect with everyday life in an extraordinary way.

Acting is about being alive.

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