Taking the stage before I graduate

Why I took Intro to Acting my last semester

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Jacqueline Kester is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

All of us at the University are familiar with course requirements — first and second writing requirements, general education requirements, specific major and minor requirements and so on. If you scroll through SIS, you can find a list as long as a CVS receipt telling you all the classes you have taken and still need to take. 

This past fall, I was ready to sign up for my last college courses, and I sat down to look at my laundry list of requirements and figure out what was left. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only needed a few things left to complete my degree — until I remembered that there was one class still missing. I had yet to take my own unique “requirement” — the class I have promised my dad I would take for the past three years — Intro to Acting.

“Not economics? Biology? Chemistry?” People have always been perplexed as to why this was the class my dad found most important to my college career. Maybe it was the rosy retrospection with which he looked back on his days in the drama department here or some unfulfilled dream to be an actor himself. Whatever the reason, my dad esteemed acting as a skill far more than he did understanding gene replication or carbon molecules. I think he hoped I would enjoy something he did in school and that it would allow me to be creative and develop skills I might not otherwise have the chance to. So since my first year, I’ve promised him I would take this class. However, I resisted taking the class because vague childhood memories of performing in musicals gave me uneasy feelings. So I pushed it off until my last semester, with no excuses left. 

On the first day of Intro to Acting, we went around in a circle and discussed our goals and intentions for being there. The phrase “I want to get out of my comfort zone” popped up quite a bit, and I had a suspicion we would all soon begin to resent that phrase.  

I certainly did when we were each assigned a partner, asked to stand a foot apart and had to stare into each other’s eyes for four minutes — and yes, there was a timer. 

All my old grievances with acting came back to me. Embarrassment. Self-consciousness. I felt exposed. I started over-analyzing what my partner thought of me. I thought that if I looked into my partner’s eyes for too long without looking away, he might think I was too into the exercise and that I was weird. I decided to laugh and act awkwardly, so that he would know I hated it just as much as he did.  

Why couldn’t I just embrace my situation? Why was I so insecure?

This experience revealed to me my first challenge with acting — ownership. Although the objective of acting is to portray the experiences of another person, it required that I be very in touch with myself.  It was incredibly difficult to be “in character” if the majority of my thoughts were consumed with what the audience or my fellow actors were thinking of me. I could not be hesitant or apologetic about my character’s actions because the performance would not be believable. I had to actively engage with my surroundings, react to them and most of all, let go of judgment. 

This preoccupation with what others think of me is something that I struggle with everyday. Acting has taught me to be confident in my on-stage decisions and how to use that same sense of intention in my personal life. It has taught me how to embrace my feelings and thoughts and communicate them effectively, both as a character and in real life.  

Now,  a few months in, I am presented with new challenges, such as establishing presence.

While rehearsing a two-person scene last week, I noticed that I felt very in-the-moment when my character was speaking, but my acting became weaker when I wasn’t. I would spend my time in anticipation of my next line and not pay attention to the words my acting partner was actually saying. 

However, it is not enough to only “tune in” when I am speaking because acting should be a series of actions and reactions. I have to stay engaged and actually listen to how my scene partner says their lines, even if I already know what they are going to say.  This realization has made me a better listener with my friends, and I have become less preoccupied with what I am going to say next. Instead, I try to focus on understanding their sentiments. I have always struggled to implement the cliche advice of being “present in the moment,” but acting has allowed me to slow down both on and off stage. 

I have no intention of packing my things and moving to Hollywood, but I do intend to thank my dad.  He forced me to get out of my comfort zone because he knew my discomfort was a small price to pay for the value I would get out of this class. Taking risks can be valuable, but sometimes you need a little push.  I can happily say that I am ready to check this requirement off — not with a sigh of relief, but a twinge of regret that I didn't do it sooner. 

Jackie Kester is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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