“You can’t be a talking head”: acting class for The Tempest continues

Acting instructor John Frazier gives the students instructions for an exercise: “Pick a word from your chosen monologue, just one word, and keep repeating it.”  A storm of words springs forth from the students and fills the room: monster, roaring, devil, listen, overthrown, first, hunted, Lord.

“The word creates a feeling and focus and sense of movement for each of you,” explains Frazier.  “Now physicalize the words: you have room, you have space, use it.”  The students walk about the cinderblock classroom. Arms flail, feet kick out, bodies move up and down, some men crouch and sway. 

After the exercise, Frazier reiterates its purpose to the students: “A key to understanding Shakespeare is moving with your body.  To understand the treachery, you need to move with it, and fear the danger that treachery creates.”   As they discuss movement, a student makes a key point: “You can’t be a talking head when you are performing Shakespeare.”

So began part two of John Frazier’s three-class workshop in acting and script analysis.  This second class explored movement and gesture, giving students techniques they could use to further develop a performance of their chosen monologue from The Tempest.

In the final hour of class, students performed their monologues for their peers.  The room became a stage. The Common Good Atlanta scholars inhabited the roles of Antonio, Trinculo, and Prospero.

One student crouched on the floor, spoke in a whisper, and pointed towards an invisible Prospero as he performed Caliban’s monologue from Act 2, Sc 2: “All the infections that the sun sucks up…” The result was intense and captivating.  The student’s actions had created a world around himself.

After each student performance, John guided a discussion about what made each scene work and how it could be improved. Students offered each other constructive and supportive comments.  They demonstrated that learning a new skill requires the courage to try different techniques, not all of which will succeed on the first attempt. As a student put it: “You have to be in the moment, and stay open.  You have to welcome the ridiculous.”