Written by: Nadine Febrinka
Edited by: Shervin Lim
Halloween: a day for putting on a costume and pretending to be someone or something other than yourself. On this day of masquerade, the actors and actresses of KE’s theatrical productions gathered at the Comm Hall to master the art of playing pretend. Led by an experienced instructor through a variety of exercises (some sillier than the others), our performers took the first steps in exploring what being an actor truly meant.
Preparing for a big production and training for a big game are surprisingly similar. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the first few minutes of this workshop – the first thing I saw when I walked into the hall was everyone stretching together in a huge circle, as if warming up before a sports training session.
After a round of stretching, hopping and jumping high-fives, the actors proceeded to play a game called “Elephant, Helicopter and Coconut Tree”. Everyone gathered in a circle, and the instructor would point at a person at random and yell one of the eponymous objects. That person and the two people to their left and right have to quickly perform the corresponding gesture together:
If someone made a mistake, they were eliminated. It sounds easy on paper, but in practice, it becomes very tough to perform the actions correctly. Often we had helicopters with missing rotors or coconut trees made up of four people. It wasn’t long before the circle of more than 20 people was whittled down to 4, after which the game evolved into a sudden death match with the remaining participants rushing back and forth to complete the action.
As silly and entertaining to watch as the game was, it drove home some very important things about acting. Firstly, an actor must always keep an eye on what the rest of the cast is doing at all times, so that they can do what needs to be done. Secondly, mistakes on stage are not something to be regretted or dwelled upon; rather, it is when an actor laughs off a mistake that they become most endearing to the audience. Finally, the importance of precision in acting – without it, an actor’s routine becomes sloppy and boring, no matter how entertaining it was in the beginning.
The rest of the day proceeded in a similar fashion – a game is introduced, rules are modified and everyone learns something about acting in the process. The next game was reminiscent of a primary school PE lesson – the participants were split into three teams, and each team raced to get all their members to run across the hall, make a round around a chair, sit down, and run the same route back. After two rounds, the game was turned on its head – the race was no longer a competition, but each team had to maintain a competitive speed while running at the exact same pace as the other teams. In other words, they had to pretend to be in competition while consciously NOT competing with one another. Confused yet?
Despite the initial baffled expressions and cries of confusion, everyone quickly figured out how to complete the difficult task – by continuously watching each other and adjusting their speed to their partners’. The major takeaway from this, other than the importance of trust between fellow actors and the need to consciously make adjustments in order to effect change, is the most important skill for a performer is to listen – not just with one’s ears, but with every sense in one’s body. In the tumultuous, volatile world of showbiz, the truly great performers continually observe the people around them, and adjust their behavior in order to meet their requirements.
This was followed by a game called “Cat and Mouse”, which was basically Tag where “it” is a cat and everyone else is a mouse. However, our instructor made it clear that the cat’s meowing was paramount in the game – he made sure that every time someone became a cat, they had to make their best impression of a menacing household feline. At first it seemed like a pointless addition to the game, but after a few rounds, it became apparent that the more energy a cat put into their meow, the faster the mice ran, and the more exciting the game became.
Every 2 minutes, the boundaries of the game were gradually reduced and new rules were slowly added. Mice could be safe from the cat if two of them held hands, but only for five seconds, and one of them had to keep one leg up while doing so. Eventually both mice had to lift up one leg, and after that one mouse had to keep BOTH legs off the ground to save himself and his partner. All of this while the playing field was being reduced to half its original size.
The lesson to be learnt was quite simple: as the “main character”, the cat’s energy directly affects that of everyone else in the hall. When the cat makes a half-hearted meow, the mice run half-heartedly, and the game becomes boring. Hence, an actor on stage must be aware of the impact they have on the audience and the rest of the cast, and inject the appropriate amount of energy into their role.
The exercises and games continued: a thrilling game of Red Light, Green Light where the players were introduced to “fixed point acting” (acting without moving one’s body); a giggly round of Red Hands, where players tried to avoid being slapped by their partner by reading their eyes; and perhaps the most artistic game of the day: pulling imaginary lines with one’s body.
The idea of miming drawing lines in front of everyone else sounds ridiculous, but the actors used their imagination to turn this stupid-sounding game into a performance worth watching. They pulled lines of various textures, at various speeds and with different parts of their body, even collaborating with each other to draw lines from shared points. They did all this with the concentration and precision of a trained surgeon, and with that, pulled me in as an audience into their performance. Perhaps this is where the beauty in the art of mime comes from.
The first day of the acting workshop concluded with a sharing/jelly eating session where everyone chimed in on what they learnt and what made the deepest impression on them that day. And after a quick power huddle, the first half of this learning adventure ended just like that, with everyone present feeling that they learnt something important about the “soul” of an actor.
Photos courtesy of KE Vision