While many actors find solace in the community of an acting studio, theater company, or class, each can suffer from the perils of routine over the years, forming habits and disconnecting the actor from their sense of passion and purpose. So if you’re up for something new and a way to get a fresh take on things, might I suggest the summer intensive.
As a USC professor, I often refer students to summer programs at places like RADA, Steppenwolf, and SITI Company. I helm the Summer Theatre Conservatory at USC and the AdlerImprov Acting Studio offers an annual Improv Retreat too. Summer programs like these offer a number of benefits.
As an actor, your senses are a big piece of the puzzle, and it’s a scientific fact that routine dulls those senses. (Have you seen Daniel Simons’ selective attention task video?) The same acting class, the same day job, the same apartment, the same, the same, the same—everyone needs a break.
Actors need it more than most because new experiences heighten our perception of the world from which we create our artistry. Travel is good for artists. Actors who travel for a summer intensive awaken their senses by exposing themselves to the tapestry of sights and sounds a new culture provides.
Einstein talked about how taking a break often led to breakthroughs. He would have trouble with a physics problem and step away to play the violin when, voila! Genius struck and the problem was solved.
Taking a break from your standard acting practice can be very valuable and getting away with your craft can offer untold riches. Summer intensives provide many of the same benefits as a vacation: they’re relaxing, fun, and awaken your spirit of adventure. When combined with an attention to the art, these qualities open us up to new pathways of discovery.
Shedding is an idea that comes from the improvisational world of jazz, the idea being that a musician locks himself in a woodshed with his instrument and practices until he’s improved greatly. Similarly, summer intensives offer an opportunity to get away from the distractions of daily life and focus intensely on your creative growth.
Imagine waking up and spending hours dedicated to the body and expanding its physical expressiveness. After that, an hour or more of breath and voice work. Ready for lunch? Then incorporate the body and voice into improvisation and text work. After dinner, head to rehearsal. Then do it all again the next day. With this kind of intensity, connections can be made that often otherwise wouldn’t.
In summer programs, you’re likely to meet people from all walks of life. This diversity of experience cannot be overvalued. Meeting actors from other places allows you to learn how they do it. Every theater artist knows that something magical happens when, at the end of a long day working together, two actors sit down for a meal or a beer and swap stories. You’ll learn from them and be reminded that you’re part of an ancient and international tradition, one that transcends the insular bubble of professionalism.
Someone once said it’s all one lesson; it’s just a question of how you’re going to learn it. Often times those who teach at summer intensives aren’t available to most actors in the private sector because they spend their lives in top MFA programs and theater companies, but they do reserve a short amount of time each year to give back to budding artists. This opportunity to work with new teachers can offer deeper insights and make things click in a rare and special way.
If you’re looking to grow, summer intensives might be the way to go, especially since there’s nothing more dangerous to your craft than the same old thing.
*This post was originally published on March 23, 2017. It has since been updated.
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