WCC Acting Classes Explore Life, Literature
Life is full of great stories. Some are testaments to personal fortitude. Others dramatize the human condition. Many explore the folly in an otherwise somber experience. Each semester, several of these stories come to life in the WCC performing arts classroom.
Instructor Tracy Komarmy Jaffe knows that the College’s Acting For the Theatre I and II classes can be springboards for many career and personal pursuits. They can lead to:
- A new passion for theatrical performance
- Roles in community productions
- A major in theater
- Transfer as an elective to a university
- Confidence in tackling new challenges, creative thinking, and public speaking
- A deeper understanding of literature
- Friendships that can last a lifetime
“Students get excited about literature and theater through scene work because acting is the embodiment of literature,” said Jaffe. “It has different challenges than solely studying a text. You study the text, you analyze it to understand the levels of symbolism and irony as well as progression of plot. You then analyze the characters, their interactions and motivation. Then you have to memorize it, act it out, and bring it to life. And that’s what I think is so exciting about theater. Students are challenged on so many levels, and they are inspired.”
Art Imitates Life in the Classroom
The Acting I and II classes are taught concurrently, meeting at the same time in the same place. However, the assignments are very different.
“At first, Acting I students can be hesitant,” Jaffe said. “We break the ice with some introductory assignments and then we go from there. Acting II students have been through one semester and they know the ropes, they feel like veterans. If cautious when they started the first class, they get surprisingly comfortable the second semester.”
Jaffe’s Acting II students are assigned special projects that challenge their new skills and passion. For example, last winter the Acting II class performed several scenes from “August: Osage County,” which received the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for drama.
“It’s an extremely intense and relatable play about a severely dysfunctional family,” said Jaffe. “Several students expressed how they could relate personally to the family dynamics dramatized in the play. It was fun, demanding, cathartic for some, and insightful for others.”
Award-Winning Plays Tackle Tough Issues
Jaffe’s students also recently performed an adaptation of “Proof,” the Tony Award-winning play by David Auburn about the mathematical brilliance and mental health turmoil of a father and daughter. In 2005 it was released as a motion picture starring Anthony Hopkins and Gwyneth Paltrow.
“I try to make sure the well is deep when choosing scripts,” said Jaffe. “This (winter) semester some students are doing scenes from ‘Art’ by Yasmina Reza. It received the 1998 Lawrence Olivier Award for best comedy and that same year a Tony Award for best play.
“Another group is working on scenes from ‘For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.’ It was a total surprise. A student brought it in as a short performance, and that inspired others.
“Things often happen serendipitously. The second-semester students have a lot of autonomy. After receiving scripts, they first work independently on their assignments together. Then I meet with them and coach them through their scenes. Several projects can be going on at once. It’s really student-driven in that they are very self-motivated.”
Scenes From Seven Plays Are Featured This Semester
This Winter Semester, students in Jaffe’s Acting II class are also performing the one-acts “The Actor’s Nightmare” and “The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Baby Come From” by Christopher Durang, an adaptation of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth,” and “Shivaree” by William Mastrosimone.
“At the end of the semester, each class selects an evening for family and friends to attend,” Jaffe said. “We keep it informal—an open class with a real audience. We then have a talk-back and discuss the performances and what the students went through to prepare. We view it as a showcase. It’s their night to highlight for family and friends what they’ve been working on all semester.
“Students want challenging scripts. Last fall we did scenes from ‘Clybourne Park,’ a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Bruce Norris. The first act takes place in 1956 when white people sell their house to a black couple and the neighborhood balks, reminiscent of ‘A Raisin in the Sun.’ Then, in 2009 it’s a black neighborhood and white people are moving in to the same house. It was sophisticated and the students loved it. We had all these hot-button issues being discussed through the literature. It was so exciting. The theater classroom has taught me to never underestimate our students and what they are capable of.”