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Seeking method in acting's madness

January 24, 2008|Liam Gowing

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" is the famous invitation to America inscribed beneath the Statue of Liberty. But change "masses" to "actors" and "breathe free" to "get paid," and it would work equally well as a summons to the free acting class offered monthly at the Australian Institute of Dramatic Arts.

An acting school run by Paul Parker, a degreed pro from Sydney, AIDA is a true disembarkation point for aspiring actors fresh off the boat or bus to Hollywood, and the free class-cum-marketing-event is its Ellis Island. That's no forced metaphor: Of the 40-strong coalition of ages, genders, races and countries assembled at the most recent iteration, only one claimed Los Angeles as her hometown.


After an introduction by an AIDA student named Michael -- who mostly lauded Parker's achievement of teaching him how to cry on cue -- the serious but solicitous Aussie wasted no time getting the green group going: Within moments of exchanging introductions, we were split into A's and B's, and the next thing I knew, I was peering into the depths of the nearest A's soul and, as directed, telling her, "I love you."

Talk about an icebreaker.

After more exercises on real listening and faux surprise, plus insights from Parker, it was time for the feature presentation -- an on-camera script reading. Jockeying into one of the three pairs of volunteers selected to read, I pored over the scene -- an uncomfortable exchange between two dysfunctional lovers.

The dialogue was a slalom run and just as downhill. Yuck.

With the camera tightly framing one actor's face at a time and a monitor projecting the slightest expression onto a large monitor, it was a real pressure-cooker situation -- just like an audition. Yet, somehow, on my first attempt, I nailed it, winning kudos from Parker and approbation from the audience.

Then Parker threw me a curveball -- a new direction, a new motivation: "This time, you want to deceive her."

Already attempting two levels of deception -- a writer trying to be an actor, and an actor trying to be a character -- I tripped into a wormhole, wondering aloud what level of idiosyncrasy would be necessary to both insinuate dishonesty and disguise it.

Fumbling the lines, totally unsure of myself, I blew it. But as the exercise and then the class ended, I grasped something else -- a newfound respect for AIDA and that never-ending wave of immigrants we call actors.





WHERE: The Complex Theatre, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.

WHEN: Classes Monday through Thursday, and Saturday; free class monthly

PRICE: $185 to $210 per month; long-term rates negotiable


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