Elissa Beth Stebbins

Week one.

It’s Sunday night, and I need to be in bed.  But I also need to record some of what’s happened this week, ostensibly for the 5 people who read this, but really mostly for myself.

But where to begin?  How about the place?

Shakes & Co is on the western edge of Massachusetts, in the Berkshires.  A while back they took over the campus of a boys school, and have gradually been converting it into a theater mecca.  The main housing unit is Lawrence Hall, and it’s a long, two story building.  The majority of the building is dorms, with the ends of the building capped with apartments – two apartments on each end, each apartment consisting of 4 or 5 bedrooms.  I was in the dorms for the Month Long Intensive, but I’m in an apartment this time around, though still sharing a room.

Here’s a sweet panorama from the parking lot of Larry Hall (using photosynth, one of my new favorite apps):

And here’s a view from the picnic bench outside my apartment:

There’s a pond behind Larry Hall, and whereas in January it was barren and beautiful, right now it’s a riot of green and wildflowers (and bugs).

As you can see, the weather has been nothing short of gorgeous.  Warm and blue skies for the most part.  Yesterday morning we woke up to a little water on the ground and some swiftly moving clouds with a hint of wind, and it’s been cooler ever since, but still mostly clear and sunny to accompany the nip of crispness  (hehe – nip).

And into classes we dove!  There are 16 of us in the Conservatory, so we have voice and movement classes together but we split up for the first week of text/emotional connection classes (what’s known as Basics).  And this group is amazing.  We’ve got a range of ages, the youngest at 20 years old and the oldest at (cough) years old.  But the group has already in the first week proven to be not only courageous in their own work, but also completely invested in the journeys of the other people in the group.  Which I judge to be incredible.

I had a couple of people ask me, as I began to talk about coming back to Shakes & Co, why I needed to come back.  My work had grown so much after the Month Long Intensive, what more could I hope to learn?  Why was I making this sacrifice of so much time and money, instead of doing more productions and furthering my career.  I’m happy to say I now have a far more succinct answer to that question (provided me by Dennis, the head of training here).

The Month Long Intensive is built to help make break throughs happen, to tear down walls and force participants to let go of control and just be – be in the moment, be in their bodies, be fully present.  But the Conservatory is created to take all of those break throughs and teach us how to turn them into a set of tools, convert them from realizations into a way of being and doing that can be implemented at any moment.  Here they’re working to help me learn how to take my new-found present-ness (totally a word, shut it), and marry it to craft, in order to create truthful, enlightening performances that can be repeated 8 times a week.

While we started similarly to the way we began the Month Long Intensive, more time is spent discussing how the emotional attachment work (which can be difficult to recreate on my own and doesn’t have a place in production rehearsals) can be useful.  At first I was flummoxed.  As always, Basics was inspiring – watching others find emotional truth in their text through incredible acts of courage and vulnerability will always be inspiring to me.  But when asked how going through Basics this time around might influence my career, something clicked for me: I spend a lot of time and energy on being afraid that any emotional attachment I’ve achieved onstage was a fluke.  That I won’t be able to get there and I’ll be seen as a fraud and judged to be a bad actor.  Or worse – a technical actor.  And I’ll never be able to move anyone.  But this time around Basics helped me realize that emotional connection is not something outside of me that I’ve been able to grab once in a while, but rather something within me, that simply needs space, breath and permission to be released.

I’m can’t even begin to express how grateful I am to be here.

We’ve also launched into voice and movement, and classes that are completely new to me.  One of these is Incorporating the Critic, and it’s a phenomenal and difficult class.  I’ll come back to it another day, after I’ve actually gotten on my feet – as of yet I’ve only watched others work.  We also have a weekly audition class, and already I’m learning so much.

Oh!  We got to attend the closing performance of Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man show featuring John Douglas Thompson (a renowned Shakespearean Actor) which revolves around the life of Louis Armstrong.  It was incredible theater, and I left completely inspired. John was our apartment-mate for a few days, and I was sad to see him go, as late night kitchen conversation was always fascinating.

We’ve got our schedule for next week, and I can’t wait to dive in (wow I really need to go to bed).  We’ll start what’s called Dropping In for our scenes – oh yes!  I’ve been assigned Iago in Act III Sc iii! – as well as Alexander Technique, and starting to talk about King John (which we’ll do a full production of at the end of the Conservatory).  All of these on top of regular voice and movement.

Before I go, I want to put up a little something I wrote.  As part of an exercise called Tales in the Water, we were asked to write a 4 line poem to the future.  This got a good a response, and it’s something I want to be able to refer back to, so I’m recording here on the internet, as the internet is forever.

My Poem to the Future (4 lines)

Four lines? Are you kidding me Dennis?

That’s not enough.

I don’t have any idea how this all plays out

But it will be vast and deep and rich and difficult

and I want it all I want to feel it all I

want to breathe it in and sing it out

and you can bet your ass four lines is not

nearly enough.

14 Responses to Week one.

  1. Deborah Monaghan says:

    Hello there!

    I’m following along and so happy for you – and inspired. Dive in, swim and gasp for air. Big hug.

    Deborah

  2. Scott Munson says:

    Loved this post, Elissa Beth! Very inspiring in so many ways and wonderfully written too! Keep it up. Sincerely, One more Blog Post Reader!

  3. Aimee says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Elyse. I have been wondering what you are working on and your writing has taken me back to January. I can’t wait to see all of the wonderful work everyone is putting in realized in King John. If it is open to the public, I will be there with bells on!

  4. Donnamaria Duatschek says:

    So glad that you are back in my “home state” and for the most beautiful of seasons–enjoy, enjoy enjoy!!! Hope you will get a chance to wax some incredible-colored maple leaves. Am enjoying your insightful and inspiring blog–take good care-DMD

  5. Elissa says:

    SAM! I miss your face. Being back on campus I think of you often. Any chance we could set up a Skype date?

  6. Elissa says:

    It’s definitely open to the public and I would LOVE to see you. I can confidently say that Iam, Becca and Jenna May feel the same way :)

  7. Elissa says:

    Mrs. D! What a wonderful surprise to hear from you! I have to admit being in MA leads me to think of you often. Such beautiful country. I’m really looking forward to seeing you at the holidays!

  8. Lydia says:

    I love reading about your adventures! We’re so proud of you! I just saw a thingy in the New Yorker about a famous actor (forget name) who is a Shakespeare & Co. veteran and it was mentioned several times and I kept thinking–our friend is there! One day we’ll read about YOU in the NYer.

  9. Elissa says:

    Thank you friend! You probably read about John Douglas Thompson – he was my housemate for a week as he finished out the run of Satchmo at the Walddorf. We got to see his closing performance and he was phenomenal. Also, he’s a great person to chat about life with over a late night meal in the kitchen :)

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