Category Archives: CAST

CAST MEMBERS PARTICIPATE IN SPOLIN WORKSHOP

THE POWER OF PLAY

By Sue Wurster

Aretha Amelia Sills is a Los Angeles-based writer and teacher of both improvisational theater and creative writing.  She is the granddaughter of theatre academic, educator, and acting coach Viola Spolin who is considered an important innovator in 20th century American theatre for having created directorial techniques to help actors to be focused in the present moment and to find choices improvisationally, as if in real life.   Spolin’s collection of theatre games, in fact,  has long been considered the drama teacher’s “Bible.”

Aretha’s father, Paul Sills, carried on his mother’s work and was the creator and director of  Chicago’sThe Second City, the first professional improvisation company in the U.S., and, later, the acclaimed Story Theatre.  (The three generation are pictured below. )

Aretha studied theater games for many years with her father (and has conducted workshops for his Wisconsin Theater Game Center, Bard College, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Stockholm International School, Sarah Lawrence College, and Northwestern University. She has worked with Tony and Emmy Award winning actors and has trained faculty from Northwestern, DePaul, Columbia College, The Second City, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, and many other schools and institutions.  She is the Associate Director of Sills/Spolin Theater Works and directs The Predicament Players. She created and directs an improvised show for Enrichment Works, a non-profit bringing theater that inspires learning into Los Angeles public schools.

Aretha also gives talks on how improvisational theater in the United States emerged out of Progressive-era social reforms in Chicago, particularly Neva Boyd’s Recreational Training School at Hull House.  In her essay “The Theory of Play,” Boyd wrote: “Social living cannot be maintained on the basis of destructive ideologies – domination, hate, prejudice, greed and dishonesty. A society cannot hold together without a good way of life for all… Virtues are dynamic products and cannot be taken over, fully developed, without being continuously developed.”

Neva Boyd

Games, as both women knew, help children learn language skills, socialization, cooperation, and even morality, because all must agree on the rules and abide by them for a game to be any fun. In addition, the act of playing changes the participant.  Boyd wrote: “Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination.” Spolin’s work with actors was deeply rooted in Boyd’s beliefs.

In October, Aretha conducted a weekend long workshop in Watertown, which BOLLI CAST members Richard Averbuch, Sandy Clifford, Becki Norman, and Sue Wurster attended.  All four were challenged and inspired by the work.

Richard, who has acted and improvised professionally himself, says that the experience served as a vivid reminder that there is wonderful possibility and vitality involved in the act of playing games – it helps us reconnect with the child inside.  “It’s also so encouraging to see that you can gather a group of (mostly) strangers, and, within no time, you can play and explore acting with them.  It jump-starts the process of getting to know someone.  We’re asked to trust that inspiration will come from our intuitive selves and by connecting with other actors, especially when engaged in movement.

Sandy says that she found the Spolin workshop “fabulous.”  Aretha created a safe and supportive space which allowed us to take risks and have fun “playing” childhood games like Red Light, Green Light and other old favorites.   They relaxed everyone and got us into that playful childlike space.  No right or wrong was established early on.  Focus was an important theme for me, really focusing on your partner or the task you were doing helped to keep a scene real.
Aretha also kept asking us to really see what we were doing and to keep heightening it.  That exercise was fascinating because, in the heightening, things often became transformed.  It was fascinating to see that happening with other people.  I would love to take another workshop with her, Sandy said.

 For Becki, taking part in the Spolin Workshop was a fun and enlightening experience.  As someone who had never participated in a workshop like this, at first, I was wondering what I was getting myself into.  But participating in CAST and Scene-iors at BOLLI gave me the confidence to take the next step.  What was surprising to me was how much I enjoyed it and how comfortable I was.  Improv is very different from straight acting. It is so spontaneous, while “straight acting” involves a different kind of preparation and a script. Both, however, need the players to get “out of the box” and temporarily be someone entirely different from themselves. That is not easy, but I did manage, and learn, to do it.  What was special, on a personal level, is how all 16 of us, most of whom did not know each other, became a community, and, by the time we left, we were friends.  The reliance and support for each other was wonderful.  Overall, it was a rewarding experience, one that will help me in future productions.  I know I have gained more respect for those who do improvisation!

And for Sue, the workshop was a chance to reconnect with play in an entirely different way.  “When he moved to New York City to found The New Actors Workshop with Mike Nichols, Paul and his wife enrolled their younger daughter Neva at the Calhoun School where I was the drama teacher.  That year, Paul gave me the incomparable gift of enrollment in his improvisation course, which I relished, particularly for what I took away to apply to my own teaching and directing.  Working with Aretha, so many years later, was a wonderful experience, an opportunity to see Paul’s older daughter in action, carrying on the family ‘business’ with such grace, generosity of spirit, and depth of understanding.  Her father and grandmother are surely looking down at her with enormous pride.”

It was a memorable workshop and a terrific way to spend a kong weekend!

BOLLI “Matters” editor. Sue Wurster

Theatre, drama, speech, debate and all things word-centered have led many to refer to Sue as “Wurster the Wily Word Woman.”

ANOTHER CAST HIT!

ANOTHER CAST HIT!

          CAST Takes a Well-Deserved Bow for “More Carrying On”        by our own local playwright and director

The last thing I expected, when coming to BOLLI in the spring of 2015 after 40 years of teaching drama,  was that I would end up  doing more drama–this time, with a group of BOLLI players.  And yet, CAST (Creativity in  Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) has been, for me, the most satisfying drama experience of all! And why?

Because these players engage in this activity for the pure and simple joy of the experience.   Unlike adolescents, these actors (most of whom took up this interest after arriving at BOLLI) are willing to go “all out” in their playing, without worrying about looking “silly” on stage.   As a result, they are constantly experimenting, exercising their creativity–and as a result, not only do they end up looking terrific on stage, but they have enormous fun in the process as well.  And, as we have all seen over the past nearly four years, this group’s work (and play) just gets better with every performance.

This year’s production of More Carrying On  took the BOLLI audience on a return visit to Carey Village, the upscale senior living facility located on the campus of Carey College in Bucks County, Pennsylvania where these scenes all take place.

All seven members of this years CAST cast (Sandy Clifford, Donna Johns, Eileen Mitchell, Becki Norman, Mark Seliber, Rachel Seliber, and Bette Winer) played multiple roles in this production, all of which they took on with aplomb, creating distinctly individual characters.

On this year’s visit to Carey Village, we met a new resident (Becki Norman) who is thrilled with her freezer and the Village’s bulletin boards; an avid hostess (Elaine Mitchell) bemoaning the failure of her latest event; a father (Mark Seliber) and daughter (Sandy Clifford) share very different feelings about the new piece of “art” he has just hung on his wall; a pair of retired Princeton political science professors (Bette Winer and Mark Seliber) who have become obsessed with creating truly unique culinary creations;  friends (Rachel Seliber and Eileen Mitchell) engaged in their human version of “bird watching;” and, finally, the Village’s own “crazy plant lady” (Donna Johns) talking to her plants.

Thanks to Photo Group members Dennis Greene and Sandy Miller-Jacobs for taking these great shots!   (Let your cursor hover over each image for details.)

In case you missed these CAST productions and would like to read the pieces, both sets of Carey Village scenes have been compiled in a single volume and are now available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback versions.

Kindle Version
Paperback

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living proof that our continued learning and activity at BOLLI can lead us to all sorts of new and exciting ventures!

BOLL Matters editor Sue Wurster

 

Known, in some circles, as Wurster the Wily Word Woman…

CAST UPDATE: Self-Discovery in a Supportive Environment

CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) IN ACTION

Veteran Player Sandy Clifford

“It gets the creative juices flowing!”  Sandy Clifford says of CAST activity at BOLLI.   “It’s great fun making new friends and begging part of a  creative team.  It’s also challenging and educational kind of self-discovery–in an environment where taking chances is supported.”

It’s a typical CAST adventure.  The group gathers for a “Warm-Up Walk” around the Gathering Space.  They are instructed to focus on the space itself, the intersection between themselves and their environment, and then, the nature of their movement.

The instruction to “Walk like an Egyptian” brings the expected laughter as actors try to move as if they are one or two-dimensional beings. Then, they take on the characters of individuals with unique walks: clown, deep sea diver, tightrope walker, toddler, ballerina.  “How has the environment and years of this activity affected the way you walk–on the sidewalk?  Across a room?”  They move throughout the room, finally coming to a stop to see what might be coming next.

Mimed activity–jumping rope, playing tennis or volleyball–might lead to creating tableaux or “Photo Album” in which one member turns the pages of an imaginary album, narrating a memorable family outing  or celebration.  “Oh, here we all are at Uncle Elbert’s barbecue,” the narrator indicates, for example, as the group quickly compose themselves in a frozen scene.

Next might be an exercise in improvisation.   In “Job Interview,” an employer engages a potential employee in conversation about the position for which he or she is applying.  The catch?  The potential employee doesn’t know what the job is and must rely on the other player to guide her or him to that conclusion with well-constructed clues.   In “Congratulations on Your Retirement!” a group of party-goers try to determine what each other’s 50-year careers entailed.

Phyllis Walt and Steve Goldfinger in “You Did WHAT?!”

An exercise in dialogue might follow.  “The Ten-Line Trip,”  for example, provides players, in pairs, with a generic ten-line dialogue which each pair particularizes by creating a unique environment in which it takes place,  As in…

UP IN THE AIR with Judy Blatt and Eileen Mitchell

On occasion, a rousing rendition of “Chopped Props” ensues.  The players are divided into two groups, and each is given a picnic basket or grocery bag which has been filled with identical prop items.   The groups then have a prescribed bit of time in which to create a scene in which all of the props become essential elements.  As in…

THE BANK HEIST with Bette Winer, Joan Halperin, and Sandy Clifford

and…

MY AGING DENTIST with Steve Goldfinger, Judy Blatt, and Monique Frank

 

Props can be used to inspire solo storytelling as well–as Marty Ross demonstrates.

Marty Ross in Mega-Magnifiers recounts a tale–fiction? Or NOT…?

 

At times,  too, the group deals with scripted material–as we will do starting next month when we begin to prepare CARRYING ON, the world premiere of a collection of short plays for senior players.  The production will be presented at a Lunch & Learn session during the last week of the fall term.

Newcomers are always welcome.  Margie Nesson tried her hand at the acting game this summer, reporting that she enjoyed “yet another new experience for me at BOLLI!”   New BOLLI member Mark Seliber says that, during the first session he attended,  he was intrigued by how just movement itself can set up a scene.  And Jan Burres, who dropped in recently, says, “It was fun! We laughed.  We played.  We even learned how people in theatre can cry, night after night, when necessary. I felt welcomed and delighted in the real sense of camaraderie in the group. And I’ll be back.”

And it just doesn’t get better than THAT, now, does it?

CAST Facilitator Sue Wurster

For over 40 years, Sue taught drama to students  in kindergarten  through college (but mostly in middle and high school).  Working with BOLLI players has been “absolutely the best,” she says.  “Unlike adolescents, this group isn’t worried about looking silly in front of their friends–they just go for it!  And, as a result, their growth as actors is exponential in nature.”