“The only reason to get up and act is to try something new and to have fun.”
Words to live — and act — by from Christie Vela, a member of the Dallas Theater Center’s acting company and a master teacher. For the last six weeks in the DTC’s beginning acting course led by Vela, I ranted and raved at an imaginary audience of 2,000. I whispered to a non-existent partner. I threw imaginary balls. I produced unearthly sounds. I jiggled my joints. I jogged. I shuffled. And then I became the self-absorbed, acerbic Dottie from the play Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire. I miss Dottie.
And I miss Vela. She motivated the twenty of us — a psychotherapist, an engineer, teachers, an accountant, homemakers, a nurse and would-be actors — into becoming Dotties, Jeans, Margarets and, in one case, channeling Marlon Brando.
At the start of the newly-offered adult acting class, Vela had us breathe, massage our necks, elongate our spines and swivel our hips. We acted silly at her urging. She assured us that as actors, “You are enough to bring life and magic to the script. You need nothing else but you…. All acting is either pushing away or pulling towards, responding to others’ actions and lines — even if you have no lines.” We learned that we must stay connected with a change in the direction of our heads, an abrupt movement or sometimes a surprise physical outburst.
“Push me,” demanded Vela of a young man from Highland Park. “Throw a chair. Get angry.” Recreating Brando’s role as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, he was at first reluctant to push a woman or throw a chair to fuel the scene. But with some urging, he followed Vela’s directions — and the rest of us were transfixed as the character and the intensity of his performance grew.
Patti Torpey, a mother of four from Las Colinas, has worked as a mechanical engineer in a nuclear power plant. Here, she found a different kind of power. “This [acting class] was the first step in my personal goal of getting on stage, now that I have free time,” she said. Torpey learned that not all life’s drama is living with four teenagers. Under Vela’s direction, she recited a monologue from Promedy by Wade Bradford — and she convinced us that nothing was more dramatic or more dreadful than missing out on a high school prom.
The Theater Center is planning to offer spring acting classes. Now seasoned performers, we felt the six weeks of one-and-a-half hour sessions was too short. We want more. And now that we consider ourselves professionals, the group also wants stage time.
Or we’ll start throwing chairs.