Young students find television acting gives them a new look at themselves

August 06, 1995|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Contributing Writer

Just days into his first television acting class, 12-year-old Benjamin Briandet already was seeing things differently.

"It's weird, because normally you picture yourself in your own way. . . . But when you see yourself on camera, you see how you really are," said the Glenelg Country School seventh-grader.

While 12 may seen a bit young to be contemplating a career, 45 preteens and teens just finished a two-week television acting course at Howard Community College.

The group met in Smith Theatre for three hours each day. The instructor, actor Marty McDonough, sat to one side as the self-appointed "director." On stage, a camera, two lights and a chair were the center of attention. One by one, the "young Thespians," as Mr. McDonough called them, sat in the chair to recite a personal introduction.

Although many of the students had taken an acting class or have been in a school play, most had never acted in front of a camera.

Ian Jones-Quartey, 11, of Columbia's Oakland Mills village squinted his eyes when he sat in front of the camera and the bright lights for the first time. "It's really bright. . . . But you have look at the camera and visualize the camera is a person," he said.

"I pretend it's my uncle, because I can say anything to him," Ian said.

They waved their arms and shouted to be picked next, but were remarkably quiet while the tape was rolling or when Mr. McDonough gave them an acting tip.

Even the class clown, 13-year-old Jurgen Hooper of Elkridge, sat still.

Although group members had to wait a week before filming public service announcements they wrote, Jurgen said he had fun practicing. "We recite tongue twisters to loosen our tongues. They don't make much sense. 'Around the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.' That's weird, man," he said. "There's one about Sally by the seashore, too."

Jurgen cracked jokes about needing to fix his makeup when there was a pause in the action. Technician Gina Green took a moment to let Jana Mauro of Towson see herself in the camera.

"The way I look on TV bugs me. My face is too narrow," said the 10-year-old, seeing herself on television for the first time. Still, she said she wasn't discouraged, because she is determined to be an actress who plays "dark and secretive characters. . . . They're more fun than the dull, boring nice ones."

Not all of the students want to become actors and actresses, though.

Olivia Wright, 12, of Laurel said her career choice was a tossup between being an actress or pediatrician. "I'm nervous [acting] at first. Sometimes it's embarrassing being in front of the class," she said. "When I first walked into the studio, I looked at all the chairs and wondered if people would fill them."

Others found the new medium more comfortable than stage acting. "It's easier than stage acting, because if you make a mistake you can correct it," said Douglas Miller, 12, of Jessup.

During a 30-minute break, some members of the group continued practicing. Others ran off to join a volleyball game. Douglas and his friend Joey Schneider of Columbia's Owen Brown village relaxed in the shade. Joey said he'd already mastered the basics: "It's all in the eyes -- like hockey's all in the wrist."

Mr. McDonough agrees that the group caught on quickly. "These kids are naturals. . . . It's obvious they are the TV generation."

But even members of the TV generation were surprised to find out how much is involved in putting a television show together.

When the instructor asked the group of preteens how many people it takes to put a television show together, answers ranged from four to 100. (It generally takes between 20 to 30.)

Such lessons are an important part of learning about television acting, Mr. McDonough said. "I'm trying to teach them the magic behind television -- the magic being a lot of hard work."

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