Actors teach their craft to youngsters in HCC sessions

June 22, 2000|By Nelson Pressley | Nelson Pressley,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Whether Bill Largess is teaching grown-ups or kids, he finds that the basic misconception about acting is the same.

"They think it's learning the lines and getting up on a stage and saying them with everybody looking at you," Largess says.

Playing a character who really wants something - someone who is strongly "motivated," to use the actors' term - "is really a new idea for a lot of them."

That is one of the fundamentals taught by Largess, Bruce Nelson and Peggy Yates at Rep Stage's Actors' Summer Institute at Howard Community College, where Shakespeare is the theme this summer.

The camps are divided into three sessions - the first began this week - for two age groups: 10-13 and 14-18.

Although the student body varies with each session, there is a logical evolution from course to course.

The first session emphasizes scenes, monologues and improvisation, leading to a showcase performance. In the second session, the students create an original play based on a Shakespearean plot. The third session is putting on a play - this year, a 60-minute version of "As You Like It." Each age group will give two performances during the second week of August.

For last year's climactic show, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the younger group had multiple actors playing Puck.

That innovation by Yates not only helped guarantee good parts for every actor, but also gave the impression that the magical Puck was in several places at once.

The older group, guided by Nelson, used music by the heavy metal band Metallica in its production.

"Music is vital to teens," Nelson explains. And to preteens, too: Largess says that last year his pupils tried to drag him into debates about who was better, the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears.

Nelson says he had been warned about the hazards of dealing with teen-agers, particularly because he says he's not an instinctive disciplinarian.

"It's hard for me to say `no' and `don't,'" Nelson explains. "Especially in the theater, which is `go,' `do,' `be crazy.'"

But he got over his reticence when two students disappeared for 20 minutes.

"I kind of freaked," he recalls. "I surprised myself that I could be a dictator a little bit."

Largess, Nelson and Yates are all on the HCC faculty, and they double as very busy, respected actors.

Nelson is appearing in David Lindsay-Abaire's "Wonder of the World" at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, while Yates is playing in "Hay Fever" at the Olney Theatre Center. Largess and Yates will soon begin rehearsals for an evening of Samuel Beckett one-acts, a project that will take them to Berlin, Germany, in September.

The trio's professional experience gives them a teaching edge, especially when it comes to helping youngsters get a handle on Shakespeare.

Yates, for instance, has played Rosalind, the witty heroine of "As You Like It," and toured in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and says she had a ball.

"I love the characters," Yates declares. "And what I want the students to do is walk away saying, `These are fun characters, really great roles.' That's what I want to give them, that sense of fun."

Actors' Summer Institute: Stage Acting Programs for Pre-Teens and Teens is sponsored by Rep Stage. Sessions run through Aug. 11 at Howard Community College. Information: 410-772-4110.

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