By Bill Prinzivalli
One day, I was talking with a dear wise friend of mine. As I was recently divorced, he asked and encouraged me to open new doors, try new activities and connect with more communities. I told him that most connections were either on the physical level (tennis, cycling, golf…) or the metaphysical level (intuitive, workshops, energy healing…) but rarely both. I could have a great time with folks on either side, but could not connect with them on the other. My “physical” friends looked at me as crazy regarding any metaphysical subjects and my intuitive friends were frequently ungrounded and disinterested in physical activities. This was ok for casual relationships but unfulfilling for deeper and more complete relationships. He, being one of my rare friends who spanned across both, suggested an acting class. Being a widower of a Broadway director, he was familiar with that community, their need to be self-aware and hence suggested I take a class. I said – no thanks, no interest.
A few weeks later, I injured my shoulder and could not play tennis, which consumed at least 4 days/week for me. I now had plenty of time on my hands. Looking for things to do while healing my shoulder, I got an email from a Spiritual Community I knew hosting an Introductory Evening of Acting “Come see & experience what it’s like to be an actor for an evening; an open level ‘More Than Acting’, Acting Class”. The ad implied personal connection, energy dynamics, experimental acting, fun and no commitment beyond that one evening. Reluctantly, and with much anxiety, I signed up for this Thursday evening class. I nervously walked up to a NYC apartment where the class was held. As I walked in, I was greeted with a warm and welcoming smile by a very lovely young woman, actress Erin Flowers. I asked, and she confirmed, she was the teacher. In my mind, I said, “OK, this is a good start”. Outwardly, I told her I was self conscious, uncomfortable and that this was a stretch for me. She immediately put me at ease by acknowledging my feelings, reminding me the class is for beginners and that it was about having fun.
A half dozen others joined and we started. The early part of the class included simple exercises for self awareness, connection to partners and mini conversational exchanges. As advertized, it was easy and fun. By the end of the evening, we were doing improv scenes, one of which I got into very deeply. As taught, the key to this work was authenticity and connection to inner truth. The class was over, I was happy I took this one-night class as a new venture, and was ready to return to my life. As I departed, Erin says “You know Bill, this weekend my mentor Carl is coming in from LA to do a weekend workshop to prepare actors for a performance Wednesday. I know you’re not interested in the performance, but I think you might get something out of the class – even for one day. I think you would connect with him being a fellow NY Italian”. I said I’d think about it (really meaning no way). But she called me Friday to check in. As I spoke to her & realized I had no other plans Saturday, I said (again reluctantly) ok.
I went to the Producer’s Club Saturday morning and watched as 30+ actors came in with Erin and Carl. Although outwardly quiet, I was inwardly screaming “What the hell am I doing here? These are actors!!” As we each introduced ourselves, I shared my discomfort and disinterest in acting (honesty is not always smart). As the day went on, I got more comfortable. Carl continued in the same mode as Erin & I was aligned with his life philosophies. To me, the class seemed to be more about personal development than about acting, although I began to understand the connection. I also began to have a better appreciation for actors, those who connected to an inner truth and allowed themselves to be vulnerable by sharing it. I later learned that true acting is about bringing an inner truth to a fictitious scene, and I experienced that there was nothing fake about that challenge.
At the end of the class, Carl asked if I was returning Sunday. We talked about my experience of the class and his philosophies (personal growth and challenge, versus Hollywood-bound) and I agreed to return. Sunday was a natural and satisfying continuation, after which he asked if I was interested in performing Wednesday. As I expressed my lack of confidence in doing well, he confirmed for me that didn’t matter, that some will like it while others won’t, and that the more important issue was my action and willingness to do it. Agreeing with this philosophy and realizing the incredible opportunity this was, and wanting to avoid any possible regret, I summoned courage from somewhere and said yes. Where else would I get an opportunity to take my first class on Thursday and perform in NYC the next Wednesday?
From that moment until the performance on Wednesday, I again said “What the hell am I doing?”, only this time much louder. Work that week, especially Wednesday, was a failed distraction from the terror within. What was I thinking? I needed all my meditation skills to keep my heart rate below 1000.
Of course, I intended to tell no one about this performance. But, as the universe works, it was being held across the street from where my sister lives. How could I not tell her? She attended quietly with some friends, and that support was totally ok and appreciated.
On the night of the performance, I was naturally quite nervous – actually terrified. In the workshop, we learned about authenticity and I saw that I could do an improv by connecting to some inner thread of truth, either experienced by me personally or understood by me as I observed it in others. Connecting to this thread was critical – without it I had nothing to say or offer. And holding on to the thread was equally critical, i.e., moving to my head and disconnecting would be equally disastrous. I could do this in a small class, but could I do this with a public audience? I knew that if I could not, I would speak nervously from my head and it would be a disaster. As I thought about it, I found a way to speak my truth at the opening of the scene, hoping to make a connection to some inner truthful thread. Since my scene was to meet a singing teacher I was secretly enamored with, I started the scene by saying “I am so nervous to be here. I’ve been thinking about this all day, could not work and look…my hands are shaking” (clearly this was truth). She responded appropriately and thankfully I got connected. She is a terrific actress, gave me lots to respond to, and it went very well. I was very satisfied, very relieved and proud I found the courage to do this craziness – after all, it is nuts to publically perform within a week of the first class. What was I thinking???
A few months later and 5 more NY performances, I’m still here. My left brain still wonders why I’m here but the energy to be here is strong, so I’m here. As time passes, I’m seeing that the experience is profound, the personal exploration is vast, the self awareness is deep, the opportunity of personal expression immense, the exercise in vulnerability is powerful, the self confidence soars and the relationship between fellow actors quickly becomes quite strong. Yet I think there is still more than that, so I’m still here.
I wrote the above in August of 2012. We’re now in September of 2015 and my participation and interest remain strong. The exploration of the many “inner selves” is still a wonderful experiential journey in this safe and supportive environment. And although I’m mainly interested in the fun, personal growth and camaraderie, I’m told I’ve become a better actor (better than what, I’m not sure☺). I’ve now been in 20 plus shows. Life continues to surprise me, because if you would have asked me if I ever saw myself being in an “acting troupe”, I’d be the last guy to say “Sure, why not?!” But somehow, some way, here I am.
A surprising and important element of all this has been the support, camaraderie and love of the teachers and fellow students…equally valuable as the personal exploration I’ve experienced. And among other activities, it was also a great vehicle to help work through the up/down cycles of business & personal life. It is quite amazing stuff!
Thank you Open Door, for all that you bring to me and this community.