I was fortunate enough to attend NYU for my MFA in Acting under the legendary theater director, Zelda Fichandler. Zelda taught a class for the first years called, The Actor’s Space, which I later came to realize was an in-depth exploration into our Imagination. We created one-person shows which she called Universe Projects and performed them just for the other 17 members of our class and, of course, Zelda. We learned intimacies about each other, in an instant of mime, mask or music that would have taken years to reveal, and which would make our work as an ensemble incredibly strong. Every day there would be another brave sharing of personhood. And ironically, the more specific the work, the more universally we all felt it.
And then the games began. Zelda led us in the kind of theater games that rely on the trust an actor has in her ability to play. It was like a wonderful regression to kindergarten, where what you make-believe teaches you about the world and yourself, and you don’t even know it.
One of my favorite of these games Zelda called, “As If”. Sitting in a circle, one person begins, and off the top of their head, creates a hypothetical scenario:
“As if you were an astronaut in the middle of a space war”. The person sitting to their left would rise and into the center of the circle they would go, letting their body float in a space-suit we couldn’t see and their face look horrified, dodging invisible lasers in a breathtaking display of alacrity and improbability. Ten years later, I still remember what was given to me by one of my classmates: “As if you were a camel, going to the dentist”… And so I became one. Quickly, I found the humps on my back, a cloven foot, and a sort of dull toothache that makes one shuffle toward the nearest DDS office. On four legs with sorts of gutteral moans, I became a camel going to the dentist.
We didn’t do it for laughs (although they invariable came)…we did it for commitment. For being in our 20s and still playing as hard as we did when we were 4. Somehow, after “As If” we were more exhausted than after our Circus class where we held each other upside-down on the trapeze. More elated than after Yoga class, where we practiced forearm-stands for 20 minutes.
Two tiny two-letter words. What was their power? When you give an actor permission to be themselves first and to transform second, amazing things can happen. It wasn’t called, “You Are” for a reason: Too much pressure. We were not required to sublimate ourselves in the service of the exercise, but rather let go for a moment and tumble into these imagined possibilities. Those words are so incredibly open-ended, generous and full of possibility. They inspired the Thinker to come up with a delicious phrase and the Doer to just become.
And mostly in Grad Acting what I learned was how to unlearn any cerebral, methodologies that might get in my way of playing; To invest in the character AS IF her life was my life. Second year: “As if I was Kate Keller from All My Sons”. Third year, “As if I was Juliet”. And in scene-study class we grew in confidence, how to create the given circumstances for ourselves, connect to the text and listen – really listen.
“If you believe it, we’ll believe it.” was a lesson the teachers gave us. And for me it started with “As if”. Make-believe is best when played hard, without regard for looking foolish. There is no right, only risks. The more you invest, the more child-like you become. Dress-up, House, Restaurant. Children play as if it was their job and in the classes at Child’s Play NY, this is what we celebrate. Through total commitment to play is how one becomes an imaginative creative force in the world.
Ideas for how to play As If in your family
You and your child can go back and forth. You can play it sitting in a circle with your whole family in from out of town. You can play in a park, living room or bedroom. With two players, or an entire class or party.
Guides for Play
For younger children (ages 3 or 4) keep the sentences simple. For instance, you can stick to a round of just animals. “As if I was a bear”. Once your child has mastered that, add a little something: “As if I was a bear with my paw stuck in a honey jar.” In this way you can explore imaginary scenarios. Your child may even want to put marker to paper and illustrate some of these after you are done playing. Other scenarios you can explore: Professions, Roles in Society, Fairy Tale Characters.
If you are interested in exploring emotions with your child, you can certainly use “As If” as a launching off point (“As if I was frustrated!”, “As if I had my feelings hurt”) getting more specific as the situation warrants.
If coming up with these on the spot isn’t for you, and your child is literate, you can both take some time to write down As Ifs to pull from a hat and act out.
Come up with combinations of people, animals or even things in a situation that involve a bit of drama. I always teach my actors (ages 6-10) about making the stakes high. “As if I was a little girl” is not nearly as interesting as, “As if I was a little girl who thinks a wolf might be following her.” Don’t be afraid to go anthropomorphic: “As if I was a flower poking out of the ground” is very fun to act! Every sentence is its own unique story. And part of the beauty of the exercise is that you get to hand off the sentence you create, so the pressure is off! Let those two little words release your imagination, humor and courage. Your children are already there.
(Want to get your kids in Jocelyn’s fab classes and live in NYC? See her winter class lineup below! — SaneMom)
Jocelyn Greene is the Founder and Executive Director of Child’s Play NY.
Jocelyn has been teaching theater to children since 1998. Child’s Play NY is currently at Packer Collegiete Institute, Berkeley Carroll School, Greene Hill School, and Moomah in Tribeca as well as offering private classes in Brooklyn. Jocelyn has worked with children in theaters across the country, including Oddfellows Playhouse (CT), Will Power to Youth (CA) and Interplay (CA). She is a teaching artist with Epic Theater Ensemble in New York, bringing Shakespeare into the city’s public high schools. Shes a member of Actors Equity Association and has performed at The Public Theatre, Ensemble Studio Theatre and New York Theatre Workshop among others. She holds an MFA in Acting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and a BA in English and Spanish Literature from Wesleyan University.
Shakespeare Players: Hamlet
This winter, join Child’s Play NY for an extraordinary encounter with Shakespeare. We will be rehearsing and performing an adaptation of Hamlet. Young people become confident with Shakespeare’s world, language and characters. Classically trained professional actors assist the players in their physical, vocal and emotional transformations. They learn how to interpret a role with technique and courage.
Jocelyn Greene directs with assistance from other guest artists. All teaching artists are classically trained professional actors with credits from The Public Theater/NY Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare Theater of DC and Broadway.
January 22-April 29th
St Francis College Theater
Brooklyn Heights, 180 Remsen Street
Watch video of Macbeth from Summer 2011 and apply on-line at childsplayny.com
Fairy Tale Improv
Brush off your crown and practice your roar! Let’s discover what happens between “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after” as we adapt our favorite classic and contemporary fairy tales.
Children explore story-telling, song and creative movement in classes for the youngest of thespians. Using their bodies, voices and minds, students re-interpret classic and contemporary children’s literature and are inspired to create their own adventures. Simple props and costumes help them bring their characters to life. Connections are made to the world around them through story and play. Classes encourage creative expression and confidence. The last day of class is open for family and friends.
160 Montague Street (Yoga People)
Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn
January 25 – May 2
Teachers: Jocelyn Greene and Kristin Stokes
read testimonials and apply on-line at childsplayny.com
A princess hails a cab in Brooklyn…a shark needs to visit the dentist…a pirate wants a playdate with YOU! Let your imaginations run wild when we put incredible characters into real-life scenarios.
Ages 2.5 - 3.5
250 Baltic Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn
Teacher: Jocelyn Greene
Apply on the Families First website: http://bit.ly/s0wuk0