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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

My Summer Intensive
August 5, 2012 - 3:26pm

Every summer, my undergraduate school offered a ten-week summer theater intensive. Students studied acting, directing, playwriting, stagecraft, movement, and voice all day, five days a week, and in the evenings and on weekends they prepared a play for performance.

I always wanted to participate in this program. I loved the idea of total immersion in a discipline; of living and breathing it until principles and practice were internalized. My roommate, Nancy, did it one summer, and I visited her there several times; it was inspiring to watch the seriousness and dedication such an immersion experience could inspire. I had to work full-time during my school vacations, so it wasn't an option for me, but the idea always stayed with me.

The theater school where I have taken most of my singing classes also offers a summer immersion program. Over the years, I have watched students transform over a summer of complete focus on their craft. I don't have the sort of job flexibility that would allow me to participate, but it is on my list of retirement plans.

This summer, though, I have found myself almost inadvertently participating in a summer intensive, or what I only half-jokingly refer to as theater boot camp.

I have been taking a musical theater class for the past year, and it is so rewarding that it is hard to imagine suspending it. I have also, since the spring, been studying music improvisation at a different school with Rob, a genius teacher who has exploded my idea of what I am capable of, both vocally and in composition. So that is continuing as well.

But I have felt the need to go back and learn the basics of music theory and composition,  to get the most out of what Rob has to offer, so I signed up for a beginning class at yet another school. I felt that this would be stretching my time and energy, but since my beloved acting improvisation class was to be suspended for the summer, it seemed manageable. But then things got kind of complicated.

Two years ago, I took a beginning improvisation class with Joe,  a teacher I enjoyed and admired greatly. I went on to the next level, which I loved, but wasn't able to move on because every time I signed up for an upper level class it was canceled for one reason or another. I finally gave up and started taking improv classes at the school where I study voice, and had a great experience there, as well.

At the beginning of the summer, I got a phone call: Joe was putting together an invitation-only advanced improv class, hand-picked not just for student accomplishment but for the ability of the students to work well together. Was I interested?

I wasn't sure how I would manage it, but after years of waiting for this class, I knew I would kick myself if I turned it down and it wasn't offered again. Then the improv class that had been suspended started up again, on an irregular basis, as well, and I was invited to participate in an experimental movement-for-actors class with a great teacher, at no cost because I would serve as a guinea pig.

"Something has to give," my husband said to me, and I knew he was right. But after intense thought and discussion, I came to the conclusion that I was willing to give up sleep, and a social life, for the opportunity to pursue this summer-intensive dream I had harbored for so many years.

It is not all roses. I am exhausted and often cranky. I forget to return important messages, and I have fallen asleep in the subway, while talking on the phone, and, once, at work (on my lunch break with the door closed, but still). Family life is squeezed in at odd moments, and other social engagements are practically nonexistent.

My "program" doesn't have the cohesiveness of the ones I coveted. I get contradictory instructions and critiques from different teachers, and because I am constantly racing (or stumbling in exhaustion) from one school or studio to another, and then to work, the camaraderie that arises from close and consistent contact is missing.

I am thriving, though. The combination of exhaustion and immersion seems to have sandblasted my defenses; I have lost about 90% of my self-consciousness/fear of making a fool of myself onstage. In fact, I have come to enjoy it. I am much better able to eliminate the nonsense of apologizing for taking up space or wasting others' time and simply cut to the emotional chase of a song or scene. I find myself leading with my heart.

"You are blossoming!" my musical theater teacher exclaimed last week. "Your creativity is spilling out all over!"

I wasn't even tempted to demur. "Yes, I feel this," I said. And I do.


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