Science - March 17, 2005

Getting to know yourself through acting

Theatre club training at ISOW is more than just a way to pass the time on a Sunday afternoon in the sleepy town of Wageningen. Acting out a death scene in which you make clear why a person dies, and looking your fellow actors in the eye are also ways to learn about yourself.

The sessions take place in the building of the international students organisation (ISOW) and start with a group conversation. ‘For the students to be able to concentrate better they need to get their experiences of the past week off their chest,’ notices the teacher, Inti Oosterkamp. ‘Coming to theatre practice is more than just a way to get through Sundays in a quiet town. I would like to create a home for everybody within the theatre.’

The practice session starts with exercises to get everyone feeling comfortable. The exercises are part of the ‘theatre of your body’. ‘They help you discover where your movements come from,’ explains Inti. ‘Being more conscious of what you do when you act helps to reveal your capabilities and what you enjoy most.’

Expressions
In one of the exercises the students sit opposite each other with crossed legs. ‘Close your eyes and perform with your upper body for the person sitting opposite you. If I stay stop come back to yourself,’ instructs teacher Inti. She puts on some loud African music and two of the girls present, Kiki and Kyriaki, immediately start to swing still sitting on their chairs. Roland and Pablo, sitting on a small table, take a while to get used to the music before they start to move shyly. Inti watches the expressions of her students closely, then gives the following instructions: they have to stop moving and search for each other’s hands, keeping their eyes shut. For the last part of the exercise they have to look each other in the face, at which point the girls find it difficult not to dissolve into giggles.

In the next exercise the students take turns to walk upright, like models on a catwalk. While doing the exercise they have to stop several times and look the other players in the eye. This time the music is throbbing, and one by one each student performs in front of the group. Again the exercise brings out the differences in the participants, whether it is in their mood or in their character. One moves stiffly, another keeps their arms folded protectively around their waist.

Safe
The group is not working on a performance at present: there are only four members and they have just got a new teacher as the previous one has moved abroad. ‘And at the moment they want to learn something from acting,’ Inti explains.

The MSc students find the exercises hard sometimes. ‘It shows when you’ve had a difficult week,’ says Pablo during the break. Kyriaki acknowledges that starting with talking helps to loosen up. Kiki adds: ‘We now know each other, so it feels safe to express ourselves.’ When asked about their reasons for joining the group all students mention that they wanted to get to know more about themselves. Kyriaki: ‘You get to share things here, and not just superficially but from inside.’ The acting lessons also give the students the opportunity to see that there are different ways in which one can present oneself. But the element of fun is just as important. Kiki: ‘Theatre is nice tool for getting people together.’ And they stress that there’s no pressure: you don’t have to do things you don’t want to do. / YdH

More info: www.wau.nl/isow

Re:act