On Friday, Sept. 22, more than 80 students in Lakeside's drama program broke from their normal schedules to delve into the craft of acting and theater. The daylong retreat, organized by Lakeside drama teachers Alban Dennis and Michael Place, brought together students at all levels and provided an intense, collaborative experience.
This is the third year of the drama retreat, and Dennis and Place brought in three new guest artists: Jane Nichols, Hannah Franklin, and Deb Fialkow. Each year the program has evolved so that returning students gain new skills, while newer students to the program are able to experience foundational lessons. Through the morning and early afternoon, groups of students cycled between studying stage combat with Fialkow in McKay Chapel, movement in the athletics center mat room with Franklin, and games and clowning with Nichols in St. Nicholas Hall. Groups were multigrade, with the seniors helping mentor and work with younger students.
The day finished with an intense burst of creativity. Gathered together in St. Nicholas Hall, students were divided into sixteen groups of five and given the ingredients to put together a one-minute theater piece. Half the groups were given the theme Robo Redemption. ("RowBOAT redemption??" asked one student; "Sure, rowboat," said Dennis, "if that's what you heard.") The elements they needed to include were "a significant realization, a moment of full-group synchronicity, a shared laugh, a loss or a win, and a moment of radical inclusion." The second group received the theme Earth-tone Empathy, which included "a moment of extended stillness, a shared sigh or gasp, a significant transformation, an extreme risk, and a moment of radical empathy." "What is radical empathy" asked one student. "You tell me – you SHOW me," replied Place.
As students tested concepts over the course of ten minutes, Place explained what was behind the themes. "We are interested in stories of people coming together, with technology as a potential obstacle," he said. The two teachers were inspired by Head of School Bernie Noe's challenge to the school community to evaluate the impact of technology on their lives. But it also drew on Place's recent thoughts on how actors' needs have shifted as technology has become a greater part of people's daily existence. "New habits are being formed through our attachment to personal devices," he said, gesturing with his smartphone. "It makes the work [of an actor] a steeper hill than it used to be because our imaginations are not as available to us. Our expressions are getting smaller because we're not communicating as much face-to-face and it has an impact on group empathy." It's a challenge, he added, which goes beyond the acting profession.
With the ten minutes up, students prepared to perform for their peers. A wide range of skits followed, from a robot dance show to an LSD-trip gone wrong, and a vegan intervention to a Bachelor ceremony with an unexpected twist. "Perform with the same courage that you showed today," said Dennis as the first group took the stage. "There's no reason to hold back."