Act like you mean it

Janice Fronczak (far right), Professor of Theater Performance, Playwriting, and Drama Therapy at the University of Nebraska, leads students through exercises in her adult acting class. Left to right: Connie Lucas, E. John Civello, Donna Jewell, Linda McBroom, Jeanine Mioton. Photo by Phil Houseal

 

June 26, 2019–I’ve long held the theory that everyone should learn to act.

After all, we take lessons to drive a car, cook a soufflé, or play piano. If you think of your body as an instrument, doesn’t it make sense to learn how to use it?

Yet many of us are uncomfortable if not terrified of being the center of attention, whether giving a wedding toast, singing in the chorus of the summer musical, or even making introductions at a dinner party.

So when I saw there were local acting classes for senior citizens last week, I barged in unannounced just to see what was going on and why it mattered to these people.

The instructor, Janice Fronczak, greeted me from across the room, unabashed, just as you would expect from a Professor of Theater Performance, Playwriting, and Drama Therapy. And, like any improv leader worth her premises, she immediately invited me to sit in with her half dozen students.

Fronczak agreed with my thesis that everyone should learn to act. Her purpose is not so much to create “actors,” but to help people feel comfortable in real world situations.

“Acting in every day life is important,” she said. “It teaches you about what makes humans tick. Whatever you are learning to build a character, you are also learning what motivates a person to do what they do. It’s really about learning how to communicate, to become aware of what you are doing and what you are saying, and how you are coming across.”

Sure, acting helps you become a better speaker. But first it makes you a better listener.

“Yes, when you speak, you’ll know how to speak correctly and in a way to get attention,” she said. “But you also learn how to listen. You will hear what people are not saying. By paying attention to the subtext–if they don’t make eye contact, or pause before saying something, or sigh before saying something–it teaches you to be super aware.”

This perspective is echoed by Linda, an adult student taking the class just for fun.

“We talk about it being an acting class, but really we are learning to be more natural,” she said. “We have to be aware of everyone on stage, and be more responsive. We read people better too, because we are dealing with their motivations. We are also learning to be more expressive with our faces to convey emotions and meanings.”

Another student, John, is a psychiatrist. In a twist worthy of its own screenplay, John treats people with stage fright, a condition he himself experiences.

“It is something I was always fearful of doing, and I had never tried it before,” he said of going on stage. He not only plans to incorporate some of the drama therapy in his practice, he is thinking of trying out for a small theater production. “I’m taking it one step at a time.”

Fun, rather than fear, motivated Connie, who was the most experienced actor in the group, having been in several local productions.

“I am not frightened,” she said of being on stage. “After all, you are inside a world that you helped create.”

Is it ever too late to learn? Age doesn’t matter to Fronczak, and she actually considers it a privilege to work with older actors.

“People who are older bring so much to the table,” she said. “They have lived through some of this material we are working on. And they are so much more respectful of each other.”

Even if you never audition for that role as “middle-aged citizen in River City,” Fronczak guarantees what you learn in acting class will serve you well on your own personal stage.

“Once you take an acting class, you can’t unlearn it. You’ll be more aware of the gestures people make, and the way they use language. You will become aware of what you doing and what you are saying, and how you are coming across. Acting helps with self esteem. You will be a better human being.”

Details:

For classes and opportunities to perform in community theater productions in Fredericksburg, contact Fredericksburg Theater Company and Fredericksburg ISD Community Education. For classes and opportunities to perform in community theater productions in Kerrville, contact Playhouse 2000, the Point Theater, and Dietert Club Ed.