Last night I returned from Western Illinois University where I had spent the two previous days. The school was doing a production of my one-act play Lifeloop based on the short story by Orson Scott Card of the same name. D.C. Wright, a friend of mine from BYU who is a theater professor at the university, flew me out to see the show and meet with a few of the students.
It was a fabulous production and I enjoyed seeing different actors breath life into it. The set was more dressed than the original production and included a circular fringed sofa and a chair in the shape of a giant hand. The cast was strong and fully committed. The crew was very kind and all performed their tasks just as expected and unseen. After the preview (I wasn’t there for any of the actual performances), which included a small audience, D.C. had me do a brief Q&A.
While at the school I also visited two acting classes, a playwriting class, and an improv club. The other faculty were very hospitable and all welcomed me warmly. I thought that very impressive considering I’m someone of such little consequence. In the playwriting class I attempted to do “1000 Ideas in an Hour,” an ideation session that Scott Card does whenever he visits schools, but this was my first attempt at conducting the activity, and it didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Either I asked the wrong questions or it doesn’t work as well for constructing a play. Probably the former. It’s supposed to work for all forms of storytelling. I just did it wrong. In any case, it fell a little flat. Fortunately I didn’t mention that it was Scott’s activity and thereby spoil his good name.
The other classes went off without a hitch, and I was more than a little relieved that I had a decent answer to all the questions they posed to me.
I was surprised to discover, however, that most of the acting students — be they undergrad or MFA-seekers — knew little about the acting environment of LA. Basic knowledge about unions and headshots and agents and managers was all new to them. Lauren told me that as a theater student at BYU, she never received any practical training either. D.C. said that such was the case in every university. They’ll teach the craft, the technique, the various theories, but they won’t teach the day-to-day skills every surviving actor needs: how to get an agent, how to audition, and most importantly how to sell yourself in a highly competitive talent-based field.
The students were great. They smiled and shook my hand and thanked me for coming. I was right at home with them and more than once felt a pang for the glory days of BYU theater. There’s something about theater people. We all share a love of the stage and therefore seem to bond immediately. Either that or we’re all crazy. All in all it was a wonderful trip, and I enjoyed myself immensely.