By Michelle Greenberg
I’m signing up for a second time to take Michael Hayden’s Intermediate Scene Study class. This class has been fundamental in my growth as an actor and I look forward to taking it again next session. Let me tell you why.
Obviously, there’s value in taking acting classes; at the same time, no matter how much you learn, you’re only scratching the surface. You go into an acting class, expecting to be critiqued, hoping that if you follow the teacher’s advice, you’ll become more skilled. But to what degree does this model of teaching really help you when you’re cast and working with a director?
Not a lot, according to Michael Hayden, whose Intermediate Scene Study Class I took this past Fall and whose approach I found very beneficial. Michael stresses that what he’s teaching is a method of problem-solving and critiquing yourself—so that you’re not dependent on what teachers or directors think. What’s important is a process — how you use rehearsal to explore your options as you strive to move and change your partner.
This discovery process requires diligence in your beat analysis, but sometimes non-traditional approaches and exercises are needed to shake you out of your predictable patterns, and Michael offers many such “tricks” and tools. If you’re willing to play along, these exercises can transform the scene.
Michael Hayden loves to tell you that there are no “ladies and gents” in the theatre.
The characters you’re playing become exposed and dismantled, he stresses, and plays are not about everyday occurrences. He, therefore, wishes to disabuse you of the notion that the actor’s goal is to be “natural.” He makes the distinction between being natural and “personalizing,”—ultimately connecting with the role in such a way that you reveal your own humanity.
That’s a tall order, even for the most seasoned actor. The best one can do is “take baby steps” in a process that will evolve during every rehearsal and that Michael insists should keep evolving through each and every performance.
As a teacher, Michael does not criticize or judge, approve or disapprove. And neither should you. The important question is: Where are you in the process—is the scene different from how you and your partner did it a week ago? This approach fosters a positive learning environment in which you’re not focused on your shortcomings –and that’s what makes Intermediate Scene Study with Michael Hayden both very helpful and fun.
Michelle Greenberg is a pianist, an actor and singer who is a skilled cabaret performer. She started her acting training in New York and is now a regular student at Acting Studio Chicago where she studies not only with Micheal Hayden but also with Kurt Naebig and Adrianne Cury.