REVIEW: "Acting: The First Six Lessons" — Golden West College Theatre Arts

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

Golden West College Theatre Arts Department presents “Acting: The First Six Lessons,” playing March 6th through March 15th, and directed by Tom Amen, now celebrating his 20th year as a Professor of Theater Arts at the college.

The famous 1933 text, written by Richard Boleslavsky and adapted by father and daughter team, Beau and Emily Bridges, depicts dialogues between a wise, experienced acting teacher and a pretty, raw young actress at the start of her career, who seems to be possessed with more enthusiasm than actual skill.

The book is the only tome about acting that celebrated actor Lloyd Bridges ever gave to son, Beau. Now these second and third generation members of one of America's most beloved families of actors have reimagined Boleslavsky's story of a mature instructor and his young, eager student, both devoted to their craft for performance on the stage. The Bridges also originally portrayed the two characters of the book on stage - the acting coach and the young, (at first) very inept student.

Set in the theater-world of New York City in 1936, GWC’s production stars Scott Keister as The Teacher, and Maggie Underwood as his young protégée, both thoroughly modern figures, evolving in their relationship as the student grows in artistry.

We see the young actress (Ms. Underwood) paying a visit to an acting teacher in the hopes of honing her skills and learning more fully the dramatic art. At first adamant that art cannot be taught, he explains that initially it requires some talent, but talent developed through much hard work.

After considerable convincing by the young thespian that theater is her everything, she is asked to test her skill and play out a scene from one of her most recent productions, with displeasing results.

When he acerbically suggests that she should give up the theater, she firmly refuses. Reweighing her commitment and seeing her so ardently devoted to the vocation, The Teacher begins his first lesson to his new pupil, whom he dubs, The Creature.

Under Tom Amen’s able direction, the actors trace the development of their relationship over five years — very much like a father and daughter mentorship. Art imitates life, life then imitates art, and the two eventually become indistinguishable. As The Creature matures and blossoms under the tutelage of the master teacher, she is transformed from a dewy-fresh, insecure “enfant” to a poised maven of the theatre, taking possession of her true gifts, while Teacher gradually releases her to her own future and success.

Written in dialogue form, the show — like Boleslavsky’s book — is divided into six miniature drama lessons: on concentration, memory of emotion, dramatic action, characterization, observation and rhythm. The Creature asks questions, and The Teacher answers. It’s like a Socratic dialogue. And we watch her development: In the first lesson, she’s a novice. By the second, she’s a working actress. In the third, she’s working in film. In the fourth, she has the lead in a Broadway show. In the fifth, she’s a mature woman and artist. By the sixth lesson, she’s on the same artistic level as the teacher; they’ve become equals.

These same qualities of instruction have been found to distill the challenge facing every actor today. Generations of actors have been enriched by Boleslavsky's witty and acute picture of the actor's craft. It’s one of the few classic must-have works on the art of acting that’s considered a treasure-box of wise observations that help propel the novice actor to new heights.

Director Amen relates well to the material:

“My first exposure to the book came in the fall of 1982. Like “The Creature” in our play, I was 18 years old when I took my first serious acting class with a man who soon became a trusted mentor and dear friend – the late Broadway and television actor, H. Wynn Pearce. After the first of many shows that Wynn directed me in, he gave me a copy of Boleslavsky’s book. Boy, did I need it! It was my first book on acting I’d ever read, and it was a real eye-opener! In fact, it still is – even though I’m in the director’s chair now, I still use these lessons on an almost daily basis, whether working with actors in the classroom or on the stage."