Games Brown Bag lets CTC conservatory members play

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

Chautauqua Theater Company conservatory members will spend this afternoon’s Brown Bag lunch playing a variety of games onstage at Bratton Theater. The lunch, which begins at 12:15 p.m. today, is called “Brown Bag lunch: Games, Actors, Play” and requires that actors literally spend time playing.

Associate Artistic Director Andrew Borba said while the games at today’s lunch are not necessarily tag or Red Rover, the point of having actors play games is “to free them up. To get them to learn and to condition their bodies and their imaginations to play — that’s the main reason.”

Being able to play teaches these actors to think on their feet, and Borba said all of the 14 conservatory actors have had games classes in their previous training.

“The point of these games classes is to free up the actors both in terms of their imaginations and physically, and to get people to do that, as it is when we’re kids, they play games,” Borba said. “The games are actually quite fun.”

Jim Calder, head of movement and mask at New York University’s Tisch Graduate Acting program, will work on today’s games with conservatory members. He has taught in Chautauqua in past summers, and in addition to taking part in today’s Brown Bag lunch, he also worked with conservatory members on games this week in classes.

Calder said his role in today’s Brown Bag will be to get actors to “play with the very, very basic elements of what it is to be human.”

“Basically, I provide situations to people to increase their desire or belief in something,” he said. “We all operate on the system that we want or desire something or believe in something. Those two things are very, very large motivating factors. When we go into acting, we sort of forget how deep those things are or how much they can influence you.”

Calder said in addition to seeing how these factors motivate different actors, he also wants today’s Brown Bag lunch to show audiences how actors are trained.

“I think it’s fascinating to see how one teaches actors. It’s actually a rather simple process; it’s just kind of difficult,” he said. “I think it’s almost a mystery. I think it’s an intriguing process. I’m always excited about discovering it myself.”

While Borba said he doesn’t want to give away the games the actors will be playing this afternoon, he said they can be compared to those on the television show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” Borba said actors will be given instructions ranging from pretending to dig a ditch to pretending to hatch a nest of bird eggs.

“There’s a fair amount of improvisation in it, but there’s also a great feel of play, and what is the most enjoyable for the audience is literally, they get to see that moment of creativity happen immediately in front of their eyes,” he said.

One of the most popular games actors often find themselves playing during games classes is called the transformation game. Borba said this game involves two actors going to the center of the stage. One of them initiates some sort of act, and the other actor immediately has to join in somehow. At some point, an instructor will signal for another actor to switch in with one of the original two, and this new actor will then have to think on his or her feet and establish a new world.

This process continues, and Borba said it often becomes quite funny.

“There’s always that sense of, ‘Oh my God, I never would have thought of that!’ but the actor, in that particular moment, decides that’s what it is,” he said. “It’ll be really delightful for the audience to see.”

Borba said one of the main advantages of having conservatory members play games is that they can learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. While all of the members typically have had games classes during the early semesters of their training, games are emphasized to different degrees at different programs.

In addition to allowing the actors to learn from one another, Borba said the event typically brings great joy and laughter to the audience.

“I’m excited to be an audience member,” Borba said. “It’s so fun, because there’s always something that is shocking and so funny. I usually weep with laughter, they’re so funny.”

The Brown Bag lunch is free, and those planning to attend are welcome to bring a lunch to the theater.

Theater Brown Bag:

WHAT: “Games, Actors, Play”
WHEN: 12:15 p.m. today
WHERE: Bratton Theater