I’ve acted a lot on stage, but I’m in awe of actors who can put on believable performances with a battalion of cameras in front of their faces. When The Gabber asked me if I would be interested in taking one of the acting classes now offered at St. Pete’s American Stage, I was drawn to Through the Lens: Acting for the Camera. Led by local actor/director/screenwriter Cranstan Cumberbatch, the course seemed like a good opportunity to gain insight into the craft.
American Stage courses are designed to accommodate a variety of experience levels, and so was Through the Lens. The six students, who met for 10 weekly sessions, ranged from Megan Phillips, a 20-year-old American Stage Emerging Artist Fellow, to Elise Richmond, 67, an actress who got her SAG card in 1987 with a bit part in “Wall.” Street” received. ”
A bundle of friendly energy, Cumberbatch started with some important points for us to think about, including:
• “In front of the camera, your face is the most important thing.”
• “Each sentence brings a different moment.”
• “The good guys know how to tell you what they’re thinking before they say a word.”
Then he distributed scripts. Kathryn Pollard, a retired flight attendant and Gulfport Community Players regular, teamed up with Doug Ronk, a “paint salesman” with several improv classes under his belt, in a duel between an agent and a frustrated actress. Megan and her partner Shaun Memmell, 21, set up a love affair with a poignant ending. Elise teamed up with Jake Gustafson, 26, for a confrontation between two friends.
Cumberbatch told us that “movies always work from angles,” and told us that he would shoot the scenes in over-the-shoulder, head-and-shoulder, and wide-angle shots, all with a Samsung Galaxy phone. But before shooting, the actors should read through their scenes in three stages: with no emotion, with “some” emotion, and finally with full emotion.
Elise and Jake were a little taken aback by the practice at first, but it was interesting to see the script take on a fuller life as the stages progressed – especially after Cumberbatch set them up and had them repeat lines while he shot them from different perspectives filmed angles.
Next up were Kathryn and Doug. Their deadpan reading was surprisingly funny, but once they took to the stage in front of the camera, the scene really started to unfold. Doug, repeating a line as Cranstan shot from shot to shot, got a big laugh at his last delivery.
Due to time constraints – Cumberbatch was participating in an online panel on Afrofuturism in the middle of the two-hour class – Shaun and Megan couldn’t show their scene (although I heard them get applause during their rehearsal). Next week, Cranstan said, there would be more scripts to read and “clips of good actors” to watch – an opportunity to study the ins and outs of what makes a great performance in film.
Being able to better understand the mechanics of film acting might be the most valuable benefit of the course. After that session, I watched an episode of the PBS series Magpie Murders, starring Oscar-nominated British actress Lesley Manville, and realized that a single shot of Manville saying a line was actually the director’s final choice there could have been several readings of the same line, each filmed from a different angle. Somehow that impressed me even more in front of her skills – but also more in front of the awareness of what her work entailed.
I’d love to come back for another Through the Lens session for more insights like this.
For information on American Stage acting classes, available for both youth and adults, visit americanstage.org/education.
David Warner is a St. Petersburg-based writer, editor, and actor.
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