By Theresa Wallace
You enter the magical world of Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe through the back of a wardrobe that takes you into a land of high drama, good and evil, villains and heroes. You enter the same sort of magical world in Ottawa through an almost hidden entrance in the Glebe.
I’d walked along the west side of Bank between First and Second avenues for 35 years without really noticing this door. But this time I slipped into 738A Bank Street, up a narrow staircase, around a corner, along an even narrower hallway, passing a mirrored room used for rehearsals and into The Acting Company’s astonishing main performance space. Formerly, it was the offices of an architectural firm, and before that the site of the storied Avalon Theatre. Now it is a beautiful brick-walled three-storey loft consisting of an intimate 50-seat theatre on the main floor, a lounge on the second floor and offices above.
I was first to arrive for that inaugural class of the introduction to acting course for those in the 55-plus age group, so I had time to contemplate the architecture and my own hubris for signing up for a course I was totally unprepared for. My last acting role had been in grade seven, when I’d played the very minor character Charley Bates in Oliver! Singing and marching around new gang member Oliver, I’d screamed the lyrics “Consider yourself at home; Consider yourself one of the family” so enthusiastically that the director had taken me aside, several times, to explain the difference between singing and shouting.
As my Studio 55 classmates trickled in and settled nervously into their chairs, I could see their shoulders were heavy with the same self-doubts. But as soon as John Muggleton jogged across a short ramp on the second floor of the loft, took the stairs two at a time and clapped his hands in welcome, he put the five of us at ease. Muggleton, an award-winning actor and co-founder of The Acting Company, lives right around the corner on First Avenue and if he’d started out from home, it wouldn’t have taken him much longer to appear in front of us. That first two-hour class consisted of Muggleton leading us through a warm-up that mostly consisted of jumping around and making noise. No one told me to be quiet. And nobody laughed at anybody else, despite our halting attempts at a cognitively challenging exercise: throwing an imaginary red ball around the room as fast as we could.
This first class and the other seven weeks learning the basics of acting flew by. By the last class, we were able to pick identities out of a hat and write a scene. I won’t tell you what kind of scene we performed involving an elf, a doctor and a lawyer, but it wasn’t half bad.
Classmate Carole Richards, a teacher who is living in Ottawa for a year and then returning to England, took our course because she was looking for something completely different to do during her adventure in Canada. “It’s been great to have fun with new people, to learn new skills completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to take acting, and this course has helped me discover how much I like it. I hope to do more.”
Gladys Hill had more stage experience than the rest of us, but as a dancer rather than an actor. “You learn about projecting your voice in acting and when you are doing dance, you have to project your body,” Hill explained. “You have to be big so that person in the back row can see you. So there are similarities. I’ve learned so much in this course: how to take lines and interpret the mood or the feeling and really get into the character.”
We went to Café Morala after our last class to lament the end of our session. Fortunately, there are a number of other Acting Company Studio 55 classes: a level-two class, a showcase class where each participant is cast in a play and performs that play at the end of the course, and a voice power class.
Founded in 2013, the Acting Company offers many daytime, evening and weekend lessons for all ages and experience levels, and rents its three studio spaces to local arts groups. For more info, check out www.actingcompany.ca or find the entrance between the Glebe Barber Shop and Avenue Lock on Bank Street and drop in.
Theresa Wallace is a writer and budding actor who lives in Old Ottawa East.