High school drama students work with professional actors for two days of workshops

PHOTO: Morgan BeVard | | Actress Jerrika Hinton works with SPHS drama student Kiera Atkinson on Day 1 of the Actor Invasion

SPHS Drama teacher, Nick Hoffa, started a new program last year where he invites a group of professional actors to come in and work on scenes with the drama students. He calls it Actor Invasion. Wildly popular in its first year, the students had a good understanding of what was expected this year. Mr. Hoffa throws them into a professional audition situation where they’ve been given the scene, or “sides”, beforehand and they come in and are paired with one of the professionals. They work briefly on the scene outside and then they all gather on stage to perform the scenes for each other. It’s a nerve wracking challenge for the students but one that they relish.

PHOTO: Shari Correll | | Actor Rob Maffia in a scene with student Lindsay Calva during Actor Invasion Day 2

Senior Dashiel Bove said, “you definitely feel nervous but it’s really fun and you feel like your partner really starts bringing out the best in you.” Senior Anders Keith adds, “I agree with Mr. Hoffa when he says that some of the work that you do during the actor invasion is some of the best work you do all year just because they’re professionals, this is their job and part of the scene work is supporting the other person so they really know how to do that. They really know how to make you look good and feel good and act well so I do think it’s some of the best work I’ve done.”

PHOTO: Shari Correll | | Actress Olivia Baptista in a scene with drama student Rose McCollough

For Hoffa, having the students actually work with professionals on stage is something he’s been keen on doing since he began, “I think this experience opens students’ eyes to what is possible,” said Hoffa, “they watched the professionals jump effortlessly from role to role with very little preparation and it looks real. That is eye opening. The students are acting with someone so committed, they are forced to commit themselves. That level of commitment in many cases has produced some of the best work the students had ever done, work that even surprised them.”

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PHOTO: Shari Correll | | SPHS Drama Director Nick Hoffa

After session two, actor Bruce Wexler said of the experience, “I enjoyed seeing young passion; they’re at a point in their lives where they’re still deciding what they want to do and I appreciated being able to offer them a taste of what my life is like and offering encouragement.” Wexler continues, “Nick sets a high standard  for them and when you do that, they will almost inevitably meet that standard. They did a great job taking it seriously.” And his parting advice to the young actors was to become skilled at many things, “consider yourself a writer, director, producer, from the get-go if you want to be an actor.”

PHOTO: Shari Correll | | Kirstin Eggers and Lynn Chen chatting with the students after the workshop

Actress and writer Olivia Baptista tells us “they were so ready and willing to play and to give; they were just as willing as we were so it was exciting to have that trust and camaraderie. I loved it!” She reminded the actors to “stay true to your passions and listen to what they’re telling you.”

Grey’s Anatomy actress Jerrika Hinton tells us, “What I found most interesting was their level of commitment. The students I worked with, and the performances I witnessed, had a beautiful spark of life that came from the students’ full immersion in the scenes.”

Actress Lynn Chen had a blast and said “I came in with no expectations but I can tell you when I was in high school I was not this committed so it was really fun to see that level of commitment they had.” Her piece of wisdom was to “take every rejection as a lesson and use it to toughen yourself up so you can move on and keep going because that’s what you need.”

Junior Lindsay Calva said she was nervous taking on a comedic role, “once I ran it a couple of times with Rob I felt comfortable and it was really fun. You have to work off your partner; that will make the scene. You can’t do it by yourself.”

PHOTO: Morgan BeVard | | Drama students on Day 1 of the Actor Invasion

In parting, the professionals gave a few more parting words of wisdom gleaned from many years in a tough business. Seasoned character actor Rob Maffia said, “vulnerability is your strength, your intelligence is a virtue in this business.” Actress Kirstin Eggers said emphatically, “if you are in any class or environment where you are made to feel smaller than who you are, then get out immediately, because you have much more to give than what people might think who want to put you in little boxes.”

Mr. Hoffa encouraged the students to “surround yourselves with smart, motivated people who want the same things you do because your personal communities become your professional communities. Stick around awesome people and make stuff together.”

SPHS Drama Club is producing the play Almost, Maine in the Little Theatre December 1-9. Tickets are on sale now!