The curtain calls – The M.V. Playhouse offers theater experiences for adults in the off-season
Even if you never dreamed of appearing before the footlights, “Theater Fun for Adults” at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse is the place to be on Thursday nights from 5 to 6:30 pm. Thirteen of us gathered for the experiential weekly sessions, which are an introduction to improvisation and live acting for adults of all ages — in the past three years, the group has ranged from people in their 20s to their 90s. As the Playhouse’s executive director, MJ Bruder Munafo, explains, there is no experience necessary, but a willingness to participate — and to laugh — is required.
And there was indeed plenty of laughter. Since each session, which is a mixture of warm-ups, theater games, scene work, and improvisation, is a stand-alone, there were other new folks there with me, along with some of Munafo’s theater friends. Everyone was welcoming, and Munafo created a safe environment to play around while learning about theater and performing. She has been teaching theater to children and teens for more than 25 years, and has found, “We adults love to play games and have fun, and we don’t always have the chance. And, of course, I’m very enthusiastic about the world of live theater! And it’s nice to share this world with others.”
To begin, we gathered upstairs on the stage, which is thrilling if you’ve only been in the audience. Standing in a circle, Munafo led us through a series of quick warm-ups, starting with learning one another’s names through a game in which we created a rhythm of first slapping your hand on your opposite shoulder, clapping once, and then snapping your right and then left fingers and saying your name as we went around the circle. Trying to describe this, I realize, makes it sound a lot harder than it is. We repeated the activity with the titles of our favorite movies, which challenged my mind and body to work together simultaneously.
Soon, Munafo broke us up into groups of three, telling us to come up with a team name and a little cheer. A feline lover, I suggested the Wildcats, and together, we knit together a cheer that included some fierce meows, sending us and everyone else into giggles. We then got an inside peek at how actors know where to move on stage through a fabulous, mind-bending team activity based on stage directions.
Having done a little acting as a kid in camp, stage directions came back to me when Munafo went through them. The first thing to keep in mind is that stage right and stage left are from the point of view of the actor on the stage facing the audience. There is center stage, which is exactly what it sounds like, and then you get to what could be confusing … upstage, which is the back, and downstage, which is the front. However, when you learn that stages used to be raked slanting downward with the back literally higher — it all becomes clear. To add a little spice to the game, Munafo gave each group funny stage directions that could be some variation of “start center stage, march upstage right, jump three times, bellydance across to downstage left, exit, re-enter downstage right reciting the alphabet, and return to center stage and bow.” Again, much hilarity ensued as each team followed these sorts of amusing stage directions, which required memory and a sense of humor.
We also got a taste of reciting classical Shakespeare, using his famous Sonnet 18: ”Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” with everyone reading a few lines aloud to help us interpret his lovely poetry.
The final activity was the challenge for each three-person team to create a mini-script. Munafo gave us 15 minutes to come up with three characters — two of whom had to be related, one was to be the leader (and someone had to speak in rhyme) — and to identify a location and the adventure. The three short “performances” were highly absurd, and everyone was wildly supportive of whichever group was performing.
First-timer Connie McHugh shared that she came because, “I’d heard about it before, and sometimes you just need to free up your schedule and just go.” What stayed with her was how fun it was to be onstage — on the other side, so to speak — to deeper understanding about theater. “MJ is just fabulous. To be with her and do what she does with professionals and see how she approaches it, you don’t get that in the theater — seeing the coaching, the directing.”
Paul Padua, a professional actor, was enjoying it as much as the rest of us: “I just want to be involved in the off-season, and it’s a lot of fun.” This is Shana Metzger’s third year participating. “A number of years ago, I had moved here full-time, and hadn’t acted in 20 years, and decided I wanted to get back into it. So I came to the sessions, had a really good time, and ended up doing the Shakespeare play that summer.” She continues, “I really enjoy the classes. It’s definitely using different brain muscles. I’m a lawyer and sit at a desk all day. It’s good to get out and be creative.”
“Lots of kids come through in school programs,” McHugh says, “but to be an option for adults to do it is terrific. You never know who is going to be in the next show. You might take one line, or be an extra, because you got the bug.”