“BYOB Acting Crash Course” at the Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio: Review by Andrea Santo Felcone

“We don’t need to be good at everything. We are already good at the things in our lives that matter. Let’s just have fun with this.”

These were the wise words of a good friend, right before we took to the stage in a “BYOB Acting Crash Course” offered by the Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio. I had jumped at the chance for this opportunity offered by Motherhood Later, roping in a friend to share the experience. This would be a great entry in my “Year of Yes” journal, which, honestly was looking a little thin. Acting class? That would’ve been a hard pass for the old me, but the new me (who, ironically, is older) decided to grab a friend, jump in, and see where we landed.

Sedgwick Russell BYOB Acting Class

Photo Courtesy of Dan DeMello Public Relations. Standing: far left: Rob Sedgwick, far right: Cathy Russell.

Our leap into the unknown, took us to the Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio, located at The Theater Center, 210 West 50th Street. Once inside, if there was signage for the studio, we didn’t see it, but know that it’s on the fourth floor. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by Catherine Russell. How do I know this? Because Ms. Russell is one of the hardest working people on the planet; she never misses a day of work. In fact, she has made it into the “Guinness Book of World Records” for playing the same role in New York’s longest-running play, “Perfect Crime” —for over 30 years! Downplaying this accomplishment, she informed us that she’s listed “near the world’s tallest horse in Guinness” but you can tell she has an amazing work ethic. You’ll also meet Rob Sedgwick (brother to Kyra and brother-in-law to Kevin Bacon). The stories Cathy and Rob tell are fascinating as they have decades of experience, and share a passion for acting. Each provides their own coaching style, as you’ll find out during your first scene.

Gulp. Yes. Your. First. Scene. If you are like me, never having acted before, (not ever), the BYOB part of the “BYOB Acting Crash Course” will come in handy here. I’m not a drinker, but the liquid courage did help. You see, this is a real acting class. Since it was inspired by those “Sip and Paint” classes, I made the mistake of thinking it would be more focused on the wine/social aspects rather than on the art form. Not so. The experience is more in line with its title, “BYOB Acting Crash Course”. I figured we’d run some warm-up exercises, maybe improv, and then a scene. Instead, after a short “hello,” I found myself highlighting my lines on a script. Rather smartly, Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio uses scripts from popular movies and television shows for their “BYOB Acting Crash Course”. This gives the non-actor at least a fighting chance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with the show we were given: “Cashmere Mafia”. Added to this, the part that I got (“the angry boss”) was very “against type” for my personality (which made this first scene very challenging; More wine, please).

Did some small part of me assume I would be naturally gifted at acting? (“Yes,” the answer to that is “yes”.) But, just as eating doesn’t qualify you to be a gifted chef, apparently watching television and movies your entire life, doesn’t train you for acting. (Go figure.) My friend, however, crushed her part as my “inept employee”. (This was “against type” for her, too.) I suppose the sound of my heart pounding in my chest could’ve been part of the problem. Also, I had too many lines to memorize quickly, which made my acting seem more like expressive reading.

However, Cathy and Rob were there with suggestions. Cathy tapped into my mothering instincts by asking me to pretend that my friend was one of my children, one with slipping grades—and I was angry because I knew he wasn’t trying. This did the trick, and I improved in my next try. Rob suggested we switch roles: maybe I would be better at being “inept” than “mean”? (Apparently the answer to that question is “no,” but it was worth a try.)

Our other “acting colleagues” did well for themselves. One couple had to play a scene where they were admitting their love for one another (after having just met), but they were sweet. The other couple (a couple in real-life, I believe) produced a convincing scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” In our final scene, we received a script from an episode of “Friends”. I got to play Monica (more in my wheelhouse). I think I did a bit better, even getting a laugh, which caused me to break character (ugh)!

On their website, Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio bills themselves as “supportive but honest” and I would have to agree. Even in this playful, non-actor venue, they are direct with their comments and they don’t coddle you. It really does seem to replicate the audition experience and I would say most of the others there that night were interested in acting in a more significant way. As a non-actor, with no aspirations of becoming an actor, I could feel myself getting a little better with Cathy and Rob’s suggestions. The “BYOB Acting Crash Course” has given me a new appreciation for how complex acting is. And, even in my short time there, I learned some things, like it’s easier to scale back a big performance than it is to grow a smaller one—so play it big, when you go.

In the end, there was one brief, shining moment during that final scene where my friend and I connected (in character) and it felt really—good. One moment where I got out of my head, had fun, and relaxed. (That doesn’t happen often.)

If you’re looking for something different to do, perhaps as part of a date night, or with some friends—try this. The Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio offers a variety of acting classes for serious actors, including a much-in-demand “Business of Acting” class. Their “BYOB Acting Crash Course” is a good night of fun for the novice.

For more on this unique experience: http://www.sedgwickrussell.com/byob.

Price: Very reasonably priced at $35.00 for 90 minutes.

Note: The Sedgwick Russell Acting Studio offered us press passes for this experience, but our opinions are our own.

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