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January 30, 2012

Academy Notes – Qasim Khan & Courtney Lancaster

Qasim Khan

Qasim Khan
It’s been seven months since I began the Academy, and I have never felt this creative and inspired. My mind, body, and soul have been stretched and shaped in a way that will stay with me, and guide me, for the rest of my artistic life. I remember hearing in the early days about the plans for us: who we will work with, what we will work on, etc. and telling my friends and family that it feels like I am walking into the Emerald City. What twenty-something actor gets to work with Laszlo Marton, Daniel Brooks, Guillermo Verdecchia, Nancy Palk, Joseph Ziegler, Leah Cherniak, Mike Ross, and Diego Matamoros all in a lifetime, let alone within seven months! These are artists that I have looked up to for years, if not since childhood. Not to mention having the gift of time to study with all of these people. It might sound like I have rose-colored glasses on, but this really is a dream come true.

The past seven months have also been a lesson in patience, dexterity, and athleticism. I can see why the work that Soulpepper does is so rich and powerful – they really put you to work here. If there was a boot camp for theatre artists, I am in the thick of it. And I don’t just mean hard work creatively or emotionally, but physically – we are constantly moving. I never thought that I would be learning hip-hop twice a week on the Baillie Theatre stage, the same place where I cried watching Uncle Vanya. What makes this experience even richer is the ensemble of talent that I am surrounded by every day. This bizarre and eclectic group of artists with me is brave, supportive, challenging, frustrating, kind, creative, and talented. We have seen each other succeed and (often) fail, but having each other on the “benches” cheering for one another is a gift.

Some highlights from my notebook of lessons learned:

  1. You don’t have to want to do anything (but you still have to do it).
  2. Trying to recreate a magical moment will often fail. If you focus instead on how you arrived there, it might happen for you again. Or not.
  3. Wonder is something that my generation does not quite have anymore – but has a timeless place in art.
  4. Theatre exercises will always have bamboo sticks and soccer balls. Because they work.
  5. If you click the metaphoric “mute” button on a scene, the audience should still get the story based solely on the way the actors move.
  6. Take your time. Your tongue cannot be faster than your brain on stage.
  7. Don’t take it personally. But remember to keep it personal.
  8. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Courtney Lancaster
Courtney Lancaster

There’s been a lot of self-discovery since we started this journey together last June. The 8 of us have delved into Ibsen, Brecht, Beckett, Shakespeare, improv, clown, music, writing and more. We’ve worked with a long list of amazing teachers. There’s been sweat, and tears and so much laughter. We play together, rehearsing scenes, coming up with sets, writing songs. We’re also encouraged to delve into more academic territory, discussing what the goal of theatre is, while learning theatre history and theory. We learn how other theatre artists have tried to communicate their ideas, so that we can discover how best to communicate our own. In June, we’ll be working together to create our own piece of theatre, collectively created under the guidance of our “Academy Master” Leah Cherniak. This will be our first opportunity to publicly coalesce what we’ve learned with our own thoughts.

So much of the work has been about going deep inside ourselves, finding our own truths and bringing them out in performance. It’s been hard work, and despite the guidance of our wonderful teachers, sometimes the payoff can seem elusive. But the 8 of us are all in it together, and as the year has progressed, we’ve all become very close. Each new “subject” we tackle brings different challenges for us, but we support each other, and lean on each other, and more often than not, gently tease and laugh with each other. We dare each other to find that place of child-like uninhibitedness. And then we jump back into this grand experiment, this laboratory of communication, this training. It’s all such a great, great gift.