BNTC is slowly emerging from its COVID dormancy. As with the majority of our best projects, our recent decision to start training sessions for professional actors has emerged as a response to the mood of the moment. At the request of a few actor friends who are longing for human connection and a chance to get back into practice, I booked a studio space at my favorite downtown rehearsal venue, the FlyLoft. We discussed the idea in December when the Delta variant was everyone’s main concern. We had all been fully vaccinated and figured Meisner practice lent itself easily to social distancing so we decided it was worth the risk. We booked for January hoping that case numbers would have dropped by then and I put the word out to a few other actor friends thinking that a handful of familiar faces would show up each week. Within days of booking the space, we began learning about the arrival of Omicron. Its increased transmissibility and tendency to bypass the vaccine felt ominous. As the date of the first session drew closer, I spoke almost daily to the friends who requested the class. We agonised over wether or not we felt comfortable moving forward. With such a small group, it seemed reasonable. After all, by this time we had started hanging out in each other’s homes again. Surely a group of five or six actors in a large rehearsal space wasn’t much different. We went forward with our session for only one week before the height of the wave made us take a step back. But, after a two week hiatus, I was receiving requests to reconvene. What has struck me about this experience is that, though I do hear from a number of old acting friends each week, I’m introduced to several newcomers each session as well. I hadn’t expected the classes to attract many people. In addition to my expectation that the pandemic would lead to hesitancy in the majority of potential participants, I had also never seen much interest in ongoing actor training sessions for adults here in Tulsa.
The process of trying to get a small group together introduced me to a major shift in the Tulsa acting community. New students consistently fall into two categories. The first group is drama school trained actors who are familiar with Meisner and miss staying in practice since moving back to Tulsa after a stint on one of the coasts. The second group is an assortment of beginning actors with shiny new resumes boasting recent background work with directors like Scorsese. Needless to say, after spending all summer on set with De Niro and DiCaprio, these newcomers are more than interested in seeing where a little training might take them. Both groups seem anxious to fully engage in the practice and I can’t help but think that the separation we’ve all been experiencing makes the work of building human connection even more satisfying.
I’ll be honest, I’m finding myself stunned by the number of people who have reached out to express interest in attending. It’s not a shocking number but, trying to get a class going in the dead of winter has never been a highly advisable marketing strategy. Add on a pandemic and factor in the limited market I’ve found in Tulsa for actor training in the past and it’s it’s easy to see why I’m surprised to find the group growing each week. In addition to the increasing list of participants, I have an equally long list of actors who intend to join in the spring if the U.S. finally enters endemic status (as I am optimistically anticipating that it will). This experience has revealed to me just how much the dynamic has changed in Tulsa. Actors here will always be anxious to try their luck in bigger markets but, the number and the caliber of actors who are sticking around has me excited about how it will feel to truly emerge from this pandemic. I love being in a studio space with people who are serious about their craft. Level of experience matters little compared to the willingness to fully commit to the work. That’s the real difference I’m seeing. People are coming out in the cold, facing the anxiety that this pandemic has created and connecting deeply to the work. I’m hoping this is just the beginning.