Since late summer of this year, I’ve been attending Henry J. Mah’s Cold Read Workout Group as often as I can manage it. It’s been a really rewarding experience and I highly recommend it to anyone in Vancouver who is serious about honing their skills.
There’s a lot of things I really love about this group.
For one thing, being a working actor and a longtime teacher, Henry’s feedback is always helpful and insightful. And he’s an easygoing, funny, down-to-earth guy. He really sets a relaxed tone for the class.
For another, the people I’ve encountered there have been great to work (and read) with. They are committed to their craft, and in many cases are booking jobs consistently. They’re there to stay sharp and in practice between gigs. For me, that creates a very encouraging and supportive atmosphere, and a motivating feeling of being surrounded by people who on the same path as me. I always feel I’m learning something, not only during scene work but also in the conversations that happen before and after class. There’s no better way to improve one’s own skills than by working with people with similar goals.
Another unique aspect of Henry’s group is the material he works with – and the way he acquires it. He works with original material, not sides from TV or movie scripts. While some might balk at not getting a chance to step into the shoes of a Nurse Jackie or CSI investigator, the scenes are full of variety and humour and are always fun to read.
But perhaps the one thing I’ve most appreciated about Henry’s class is this: he encourages participants to write their own, original scenes. And his particular method of getting that to happen is the first that has worked for me!
I’ve long wanted to work on original material, but frankly I felt blocked. I was starting to think that it just wasn’t something I could do – I could enact stories, but coming up with them just wasn’t in my toolkit. But Henry’s idea of providing a single line of dialogue and requiring it to be incorporated in your scene was just the approach I needed. That, and the fact that I had already performed scenes in class created the exact same way, that were written be fellow classmates, none of whom is a Hollywood-produced writer – they’re just struggling actors like me! And they were good. For the first time in connection with writing fiction, I had the feeling that “I think I can do that”. And as it turns out… I did!
I’ve contributed two scenes so far, and the experience of seeing them “put up” with other actors – and getting laughs with the lines I wrote! – was truly exciting, and encouraging beyond words. I look forward to doing it again.