Ohlone Student in theater production
Thursday, January 7, 2021

Did you know that Fortune 500 companies favor students who’ve taken theatre classes? Neither had we until we sat down with Ohlone’s theatre guru himself, Professor Michael Navarra Smith to learn why enrolling in a theatre arts class this semester could give you more than a lesson in monologues but help you enter the world a stronger, more confident human being.

Do you have to be an extrovert to be able to join a theatre arts class? And, what if you’re super shy?
MNS: This is a great question. Shyness has never been a barrier to great acting. In fact, there are many actors who are shy (Selena Gomez, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek, Johnny Depp, Jessica Alba, Robert Pattinson, Lady Gaga, and many more). Shyness is often an indication that the shy person is introspective and self-aware. These are wonderful qualities for actors. Once student actors learn the fundamental building blocks of acting, they are able to channel their nerves in a positive direction. Actors don’t need to be shy (there are many who are not), but it certainly does not get in the way. Acting classes can help shy people learn to overcome their shyness when acting and for times when they will need to speak in front of other people.

What life skills can you take from the lessons learned in theatre arts?
Fortune 500 companies look for students who studied theatre. Acting classes offer many of the “soft” skills that these companies are looking for in their applicants. Students work together to perform scenes from plays and films. These opportunities help train students to collaborate effectively in an exciting environment working with their peers and building a close-knit community with one another. These experiences and training strengthen a student’s ability to exude confidence, help them to become comfortable with public speaking, enable them to develop creative problem-solving skills, and aid them in understanding the importance of preparing for and meeting deadlines. Most importantly, students learn the social and professional skills necessary to work well with others as part of a team. The games and exercises that are a part of this work help students think quickly and spontaneously through improvisation, express and articulate themselves with character work, and improve memorization through scenes and monologues. All of these skills are highly sought after by employers and can be seen and evaluated in job interviews.

What are the classes offered? Are they transferrable?
MNS: The two classes that we recommend students start with are Introduction to Acting (TD-110), which runs Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays from 11:10am-1:15pm, and Acting for the Camera (TD-114), which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:20am-12:30pm. These are both UC/CSU transferable and are on the GE plans.

Why do you recommend someone take the class? What’s it good for and what if you aren’t a theatre major?
MNS: There are three groups of students that take acting classes—students who want to go into the profession, students who love theatre and film and want to keep it in their lives, and students who are curious about acting and take the class to satisfy a general education (GE) requirement. For those who are interested in acting as a career or hobby, we teach both the skills necessary to learn the craft and the business acumen to build a career. We’ve had students enter our program with no experience, train with us, and be accepted in top BA/BFA acting programs or find work directly in the industry. For those who are not interested in theatre or film as a career, an acting class is often chosen for GE as a curiosity. Students tell me, “It looked like fun and I wanted to know what it was like”, and often ask themselves, “Will I like it? Will I be good at it? Is this something I can learn?” The answer to that last question is YES! Learning how to act for theatre or film is very much like learning a sport, a language, or a musical instrument. There is a step-by-step process to learning the craft. The process is exciting as students learn to appreciate the intricacies of acting and make life-long friends along the way.

What’s it like taking the class via Zoom? What are some of the advantages/positive student takeaways?
MNS: There are definitely benefits to taking acting classes on Zoom. This is a great medium for students to ease into the work without the pressure of being in the room face-to-face in front of other people. Many of our students have found an added confidence that has furthered their growth and made it easier to learn and implement the lessons. Our advanced students have also benefited by being able to see their work recorded (when requested) and by being able to analyze their work in a similar fashion to analyzing a film close-up. Additionally, students have found that they can fit the classes more easily into their schedules since there is no commute time. The best part is that students are able to connect with each other through Zoom acting classes, make and sustain friendships, and be a part of a thoughtful and creative community during these challenging times when most people have become more isolated.

Why do you love teaching the subject? What motivates you?
MNS: I began acting as a kid and never stopped. I loved everything about it - working with other actors and directors to tell interesting and exciting stories, creating and developing complex characters, and experiencing an audience’s focus, reactions, laughter, and applause. Every acting class and production become a tight knit community of people working together to tell meaningful stories, explore important ideas, and create something that is worthwhile to all involved. My favorite part is that we step into the shoes of our characters and learn to understand them, empathizing with their situations and who they are as people. This practice affects the rest of our lives and helps us see other people and ourselves with grace, humility, and dignity.