Graduation Season: a Tale of Two Seniors
Imagination Stage welcomes all students at all points in their arts journeys. Some train here as an important stepping stone to their dream career as a professional theatre, dance, or film artist; others find the arts contributing to being a better, more confident and creative person. Both are valuable and both can be achieved here at Imagination Stage.
Nikki Kaplan, Imagination Stage Associate Director of Education, talked to two seniors, Aaron Glassman and Jeremy Gee, about their years with Imagination Stage and what they are taking with them as they take their first steps into the adult world.
It’s Sunday at 2:30 and 18 year-old Aaron Glassman is at Imagination Stage, awaiting the start of his Improv class–something he’s been doing for the past 7 years! Aaron first tried an improv class in fifth grade and continued every semester since. First, it was Sundays from 1:00-2:30 for Short Form Improv with other 6-8 graders. When he started high school, he transitioned to the 2:30 time slot for Teen Improv Troupe. Every semester. If it was a Sunday afternoon, Aaron was here, polishing his improv skills, collaborating with his team members, telling stories, and making people laugh.
Improvisation can be succinctly defined as “acting without a script.” But it’s so much more. Improv performers tell a story, often a funny one. Improv is about listening, give-and-take, contributing ideas, and collaboration with others. All while being in front of an audience and trying to make them laugh.
It takes a ton of courage to be in front of an audience and toss out an idea to begin a scene that has no scripted end point. What if your idea doesn’t work? What if it’s bad? Aaron hears that question and immediately responds with: “What if it’s good?!” That is Aaron in a nutshell: a young man who understands the value of assuming the positive and not allowing fear of failure to get in the way.
Imagination Stage’s Teen Improv Troupe works with long-form improv: taking a one word suggestion from the audience and using it as inspiration for a 15 minute set of improvised scenes. That’s Aaron’s favorite part–delving into those scenes and seeing how they take off and where they end up. Aaron is an enthusiastic collaborator and sees the improviser’s job as “lifting others up. An idea from a teammate is either positive or it’s neutral, but it’s never bad.” Aaron is hilarious on stage and a gifted storyteller, but it’s the way he treats his ensemble that really sets him apart, both as a performer and as a person.
His teacher, Rachel Garmon, says, “Aaron dives in assuming the best in someone and someone's idea.” A common teaching practice in improvisation is the skill of ‘saying yes’ to all ideas but as Rachel puts it, “the high level technique is not only to say ‘yes’ to someone’s idea, but to commit to the other person’s suggestion, fully assuming the best.” Aaron’s mother, Ariel, has noticed this as well: “In true 'Yes, and' form, Aaron is a natural when it comes to collaboration. He's open to the ideas and suggestions of others, even when they don't necessarily make sense to him, and will do his best to be additive in a thoughtful, intelligent way.”
At Imagination Stage, we are always thinking about the 21st century skills that the arts have the capacity to instill in our students. Skills like collaboration, developing a unique voice, appreciating other cultures, sharing space, and taking risks. Improv addresses risk taking head on, because there is no safety net of a script. “Improv has made me open to the ideas of others and unafraid of those ideas not working. Likely, they will lead to something that does work.” Aaron has also noticed that he’s comfortable talking to people and in front of people, and sees Improv as laying the groundwork for him feeling confident in his own skin. He doesn’t let potential failure stop him from trying new things.
Ariel has appreciated “watching kids who so often are told to listen and be quiet have the opportunity to blurt out, speak their minds, and be silly while adding on to other kids' suggestions. It is amazing to observe the kids' creativity, and how they 'light up' when having the experience of someone wanting them to yell out ideas and suggestions.” When asked about the staying power of our Sunday improv classes, both Aaron and Ariel mentioned how the classes provide a safe and fun space to explore ideas and make powerful contributions to a group.
We should all go through life as Aaron does: assuming we can learn from others, intentionally lifting up ideas in collaboration, and always asking ‘what if it’s good?!’ Aaron has been a valued part of our student community here at Imagination Stage and especially within our Teen Improv Troupe; he is a positive force, always looking to make sure everyone has space to make their voice heard and to feel included.
Aaron will be enrolling at Hofstra University as a Film Studies major starting next year. When he was looking at potential colleges to attend, Improv troupes were a primary consideration. He’s looking forward to joining Hofstra’s next year.
Jeremy Gee first began taking classes at Imagination Stage at the age of 6. Next year, at age 18, he will begin his professional acting career training at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Jeremy has graced all of our stages at some point–camp productions at our Rockville summer stage location, our Reeve Studio Theatre as part of the Acting Conservatory, and in many roles on our Lerner Family Theatre stage as part of the IStage Performance Ensemble. He has been cast in roles both big and small and tends to steal the show regardless. He has incredible talent and skill and always seems to be the one on stage having the most fun, while performing, but also finding enjoyment in the work of being an actor.
Jeremy spent his early years being a part of countless creative drama classes and summer camps. In middle school, he started to get more serious about his acting training, completing Imagination Stage’s Acting Conservatory program and even getting cast in some professional productions in the DC area. As a conservatory graduate, Jeremy has skills that not all teen actors have. He understands that being an actor is more than just what happens onstage during a performance: it is the work of the rehearsal process of creating his character and collaborating on staging with his cast and director. He does not expect things to be handed to him or for them to come easily. The lines won’t memorize themselves and he’s not there to simply execute the director’s ideas. In the rehearsal room, Jeremy makes choices– bold, dynamic, funny, heartbreaking choices.
Jeremy grew up in a theatre family and that has ingrained in him a true love of the art form, not the spotlight. Recently he said, in response to one of his peers quitting a show because they didn’t like their role, “I don’t understand why people aren’t excited to just be in a show.” Jeremy takes every role he’s given and creates it fully. He’s the actor who, when cast in a role featured in just one scene, is the only one you talk about as you’re leaving the theatre.
His training and talent were truly showcased in last year’s IStage Performance Ensemble’s production of Romeo and Juliet and no one put it better than his father, Jeff Gee when he said, “someone forgot to tell Jeremy that the title of the show isn’t ‘Mercutio.’” But that’s what makes you a star - you have to think of your character as the lead in any show you’re in, regardless of lines, time on stage, etc. You have to deeply understand what your character wants and why it is of the utmost importance to them. Roles that might have been dismissed by other students have been made hilarious and significant by Jeremy.
Jeremy reflects that getting many smaller roles when he was starting out was fantastic for him. Characters with the least number of lines pushes one to learn to say the most with them. “When you only have two scenes to make an impression, you’ll swing big.”
When asked about his biggest ‘a-ha’ moment during his training at Imagination Stage, he cited his Acting Conservatory production, which engaged the whole cast as onstage story tellers during the entire play. “That experience so perfectly brought into focus a feeling that many different teachers had explored in different ways, from building your backstory, to acting out your moment before and moment after, to connecting the character with yourself. It just made me feel like the play really was a story that we were telling, watching, and a part of. That’s something that I’ve taken with me into every show since.”
Jeremy has a huge heart and empathy for others, attributes that make him a great actor. When he’s on stage, he’s fully embodying the mind and desires of his character. But that work doesn’t just happen on its own and that’s the piece that so many young artists take a while before discovering. There’s a discipline in how Jeremy approaches a character, a scene, how he readies himself to respond to impulses on stage and interplay with others, and how he uses his body and voice to tell a story to the audience. Jeremy’s years of interest and curiosity have developed him into the artist he is today; one who is poised for the hard work of being a professional actor. Jeremy has influenced many of his Imagination Stage castmates and we will continue to see him as a model of the capabilites of a great student actor.
Jeremy will be a Freshman this August at NYU Tisch School of the Arts in New York City as an acting studies major.