IU Jacobs School of Music offered an acting class for the first time last fall. The class taught by Michael Shell, visiting lecturer of voice and opera studies, was originally planned to be taught for one year, but will be offered again next school year.
Shell, who has stage directed IU Operas in the past, met with the Dean of Music Gwyn Richards in 2018 to discuss the development of the opera acting class. The first year of the class was a success and caused Shell to stay at IU.
“I feel like it’s a skill set that one, can be taught, but two, needs to be taught to opera singers,” Shell said.
The instruction in 391: Acting Technique for Opera Singers I and 392: Acting Technique for Opera Singers II is based off of Uta Hagen’s book, “A Challenge For the Actor.” The teachings focus on acting techniques such as incorporating feelings and character into the music. Shell said students who take the class learn to perform dramatic monologues and arias, a long song accompanying a solo voice.
These acting classes were created to fill the gap between the singing and staging of an opera performance, Shell said.. By identifying the reason behind the acting, students can improve their performance, he said. Shell said he is teaching important lessons such as role preparation before a scene and the techniques that the student uses to perform scenes or be in a show are important methodologies.
Shayleen Norat Santiago, a student in Acting Technique for Opera Students II, has been able to experience the contributions of acting on her opera performances firsthand.
“The biggest takeaway for me is to do more self-observation and to be more aware of the things we do and why we do them,” Santiago said. “You can take that and apply it on stage to a role.”
Shell said the intent of both acting classes is to provide an actor with a cumulative and practical skill set to continuously build upon and apply to future shows or professions.
Jacobs master's student Kate Johnson is in the second level of Shell’s acting classes and said she thinks both classes should be core curriculum for opera students.
“This will serve us a great deal if we pursue straight theater and musical theater,” Johnson said. “The skills we are developing on how to give and receive constructive feedback and how to effectively collaborate will empower us in any academic or professional context.”