They got his 'Goat'

David Sheynberg '16A three-minute scene study proves magical for David Sheynberg '16 at the Atlantic School of Acting’s Summer Intensive.

By David Sheynberg '16
Artist Development Fellow '15

They got his 'Goat'

“Invent nothing; deny nothing.” Famously championed by David Mamet, co-founder of the Practical Aesthetics technique upon which New York's Atlantic School of Acting’s Summer Intensive curriculum is based, this mantra guided my journey as an actor and person for six weeks this summer. One episode sticks out as particularly significant:

My partner Jane and I were getting ready to perform a scene from Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia? We had first presented the scene—which finds us in the middle of a heated argument between a woman and her husband about the man’s affair with a goat—about a week earlier, to reasonable success; while the scene’s first iteration found me falling into my pedantic and (overly) animated tendencies, an hour of work in class (and lots of repetition, "as if-ing," and deconstruction of my idiosyncratic facial tendencies) had brought forth a more believable comedic "straight-man" in me. Nonetheless, my teacher asked to see it again the following week. So—after a few rehearsals to clarify our blocking—here we were.

“Lights up," scene, and…okay, she seems pretty happy, but: “Now do it again, and just say your lines acting...and walk clearly through the blocking.” A bit of a strange note to receive, but we took it. Pacing through the small studio after all the hours of work we’d put into it, I couldn’t really help but feel a bit silly, but we did it and…my teacher was beaming. “Did you feel that, David? That groundededness is exactly what you need. Now do the scene like that.”

It was magic. For the three minutes that we played that final version of the scene, I could feel every pair of eyes on us. In the feedback session that ensued, my classmates—most of who had been with me nonstop for two full weeks—said that they could hear the depth of my voice for the first time. One of my classmates—who's known me for five weeks—began tearing up while describing how this program has visibly changed me for the better. It took some time and patience, but after getting to those three minutes of pure stillness and sincerity—maybe the first and only three such minutes I’ve felt in my actor life—I couldn’t help but agree with her.

It wasn't all so storybook-ish: I often come up against the massive walls of habit, disconnect from scene partners, and neuroses. My quotidian training experience is a cocktail of “I felt you could’ve been way more committed," “I don’t agree with that analysis," or “You really weren’t present or connected.” Things like that aren’t easy to hear, but the faculty at Atlantic says them with embedded confidence in one's ability to scale those walls. It is a truly life-affirming experience to feel so thoroughly invested in.

David Sheynberg ’16, a resident of Leverett House concentrating in Human Evolutionary Biology, was awarded an Office for the Arts/Office of Career Services Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Atlantic School of Acting’s Summer Intensive in New York City. Sheynberg has performed in over nine theatrical productions at Harvard, while also participating in various other smaller theatrical events and solo scenes in directing classes. Through the New York State Theatre Educators Association, he has studied various major acting methods, including, but not limited to, the Stanislavsky and Chekhov methods. Sheynberg hopes to pursue an MFA and a career in acting.