A Different Stage: Acting Class Helps Athletes Perform On The Field

Students lunge and stretch arms above their heads as they warm up for “The Art of Acting,” a course that meets in a large classroom in the basement of Owen Arts Center in Meadows School of the Arts. Geared toward non-theatre majors, the course attracts students of all interests and majors.

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Basketball players Rodney Clinkscales (center) and Jasmine Davis (right) warm up for acting class.

Only one exercise, however, separates students into athletes and non-athletes – push-ups.

Mustang basketball players Rodney Clinkscales and Jasmine Davis begin their push-ups flat on the floor and continue with military precision, while other students take a less strenuous approach.

Although push-ups come easy to student-athletes, the acting part of the class is a challenge, they say. Their coaches who urge them to take the class, however, see significant benefits.

“I’ve had hundreds of student-athletes take ‘The Art of Acting,’ beginning when I first started coaching at SMU,” says Dave Wollman, director of track and field since 1988. “It makes a real difference in their self-esteem. For athletes, self-confidence is everything.”

Developing confident athletes is part of what makes Wollman a successful coach. Under his guidance, men and women’s track and field athletes have won eight top-four NCAA championship trophies, nearly 200 All-America awards and 34 NCAA champions.

Women’s tennis coach Lauren Longbotham-Meisner also sees definitive results from the class. Acting skills help players outwit their competition, she says. “Sometimes you have to fake it. You can’t let your opponent see when you’re nervous. It’s very similar to playing a character. The ones who don’t show weakness are the hardest to beat.”

Most competitors found Mustang women’s tennis tough to beat this year as the team finished the season 22-3 and ranked as high as No. 21 nationally during the spring season.

“I think the class helps indirectly,” Longbotham-Meisner says. “It helps train the players to be mentally strong. Everyone who plays Division I tennis is talented but the ones who are a cut above are those with mental toughness.”

Acting and athletics may appear to exist in two diametrically opposed camps, says Jack Greenman, assistant professor of theatre and “Art of Acting” course adviser. But both are rigorous emotional, mental and physical activities.

“I often use sports analogies when I lecture about acting theory,” Greenman says. “An actor has to determine how a character will overcome an obstacle, just like a running back has to get past the defense to the end zone.”

The Meadows School of the Arts’ Theatre Division limits class sections to 16 students. Instructors lead the students through games that they say may feel silly at first, but are designed to encourage students to take risks and have positive outcomes, like learning to listen to and respond to a partner.

“Self-consciousness tends to drop away,” Greenman says.

“An actor has to determine how a character will overcome an obstacle, just like a running back has to get past the defense to the end zone.”

Course requirements also include attendance at theatre performances, papers and performance of a scene from a play before the class.

Golfer Kelly Kraft says the class helped him to loosen up and meet other students, but found acting harder than he expected. “It’s tough to do something you’re not used to,” says the sophomore sociology major, who was the nation’s No. 1-ranked collegiate golfer last fall.

An acting class helped high-jumper Viktoria Leks feel less afraid about oral presentations. ”Step by step I became more confident,“ says Leks, a sophomore from Estonia who won the high jump with a mark of 1.73m in February at the Iowa State Classic.

Although these athletes say they don’t see a correlation between performing before an audience and competing before a crowd, they are interested to learn that their coaches see performance-enhancing benefits of the class.

“I wouldn’t think a class would have an impact on my sports performance,” says sophomore golfer Matt Schovee, who liked the quick responses required in the warm-up games during class. “But if [my performance] caught Coach Loar’s eye, then it’s worth it.”
– Nancy Lowell George ’79


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Student-athletes find acting skills provide performance-enhancing benefits.

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