By Jeorge Bennett Watson
I’ve been acting since 1989 – a union member of both major acting unions since the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. During my career, I’ve been described as a “working actor,” an “actor’s actor” and/or “a blue collar actor.” There have been times where even though I have called myself, with outward pride, an actor; internally, I’ve felt lacking. I never went to a four-year acting program. I actually started out as a visual artist, attending art school after high school. But even as a child in North Carolina, I’d strike poses in my bedroom mirror, as if I was appearing in the opening credits of shows like “Hawaii Five-O,” humming the theme song as I vamped it up. I had the dream, but I honestly didn’t even know there was such a thing as an acting school.
Fast forward almost 40 years, from those Southern teenage bedroom credit poses, past college in Baltimore, past numerous community theater productions, gaining my union statuses, training at Studio Theater Acting Conservatory, gracing the stages of every major DC theater available in the 1990s-2000s, eventually moving to LA, having two children along the way, appearing on various TV shows on both coasts, and finally settling back on the east coast; I found myself at a crossroads. I didn’t know why I was acting. I had lost my desire.
So I started taking classes. Yet I was still a bit lost. Then providence struck. A good friend introduced me to his agent. After a brief meeting, I was signed. I started doing regional theater and occasional TV/film work. I was somewhat rejuvenated. I traveled all over the country, playing leads in this show, supporting in that show; meeting new people, other theater artists, forging new adventures in my fifth decade; making a new name for myself, so to speak. Yet something was still missing. I was still yearning for more, something deeper, with more meaning… something more substantial. Something I could hang my hat on.
Then we arrive at 2020. I was in Delaware, at The Rep, playing a supporting role in The Crucible, collecting a paycheck, but craving a creative challenge, to be completely honest. Then the world stopped. Fear. Doubt. Self-preservation and the need for safety took over. The world was on pause. Indefinitely. The theater, film and TV industry completely shut down. Our national leadership was failing us miserably, almost comically. Citizens of the world were dying by the hour. The constant daily, sometime hourly reminders of death and desolation gave way to breaking news of protest and revolt (and rightfully so). The world was evolving, rapidly, literally, by the hour before our eyes. Burning. Confusion. Chaos. Despair. All while this was taking place, a once tiny voice inside my head, starting to grow and grow stronger: “I need to study. I need to pour my energy into something worthwhile, something that can benefit this world. The world is in pain. Mother Earth is crying out for healing and I need to strengthen my skills, my creative foundation so I can offer something worthwhile to help her heal. Something to enact positive, long lasting change.”
So, while trying to negotiate virtual study with BADA in Cambridge (where I had been accepted the previous year) through the Get Acceptd website, I happened to notice an ad for Atlantic Acting School at the bottom of the page. I had actually been accepted to one of Atlantic’s acting programs back in the early 2000s, but didn’t have the funds or the courage to pull the trigger at the time. So…why not now? What better time? I gave it a shot. I applied for the 2020 Summer Intensive. I did a Zoom interview with Chris Booth, Director of Admissions, and a couple of days later, I was accepted.
Nervously, I began my study. Over Zoom. 17 of us in my ensemble. Beginning July 11th, Monday – Friday, 9am-5pm. Movement, Performance Technique, Acting, Voice and Speech, Script Analysis, Moment Lab, Viewpoints/Suzuki, Improv, plus guest speakers on Saturdays. I have studied with many amazing teachers in my time and I am a better man and actor for each and every one of them; I take a little bit of each one of my teachers with me wherever I go. But I will always be especially grateful for the summer I met and studied with Renee Redding-Jones, Naomi Livingstone, Francine Zerfas, Anya Saffir, Carl Howell, Scott Zigler, Kelly Maurer, Geargia Gabriele, Charley Layton and Kevin Laibson, and all of the excellent guest artists. Because I feel it was due to the backdrop of uncertainty and turmoil against which we came together that this Summer Intensive worked so incredibly well. It somehow made me more focused, more intent.
In spite of technical glitches, occasional illnesses, travel, lack of personal contact and proximity, and the daily reminders of a global pandemic, the teachers I was blessed with this summer, somehow and in some way made it all work; and work exceptionally well. I’ve heard stories of prestigious theater professors at some of the top Drama schools in our country stating that they cannot teach acting to their students virtually; basically throwing in the towel. I’m here to say they are unequivocally and foolishly wrong. If, for example, Kelly Maurer can teach me to appreciate and grow to love Viewpoints and Suzuki; if Charley Layton can successfully teach me a Cockney accent; or if Anya Saffir can teach me to love, appreciate and eventually revere Chekhov from a little box on my laptop screen, anything can be done. ANYTHING. I do not have the time or space to share how each of these different classes and teachers inspired me at length, so, I’ll give you the short versions:
Renee (Movement) instilled a sense of motherly peace and sisterly grace as she started our day by centering us through meditation and preparing for the day’s classes while leading joyfully through physical exercise and inspired spiritually-based movement.
Naomi’s (Performance Technique) sheer undeniable and infectious passion and joy for teaching and art, while taking the time to make sure each and every one of us was on the same page and encouraging group discussion, while introducing, then reinforcing, the basic 4 foundational questions of Practical Aesthetics, was and is still truly remarkable.
Francine’s (Voice and Speech) meticulous, studied and humble sharing of her expertise on the voice, the body and how and where sound is produced, and how to shape and utilize it, is very impressive and I incorporate her teachings on the daily.
Anya’s (Script Analysis) quiet, masterly, measured command of breaking down text, beats and moments, while also infusing her guidance with an overarching deep, knowledgeable and clear and abiding love and respect for the process of analysis through the implementation of Practical Aesthetics, I continue to find particularly inspiring.
Carl’s (Moment Lab) amazingly organized (!) yet open and free-flowing way of coaxing us to observe and respond to behavior, not words, and to engage our imagination while gently enforcing what I feel is one of the key foundational legs of Practical Aesthetics, moment to moment work, is still blowing my mind upon reflection and continues to reactivate that “high,” that well-focused repetition and “as if” work can achieve.
Scott’s (Acting) weekly deep-dive into his own innovative relationship with the origin of Practical Aesthetics, and the mechanics of how breath work is so integral in supporting your acting impulses, while also further instilling the necessity of “repetition” and “as if” to bring spontaneity and new life to texts that I previously knew backwards and forwards (creating new unforeseen moments and allowing me to get out of my own way and just simply be), makes me want to pursue more study with him!
Kelly (Viewpoints/Suzuki), the Spark Plug Field General, as I came to receive her, with able and enthusiastic assistance and support from Georgia, ran such a tight ship, navigating occasional Zoom gremlins with aplomb, humor and grace, while imparting her own remarkable experience and expertise in such a fundamentally and integrally important discipline (the awareness she awakened in me!). I will honestly never move and occupy space onstage or onscreen or in life in the same way, ever again. Ever. I long for more Viewpoints and Suzuki.
Charley (Voice and Speech), whose ability to extensively introduce us to phonetics, consonant and vowel placement and implementation, tongue twisters, accent work, regional dialect awareness and application while further building on Francine’s warm up routines and also making it fun (!), all within a relatively short time span, clearly shows his impressive knowledge and passion for what he teaches.
And Kevin (Improvisation), who somehow, some way, always kept me off balance with his own unique and irreverent style of teaching, while always sharing his love for and deep appreciation for the art of improvisation and actually demonstrating how it can be incorporated into established text to keep dialogue fresh, in the moment and maintaining that “this is the first time I’ve ever uttered these words” quality that I’ve always yearned to possess. Well done.
Well, it should be abundantly clear, by now, I’m very happy and beyond satisfied with my experience at Atlantic this summer. I’m more than glad I did it and I’m a better human for it. So much so, I want to continue my study with them moving forward.
As I close, let me say this: there is one element without which none of this would have been even remotely possible: the presence of my fellow ensemble members. We came together under adverse circumstances, complete strangers to each other, from all over the globe, from disparate backgrounds, ethnicities, preferences and generations. But with one common, unifying goal: the desire to learn. We laughed together, cried together, challenged each other, supported each other, learned, grew and genuinely cared for each other, together. So much so, in such an indelible way, that a small group of us have decided to continue to meet, to keep the energy of exploration and mutual growth and support going.
What better time than this? When our nation and our world is facing unprecedented change and shifts in perception and in the balance of power. When we need to show the world that people from such vastly different backgrounds can come together without derision, prejudice, agenda or indifference. I can’t think of a more noble way to spend my pandemic than by allowing myself the permission and freedom to grow as an actor. And to deepen my relationship to my own personal creativity in the company of like-minded individuals who view me as a peer and prayerfully as a friend. I can honestly say with supreme and unassuming confidence, truly for the first time in my life, I am an artist. Thank you, Atlantic.
JEORGE BENNETT WATSON (Atlantic alum)
Most recently, Point and Shoot. Earlier in 2020, Jeorge was featured in The Delaware Rep’s production of The Crucible, as ‘Judge Hathorne’, directed by Ben Barnes. He has also taken part in several Zoom series, play readings and online monologue events. In 2019, Mr. Watson appeared as ‘Hilary’ in Amina Henry’s The Johnsons, at JackArtsBK, and ‘Mr. Bugz,’ in Dan McCabe’s award winning The Purists, at The Huntington Theatre, directed by Billy Porter. Earlier that summer he made his Williamstown Theater Festival debut as ‘Reverend Gordon’ in Jonathan Payne’s A Human Being of a Sort, directed by Whitney White. Earlier that year, he was ‘Bono’ in another Resident Ensemble Player’s production of Fences, directed by Cameron E. Knight. Other notable theatre credits include: ‘Gen. Löwenhielm,’ Babette’s Feast, Theater of St. Clements (Off-Broadway); ‘Wynton,’ Capitol Repertory Theater’s The Royale; ‘Enobarbus’ Orlando Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra; ‘Troy Maxson,’ Triad Stage’s Fences; ‘Youngblood,’ Studio Theatre’s Jitney; ‘Boy Willie,’ Arena Stage’s The Piano Lesson; ‘Lyons,’ Roundhouse Theater’s Fences; ‘Lincoln,’ TopDog/Underdog, Studio Theatre; and ‘Cholly,’ The Bluest Eye, Theater Alliance. TV/film credits include ‘Marvin Browning,’ HBO’s “The Wire,” ’Mark Higgins,’ Netflix’s “Luke Cage,” ‘Hassan,’ in the Emmy award-winning web series, “KingEster,” (IssaRae Productions), and most recently, ‘Pete’ in Hallmark Channel’s Holiday For Heroes, among many other appearances. Jeorge is an alumnus of Maryland Institute, College of Art (Baltimore) and Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory (DC), and has studied with Ivana Chubbuck in LA, Terry Knickerbocker, and most recently, Atlantic Acting School in New York. He is represented by Avalon Artists Group (LA/NYC) and RedLetter Entertainment (LA/NYC).
Rehearsal photo from ‘The Royale,’ Merrimack Repertory Theater, 2017. Pictured L to R: Toran White, Jeorge Bennett Watson & Thomas Silcott.