BMCC’s Class Act

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The Borough of Manhattan Community College’s Acting Classes Teach Students How to Express Themselves

Professor Diane Dowling's Acting class.

Over the course of the semester I get to watch students grow—both in relation to each other and in their understanding of themselves

Professor Diane Dowling of the Speech, Communications, & Theatre Arts Department at Borough of Manhattan Community College, says it is tremendously gratifying to see a shy student break out of her shell—to gain confidence by putting herself across and learning how to express herself as an actor—even if it’s behind the mask of a character. “Pretending to do it makes it easier to do it in real life," says Dowling.

It’s no surprise that Nursing major Quibilah Mui plans to attend nursing school after graduating from BMCC this spring. So what’s she doing in Prof. Diane Dowling’s Acting I course?

“It’s simple,” she explains. “In nursing, there’s absolutely no room for error—you need to be totally focused and serious 24/7. But acting frees me to be flexible and creative. What I love about it is that there is no structured set of rules.” But that’s not to overlook some essential similarities between acting and nursing. “To succeed in either field, you have to be open as well as willing to listen,” Mui says.
Becoming more comfortable with people

For Mui’s classmate Sarah Hall, acting is likewise a departure from the familiar. A second year Liberal Arts major, Hall studied to become a massage therapist before entering BMCC and plans to go on to graduate school in physical therapy. Acting would seem to have little to do with her career plans. “But I’ve always been interested in acting,” she says. “I’m finding that Prof. Dowling’s course is helping me become more comfortable with people and more open.”

While Acting I appeals to students across a wide range of academic disciplines and professional aspirations, the class also includes several bona fide Theater majors—like Sung Guk Bae, who acted out a scene with Quibilah Mui from The Wash, by American dramatist Philip Kan Gotanda.

“I’m from South Korea and never imagined I’d study acting until two years ago, when I was inspired by a musical I saw,” he recalls. Deciding to pursue his career in America, he wound up at BMCC. “I’m crazy about the theater,” he says, “although what I’m primarily interested in now is directing and stage management.”

“I’m tired of working”

In a scene from August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Theater major Darnale W.J. Gaines told his acting partner, Eva Charlery, that he was glad to have been fired from his last job. “I’m tired of working anyway,” he said. It was an ironic declaration from a student who has maintained a 3.89 GPA since arriving at BMCC last fall. “Growing up, I was always the class clown,” he says. “I guess I liked the attention, but I never really saw theater as my thing until I was cast in a high school play. When I got to BMCC, I decided I would study theater and try to sharpen my acting skills.”

In contrast, Charlery, who is majoring in writing and literature, has no plans to pursue an acting career. “I’m a shy person, and the class has pulled me out of myself,” she says. “Acting was scary at first, but I think I’m getting better at it. I love being in front of people and having them see the true me.”

However, “shy” is the last adjective Rashad Blake would ever apply to himself. “When I was little, I’d do mischievous things and then turn to my mother with an innocent face and say, ‘Mommy, it wasn’t me.’ My mother would always say, ‘Rashad, you should become an actor.’” And so he did—watching movies as an adolescent, studying the way actors moved and delivered their lines, and trying to mimic them. “When I saw that BMCC offered an acting class, I jumped at the opportunity,” he says.
Building confidence

Irvin Gil and Candice Tice selected a scene from August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson. “Except for a bit of acting in high school, this has been a new experience for me,” says Tice, a Human Services major. “I took a speech course last semester and my teacher suggested that studying acting would help me build my confidence and learn how to speak in front of people. It has definitely done that.”

Gil, who is majoring in writing and literature, says the course has given him a greater appreciation of the actor’s craft. “It’s not just about memorizing lines,” he says. “Now when I read anything, I try to listen for the beats and rhythm in the words.”

For Prof. Dowling, teaching Acting I has been personally and professionally rewarding. “Over the course of the semester I get to watch students grow—both in relation to each other and in their understanding of themselves,” she says. Many people erroneously assume that taking an acting class is just about fun, Dowling says. “It is immensely enjoyable,” she acknowledges. “But the confidence students gain here, and the techniques they learn—about using their voice and body to express themselves—is integral to their development as college students and to what college has to offer.”

Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) enrolls over 22,000 degree-seeking and 10,000 Continuing Education students a year. The largest community college in The City University of New York (CUNY) system, BMCC has students from more than 155 countries, and awards associates degrees in 27 fields.

Contact: Barry Rosen        
212-220-1238

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