Richard Soto and the Art of Teaching

Madeline Porter
 | Sep 02, 2016
Richard Soto with Students

Teacher Richard Soto speaks with students.

There are two definitions of the verb teach that apply perfectly to SCR Adult Acting Instructor Richard Soto: “impart knowledge or skill to” and “cause to learn by example or experience.”

The skill that Soto imparts is multifaceted. It begins with his innate talent and the training that honed it, and it’s polished by his love of people and natural ability to connect with them.

As for being an example to his students through his own experiences, just look at Soto’s bio, which includes a degree in acting and directing for the University of Arizona, training at The Old Globe in San Diego, resident artist at A Noise Within for 16 years and performances at theatres throughout the Southland (he’s currently in rehearsal for Our Town at Actor’s Co-op), including a 22-year relationship here at SCR as an actor, stage manager and—now—teacher.

And what a teacher. For Soto, acting is good for adults because it's fun! “In a friendly, supported environment, it gets them to play, literally,” he says. “They use their imaginations in ‘what if’ situations that create relationships with other people and take them to other places where they’re encouraged to think outside of themselves. This keeps them young, active, alive!”

When his students tell ​Soto he’s a great teacher, he “blames” it on them. “As far as I’m concerned, my students can do no wrong.; I’m here to give them the confidence to find their voices and be themselves—without judgment. In short, to have fun!”

The Adult Acting Program encourages students of every age and ability to come and have fun. According to Soto, “I’ve been blessed to have met a variety of wonderful students. My classes have included doctors, professional artists, physicists and lawyers. There have been college students majoring in science, math, and accounting, as well as drama students.”

Most importantly, Soto says, “They bring themselves—their maturity, life experience (good and bad), training, personalities (extroverted and introverted) and the curiosity to search for something new, whether that is a perspective on their life, a new career or simply a human connection.”

Adult Acting Students Come from Every Walk of Life

Adult Acting Students

Acting students work on movement in a recent class.

Among the students who have fun in the Theatre Conservatory’s adult acting classes are those who come in pairs. According to Soto, “They bring life, a sweetness, a warmth and an energy to the class.” Recently, we asked Vijay Gurbaxani and Penny Randall about their acting experience, which includes Act I Basic Skills with Soto and Act II Scene Study with Emily Heebner.

What appeals to you about acting classes?

Penny Randall: I always have loved theat​re and wanted to take acting classes. The idea of stepping into another person's shoes is intellectually and emotionally stimulating. My professional life is more "left brain" work, so acting classes allow me to be creative.

Vijay Gurbaxani: I grew up in India and was educated in a British-influenced school system. From seventh grade on, we studied a different Shakespeare play each year. But the class was Penny’s idea. I went along for the ride and had a great time. It’s about discovering a side of yourself that you didn’t know you had.

What drew you to SCR in particular?

​PR: I just happened upon the information about acting classes and was interested in taking the plunge, given SCR's great reputation.

Why take classes together?

PR: We both love theater and have jobs that require public speaking. We thought that it would be a fun activity for us as a couple and a good way to meet others with similar interests.

VG: It was fun to do something new together. Then we discovered it allowed us to better appreciate activities we already enjoy, like going to the theater or watching movies and television. It gives us a better understanding of the choices that directors and actors make.

What did you find the most challenging? The most fun?

PR: In scene three of the Pinter play, Betrayal, a couple breaks off their relationship after seven years. I found playing the role with my husband challenging. It's an emotionally charged scene, and it might have been easier with a different scene partner. Regardless, it was a useful experience from which to grow. The most fun for me has been learning from our instructors, who are so skilled, and receiving feedback after a performance.

VG: One of my assignments was to deliver a monologue by the ghost of a tiger in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, reflecting on how he ended up dead after spending years in captivity in a zoo because he killed two children in India. The essence of the monologue is that a tiger is “punished” for doing something that is part of his nature. Plays like this one make you confront human nature with all its good and bad and somehow express all of that in a monologue.

What have you gotten out of your acting classes?

PR: Vijay and I have developed our acting skills. Certainly, we have a long way to go, but it is really interesting to see how, with expert instruction and practice, it’s possible to advance.

VG: I didn’t act in plays in high school or college. So it’s been fun to develop a brand new skill and get better at it. Then there was one more realization that I didn’t anticipate: acting is, at its essence, about understanding another. And that’s really valuable.

Learn more about SCR's adult acting classes.