How an "Accidental" Enrollment Led to a Changed Life

Tania Thompson
 | Sep 11, 2017
John Turmes letter to SCR

Matthew Arkin, right, works with John Turmes, center, and ​Nathan Mizzi in the Acting Intensive Program.

Acting Classes Are Laugh-filled, Enlivening and Ultimately Transformative
John Turmes, a South Coast Repertory audience member, donor and alumnus of the Theatre Conservatory’s Acting Intensive Program, shares the impact that acting classes at SCR have had on his life. He shared this note with SCR a few weeks after the conclusion of the intensive program. It is lightly edited for the web.

My Current Chapter
On July 12, 2017, the 27 actors in the summer Acting Intensive Program were gathered in the Colab with Matthew Arkin. I was, happily, one of the 27. We were in the middle of our program’s sixth week and looking forward to beginning rehearsals that afternoon in preparation for our upcoming final Showcase scenes. Matthew was describing how much he loved the intimate design of the Julianne Argyros Stage, how it embraces the actor and makes them feel like all will be well in the world they are creating. Of course, he was right. The Argyros was our sweet home for the next week-and a half. And, of course, on Showcase Saturday, we all killed it!

Where It Began
I’ve been a faithful SCR audience member for quite a few years and a donor for the last couple. But when I got a little too involved in the drop-down menus on SCR’s homepage and found myself signed up for Act I: Basic Skills, with Diana Burbano in January 2016, my connection to SCR was forever changed. From the first day in her class, I knew that I was in a very safe place where I could explore whatever creativity I might have and, with her help, let some of it out.

Diana encouraged me to take Emily Heebner’s class, Act I: Scene Study; they both later agreed that I “needed to work with Matthew.” I enrolled in​—and survived!​—Matthew’s class, Act II: Scene Study, the following fall and winter.

Like Diana and Emily before him, Matthew explained the tools that an actor needs to tell a story, helped me sharpen my use of them, encouraged me and enabled me as an actor. Finally, he suggested that I sign up for the summer Acting Intensive Program, which turned out to be an amazing and affirming gift. As a 65-year-old man who had the opportunity to work for seven weeks with amazingly brave and accomplished actors who, with two exceptions, were in their 20s, nothing could have pushed me more or deepened me more, as a person and an actor, than the AIP. It was as hard as Matthew said it would be. But it was also laugh-filled, enlivening and, ultimately, transformative. As I listened to Matthew that Wednesday in July 2017, the image of the Argyros Stage embracing us took on a larger and much deeper meaning for me. It really was the perfect image to describe my connection to South Coast Repertory over the last 20 months. It’s that connection that prompts me to write this note.

Why I Write This
It’s the larger embrace of the entire SCR community that I want to recognize and sincerely thank. Of course, the best thing about theatre is the people you get to work with in service to a story that wants to be told. The people on the stage, as well as the people behind, around, in front of and sometimes above the stage. I am immensely grateful to all of the members of the Acting Intensive Program’s teaching staff, and to SCR’s production staff and administrative staff.

Yes, it is work. But it was so clear this summer that you love the work you do and where you get to do it, and you really care about the people with whom you get to do it. I feel very lucky to have been given the special opportunity to watch you all serve your theatre and your community, day in and day out, with such a clear-eyed commitment to excellence.

Thank you.

Learn more about acting classes for adults.