A Guide to East End Acting Classes & Performance Workshops

One session of the inaugural Adult Acting Class at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, New York on March 11th, 2019
A 2019 session of the adult acting class at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor
Courtesy Bay Street Theater

With New Year’s resolutions still fresh in people’s minds, we need to discuss a genre of resolution that’s too often given up on because it seems too far-fetched or difficult to accomplish: getting into the performance arts. For adults deciding they want to begin their journey toward the stage or screen, actually taking that first step can be immensely daunting without a roadmap.

Thankfully for those living on the East End, opportunities to develop the necessary skills needed to act, sing, dance and write are readily available if you know where to look.

When it comes to adult theater workshops and classes, it’s hard to beat Bay Street Theater. Offered during the annual off-season, the Sag Harbor arts center’s programming lineup varies from year to year, offering a diverse range of skills to learn from a growing roster of professional instructors.

This winter and spring, Bay Street is offering weekly classes on voice-over acting (Mondays, January 30–March 6), salsa dancing (Tuesdays, January 31–March 21), scene study (Wednesdays, February 1–March 8), on-camera acting (Saturdays, March 4–April 8) and improv (Mondays, March 6–April 24). These classes are complemented by one-day workshops on booking co-star roles (Saturday, January 28), stage combat (Saturday, February 25) and playwriting (Sunday, April 23).

Some of the talented teachers this season include casting director SJ Allocco-St. Germain, actor and casting director Meghan Rafferty, fight director Rick Sordelet and actor and Bay Street Director of Education & Community Outreach Allen O’Reilly.

“No matter what you’re doing — camera, stage or what have you — the best foundation is theater and theater training,” O’Reilly says, adding that the best introductory class would be scene study with actress Noëlle Parker with on-screen comic scenes or improv serving as excellent follow-ups.

However, all of Bay Street’s classes are accessible to beginners ages 18 (some classes 16) and up, with many new and returning students well into their 50s and 60s, and need-based scholarships are available for those who ask.

“Even though you may have had a career or may be retired, you can still learn. … That’s why the wide variety of offerings is laid out this way: to give people, adults of a certain age mostly, access to the type of training a young person would get in a conservatory experience,” O’Reilly says, noting his own conservatory background in theater. “I take someone (with a lot of life experience), give them some technique through myself or any of our wonderful instructors, and give them a go onstage or on camera.”

Anita Boyer instructing students in the new Our Fabulous Variety Show Bridgehampton studio - family fun
Anita Boyer instructing young students in Our Fabulous Variety Show’s Bridgehampton studio

Elsewhere on the East End, Our Fabulous Variety Show (OFVS) is offering open-level tap dancing lessons taught by co-founder Anita Boyer in East Hampton every Wednesday (except February 22) through April 5. Students ages 10–100 can drop in, learn some new steps and hone their techniques in a fun upbeat environment.

On January 28 at LTV Studios, OFVS will present their second staged reading of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias as part of the new Staged Series. Co-founder Kasia Klimiuk explains that the vision for this series is to have local adult actors pitch plays they’d like to star in, which OFVS would then produce as staged readings.

This accessible series will produce three more staged readings this season, one a month through April.

Visit ourfabulousvarietyshow.org to learn more.

Boyer is also part of the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center’s (WHBPAC) private lessons lineup, offering one-on-one dance instruction opportunities. WHBPAC also offers private acting lessons and voice coaching.

A trio of adult classes will be offered this spring: a ballet barre dance (Thursdays, March 2–30), tap dance (Tuesdays, March 7–April 18) leading up to a performance in the Spring Music Festival on April 22, and songwriting class for prospective singer-songwriters who will get to perform their songs in the Westhampton Beach stage.

Visit whbpac.org for more info.

A wide variety of private music lessons are available at East End Arts in Riverhead for the spring semester. Students of all ages and skill levels can arrange a weekly session with a professional instructor in instruments including piano, drums, African drums, guitar, bass, violin, woodwinds and voice.

Skills such as piano composition, songwriting and recording are available too, and when a student is ready to record their debut song, they can book a session in the state-of-the-art East End Arts Jesse F. Sherman Recording Studio.

Visit eastendarts.org for details.

Once a student is ready for their first audition, community theater is the way to go, and the East End has a few solid options. The North Fork Community Theatre finished their open auditions for Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui this month, but there will always be another play. Those who can’t wait to get involved may want to consider becoming a member and getting a taste of backstage work, costuming, makeup, set building and decoration, lighting, sound or even selling tickets.

Head to nfct.com for more info.

Southampton Cultural Center (SCC) offers plenty of community theater audition opportunities through its partnership with Boots on the Ground Theater, as well as via its Local Talent @ SCC program.

This exciting program allows East End actors, dancers, musicians and playwrights a platform to get their work in front of an audience at no initial charge. There are piano tuning fees and a fraction of ticket sales withheld, but it’s hard to match such an accessible opportunity for up-and-comers. SCC also hosts a number of acting, dance and music classes.

For more info, visit scc-arts.org.

One of Allen O’Reilly’s Everybody Can Act former students, Sandra K., made her one-woman-show debut at SCC and has gone on to host a show on LTV. And she’s not the only Bay Street student to find success on the East End stage and beyond.

Anyone craving additional learning opportunities beyond what the East End is offering can obviously look into online classes. O’Reilly recommends acting coach Joseph Pearlman, audition/acting coach Tim Phillips and Scott Powers Studios.

One final piece of advice from O’Reilly:

“You’re going go a lot farther sooner with on-camera pursuits, even though you may not have a lot of credits on your resume. So much of it is based on how you look and what special skills you have,” he says, naming such skills as driving stick shift, horseback riding and speaking in convincing accents (which will be taught in his Everything Voice-over class). “I also get calls from casting directors looking for extras, and I’ll give them a list of people I think would work for that.”

Visit baystreet.org for more information about their winter and spring adult education lineup.

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