Learning How to Act All Over Again

Student teacher Mr. Wagner takes part in the FSSA senior acting seminar.

He resembled a lumberjack in a brown plaid shirt, complementing his brown leather shoes that were extremely worn out. His leather shoes were shaped to his feet, each wrinkle smiling as he creased them. His structured brown messenger bag was strung over his shoulder as he walked into the cold black box theatre behind his advisor, FSSA drama and musical theatre teacher, Mr. Cacciola-Price.

Although he looks like a typical college student behind the black rimmed glasses, he is a young man who has learned the art of acting from the coast of Los Angeles to the eyes of Yale and now the busy streets one of many homes to stage acting, New York City.

The first day of school can be exceptionally terrifying for any student, but for NYU student teacher, Andrew Wagner, his first day at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts marked his personal history as the start of his teaching career.

The theater world is very diverse, with many different ways to perform and produce drama. Like most actors Wagner started acting at a young age.  

“When I was a little kid, I would memorize film scenes and perform them by myself in my backyard,” he says. “Film acting interested me after I graduated college because I became really interested in how the little eccentricities of a person could be picked up by the camera, unlike a stage performance.”

Teaching acting, however wasn’t the first aspect of theater that caught Mr. Wagner’s eye. His views on what type of acting he would perform shifted throughout his teen years into and even after college.

“I always thought I’d be performing in regional theatre and on stage, but when I graduated and moved into the professional world, I realized that I needed to make money and so I started to learn how to audition for film and television. Then I realized how much fun I had on film and started to pursue that technique more,” he said.

With going into the theater business comes a lot of hardships that Mr. Wagner experienced during his film career. 

“I produced a movie that never went anywhere and ultimately bankrupted me,” he added. Mr. Wagner used this experience as a learning lesson for not only aspects of film, but what being behind the scenes was like.

He says that through his time in the film industry he participated in positions from producer, cameraman, production manager, and lighting designer to acting in front of the camera. His reason for shifting to teaching he says is because he wanted to work with young people.

“There’s a love of the craft in young people that is sometimes lost working with older adults and I really enjoy it,” Mr. Wagner said.

Deciding to teach acting has forced Mr. Wagner into some struggles that he did not face as an acting student.  

“When I was teaching acting in Los Angeles, I never had to worry about tests or assessments, but working within the education system is an entirely different world,”  he said. “Grading a performance still seems odd to me. I think you can grade technical elements of a performance, but analyzing the truthfulness of a performance, is such a subjective idea, it’s hard to do. I struggle with it every day.”

In the next five years Mr. Wagner will be long done with school and hopes to be teaching in an actual school to young drama students.

“I hope to help introduce young people to more material that speaks to them from a personal and culturally relevant place,” he said. “I would also like to help devise new theatre with young performers based on their own personal narratives and themes that they want to address in their early lives.”

– by Giselle Ramos ’18