Performing Arts Club: An Acting Workshop from Professional Actress Rachel McGuinness

This week, the Performing Arts Club welcomed a very special guest to give an acting workshop for Montrosians interested in learning more about acting techniques or about the show biz in general. Ms Smith invited Ms Rachel McGuinness, a professional actress who’s been in the business since the age of thirteen, to talk with the girls and introduce them to the professional world of film and theatre.

Ms McGuinness led her workshop from Zoom in Founders’ Hall! (Credit: Ms Smith)

Right off the bat, Ms McGuinness had us stand up and find partners for a warm up activity. The instructions were to tell your partner about what your bedroom looks like, a very simple task. Her point was that when the person was talking about their bedroom, they were sort of looking around as if they were there, trying to remember what it looked like, and also moving their arms to help their partner visualize it with them. She explained how this should also be the thought process when acting. An actor should be present and in the moment as if they were truly there, and Ms McGuinness connected it to being in a scene and reacting to your scene partner in the moment. In order to connect and interpret a piece of text or monologue in a personal way, an actor has to act as much in their thoughts as in their speech.

Ms McGuinness then spoke about the difficulties of stage fright and also anxiety in general. She touched on fears common to not only actors but also students in general, everything from forgetting your lines to giving an important presentation in class. She said: “I think the most important thing in a situation like that would be to laugh it off and turn it into a joke because what is the worst that can happen?” This is valuable advice to everyone who experiences stress or social anxieties.

The next activity was inspired by a Friends episode where Ross gets upset about his boss eating his lunch, exclaiming: “My sandwich!” As insignificant as a sandwich is to us, actors have to make it seem like it means the world to them. For the activity, some girls were chosen to stand up and exclaim Ross’ line in many different ways. For example, one prompt was that the sandwich was an important test that you are turning in. 

Ms McGuinness encouraged the girls to dig deeper and imagine even bigger stakes. She explained a technique that she uses when preparing for auditions happening the next day or week where she has just gotten the audition material and has only a short time to prepare. Saying a thought aloud with the line brings more emotion and personal connection to it as mentioned before. She prompted one girl to exclaim “Holy cow! My sandwich!” giving the simple line even more meaning.

The workshop ended with a Q and A, where most of the girls asked questions about how to find auditions and the whole process, also about her story and how she got into the business. She told us that at the age of thirteen she got a manager and began her career in Shakespearean theatre, but as she got older, she found a bigger passion for the film industry. She has landed roles in a few indie films, but hopes for a bigger break!

Everyone had an insight to take away. Whether it be a technique or a look into the workings of the industry, we all learned something valuable. Priscilla Wood ’24 and Maria Fasse ’23 both appreciated the opportunity to work with a professional. Priscilla said: “The workshop was very fascinating, and it was very interesting to meet someone who works in musical theatre and learn all about the steps she took to become an actor.” Lucy Stefani ’21, a senior who is preparing for her very own college theatre program auditions, said: “It was so valuable to learn from a professional about not only the technique but the technical/business side of acting. She really gave us a window into what a career in acting looks like.” Whether you were an aspiring actress or a regular middle schooler or high schooler with a passion for acting, this workshop was an unforgettable experience. A big thanks to Ms Smith for making it happen!

Elyza Tuan ’23, Clubs and Classes Editor