What I Learned from Heads Up Productions

I’ve been performing for quite a few years and have always thought of myself as a pretty good actor.  Working with Heads Up, my eyes have been opened.  I’ve discovered more in these last few months than in all my years of acting– both as an actor and as a person.

I usually tend to express myself through facial expressions and words.  However, throughout The Pillowman, I wore a mask.  I had to learn to be constantly aware and in control of my body.  Every detail was important. If I was supposed to be still, I had to make sure I was completely still.  It required a lot of focus.

There was one rehearsal in which we were working on a story and created it only by making shapes.  We did one shape at a time and would have to freeze for anywhere between ten seconds to two minutes. During this rehearsal, Benjamin watched us very closely and would have us work certain shapes over and over until we had every detail down to a tee. He made sure we knew precisely where are hands were, where are feet were, where are eyes were looking, etc. If it wasn’t exact enough, we would go back and run it again.

I began to feel frustrated.  Why did it matter?  Why was it important?

I discovered it’s important because if we don’t know these details, it will look like we’re not giving the work our complete attention and consequently we appear unsure and the audience can tell.

I also learned a lot during our Summer Series. I acted in both the July and the August performances; they were completely different experiences.

I was approached to organize the July event.  This TERRIFIED me.  But of course my response was, “Oh sure.  No problem!”  I’ve always considered myself to be a follower and have been perfectly content with it.   The theme was “Imaginarium.”  I had a few interesting ideas, but didn’t know exactly what to do.

The first meeting proved to be a team collaboration where everyone shared ideas.  After we started rehearsing, I unintentionally fell right back into my “follower” position.  I still wasn’t willing to push myself to become uncomfortable.  Although I didn’t lead the ensemble, I did end up leading the Heads Up Freak Show as the Ring Master and got the opportunity to show what I have to offer.

The August Summer Series felt strong from the start. We had a fantastic ensemble and Benjamin was directing.  It took us back to composition, a “Heads Up style” of creating work, which is something I’ve enjoyed since joining the company. It had been a while since we had done composition work and I could tell that I had grown.  I used to have a hard time giving input into the compositions, but when we worked on the Summer Series, I found myself throwing out ideas and getting images of all of the possibilities.

As an actor, we need to know how to get up and play. If we can’t play, we can’t have fun, if we can’t have fun why do theatre? Playing is also a key part of being in the moment. It helps us allow things to just happen and helps us not think ahead.

At the end of our performance, we had a lot of time and decided to have the audience participate in an encore piece.  We asked audience members to describe what home meant to them while we acted it out.  No one said anything at first.  Then, all of a sudden, two women came around the corner and started playing with us.  Soon afterwards a good amount of the audience joined in! It was a moment I will never forget.  It reminded me how important it is to play.

It has been incredible journey working with Heads Up.  I love that I learn something new about myself almost every day. This is a journey that I plan on seeing through for a while.  It might take me to New York or Chicago or it might keep me here in Akron.

After all, New York and Chicago had to start somewhere.

-Brian Jackson
Company Member


  1. Amy Spencer says:

    I felt really connected throughout your post. You said a lot of things I’ve thought. Thank you so much for sharing your process. Love working with you. Let’s do more of that.

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