By Martin D’Souza | Opening Doorz Editorial | August 17, 2019

Acting is an art that goes deep beyond your skin and touches the soul. It has to be felt to be delivered. The role has to be lived to be brought alive on screen or on stage and the body has to move away from ‘your’ gait and match that of the character you are portraying.

There are many who pursue this art in its truest form, living the character and learning the rhythm of the craft. Knowing what is expected of you and learning to understand the Director’s point of view.

Soniya Peters from Mumbai is another such actor who has found her ‘home’ at the Stella Adler Acting Academy in Los Angeles. Soniya, who has been on a scholarship at this prestigious Institute, will be graduating this October after her two years of intense training, has already featured in classics like ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (Jane Austin), ‘August Osage County’ (Tracy Letts) and Anton Chekov’s ‘Three Sisters’.

Stellar Adler Acting Academy (an Institute that has an alumni that answers to the names of Robert De Niro, Melanie Griffith, Anthony Quinn and James Coburn to name just a few), has shaped this shy, lanky girl into a confident performer on stage. Soniya not only acts but has also found her feet in direction and lights and sound.

Opening Doorz to Soniya Peters…

How long have you been at the Stella Adler Acting Academy?
I have been in this Academy for almost two years and I’ll be graduating in October. In the two-year intensive acting program here, each year we have six terms (each term consists of two months). A student can only be considered for Scholarship after the first two terms after being evaluated by the school on different criteria. We are evaluated by our teacher on the following in the first four months:

  • Our performance in class
  • Our growth as an actor
  • Our attentiveness
  • Our Willingness to learn
  • Our behaviour and attendance

All these aspects are taken into consideration during this process.

So you got your scholarship after the first four months. Is it fully funded?
Yes, it was the same. I got my scholarship after the first two terms were done. All my teachers were asked to give a written report of my progress in class, my participation in the assignments given and my completion of those assignments. Other than this I also made it a point to help in other forms. I learned how to operate the sound and light booths for play productions and have helped the school with professional plays, running the lights and sounds. This was to gain extra circular credits. I have 75% scholarship on all the classes that I take here.

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Soniya Peters is blossoming as a performer at the Stellar Adler Acting Academy

How does it work at the Academy?
Stella Adler Acting Academy uses the Stella Adler technique for acting which is our imagination. At the Academy, you start from Level 0—understanding how this technique works for ‘me’. For the first few terms, you are given different tools to apply to understand the plot, conflict in the plot; theme and circumstances the characters are in. It intensely deals with plays by famous playwrights like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Anton Chekhov, Ibsen and many more.

From day one we are encouraged to get into the habit of reading as much plays we can, educate ourselves with these writers and their style. We are always taught that the actor and writers share a very intimate relationship when it comes to plays and scripts. There is always a theme to a play and every character’s perspective towards the theme. Other than the technique, we have other classes that also help us with our physical life, vocal energy and speech and articulation classes.

Basically, you are stripped from who or what you are, your perception of acting and made to look at the craft anew…
Absolutely, and it’s amazing at what one can learn when one gets into an acting class. We have a class called “Moment” which gets in to the physical life of the character. In a larger perspective, how does this character walk? What are his/her habits? We get into an intensive work of chakras, lucid body and the Skinner Release Method to get our character’s body.

We also have voice classes and are taught the proper way to use our voice to our advantage without causing harm to our voice-box. To ensure proper use of our vocal chords, we have vocal warm-ups and breathing exercises for our diaphragm.

Another very important class that we take is our speech class. Here, we learn the IDA which is the International Dialect Archive. This follows the General American Accent and gets us familiar with transcribing the script into a General American Accent. As we go further in the class, we are taught other dialects such as the Southern American, New York Dialect, Cockney and RP (Received Pronunciation). We are also are given regular assignments for articulations and pronunciations on a daily basis.

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What are the plays you have acted in so far?
I have done a few good plays here, some of them being Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin and August Osage County by Tracy Letts. Being a part of a play production is a different experience every time because of the people you work with. I am grateful that I got to work with some really good directors and had a great cast and crew.

What have you learnt so far as far as acting/directing (mainly) is concerned? Can you give us a bird’s eye view of what it entails to put up a good play, production together?
Someone who plays a very crucial part in how the play will be approached and its outlook is the director. First, we need to go through the audition process and then streamline the cast. This doesn’t take long for plays cause we are on a timeline of two months to present the play. After casting, we have a meeting with our director and he tells us how he wants us to approach a play. Some directors like do their own take on a play. For instance, if it’s a period play, they would like a modern take on it. My current director Tim McNeil did a Modern version of Hamlet which was something very new and refreshing to watch. This is just one aspect of it; some directors like to do abstract plays, some realistic plays. But something I have learned as an actor is that it is a team work. The director gives you his ideas and his perspective towards where he sees the play go but as an actor, it’s really important to have an open-minded view towards the director’s ideas. Once the Idea of the play is down, we go through a table read of the play where everyone reads for their characters along with the director. The AD and then it gets into the rehearsal process, Act by Act. This is basically pretty much the drill, the way I see it.

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Soniya Peters (left) in a performance

What are you interested in: acting or directing?
I’m interested in both acting and directing. In this Academy, I am training to be an Actor but eventually with experience and the proper knowledge I will explore my way towards directing as well.

Is this your first stint to study abroad?
This is the first time I have been to an Academy for Acting and studying abroad. It all started with my research and then I had interview with Alex Aves the director of International Student Affairs and a few months later I was flying off to Los Angeles.

Considering India has no space for talent (only connections) how do you plan to pursue your art in India?
I am open to opportunities. I do understand that in India this craft works differently and I have yet to figure out an approach towards that industry but before that I would love to explore my options here and put whatever I have learned to work here in the US. I feel if I have enough credibility and achievements here, my way towards the industry in India would be better.

Also Read: Turning her scars into stars!

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