In 2010, father/daughter playwrights Beau Bridges and Emily Bridges debuted Acting: The First Six Lessons at Theatre West in Los Angeles, CA. The stage version is an adaptation of Polish theatre and film artist Richard Boleslavsky’s 1933 narrative about a dedicated acting teacher who, while instructing a young actress in her craft, gives her valuable life lessons as well.
Against the backdrop of their collaborative work, Beau and Emily present their musings on the joys of family, tradition, parenthood, theatre and more.
On the source material and how it’s been a Bridges Family tradition:
Beau: My dad first gave me Boleslavsky’s book when I was about 16 years old. I’ve always loved it and passed it on to all my children. The book is about the craft of acting; but because acting is about human behavior, the lessons here are also life lessons.
I also enjoyed so much the relationship between The Teacher and the student, The Creature. The teacher-student relationship is so important in the lives of so many of us.
Emily: At the beginning of the play, we enter as ourselves and address the audience to talk about how Boleslavsky’s book became so important to our family, and the way it has informed our approaches to acting and life. Likewise, other actors who perform our play are encouraged to write their own introductions. One of the things both my grandfather and dad have both talked a lot about is belonging to the “Family of Actors.” This is one way we connect to that greater acting family, by sharing our stories and encouraging them to do the same.
On the ideas and process of adapting the narrative for the stage:
Beau: My daughter Emily typed up Boleslavsky’s book and brought it to me when she was a freshman in college and expressed an interest in creating a play out of it. We worked on it together for a long time, honing it down. We performed it in all sorts of venues. Then finally, we did a two-month run at Theatre West in Studio City. After that, Samuel French published the play.
Emily: My dad had given me Acting: The First Six Lessons when I was in middle school, and we always talked about how fun it would be to see it staged as a play. My senior year at Fordham, the book resurfaced as an assignment in one of my classes. I couldn’t stop thinking about it — so when I returned home to California that summer, we began adapting it. We started with the text, then paired back for clarity, and wrote new scenes where there was a need to flesh out the relationship between The Teacher and The Creature. I’ve always liked my dad’s description of the process: it’s a lot like whittling a stick.
On thoughts of The Teacher as a parental figure and The Creature as an offspring:
Beau: What I discovered in the character of The Teacher is that in life, the lessons learned go back and forth between teacher and student. They learn about life from each other.
Emily: There is definitely something to that classic dynamic in storytelling where the student learns from the teacher, and then vice versa. It comes up time and time again, because that’s how life is. I wasn’t yet a mother when we first published the play, and now I have a much better perspective on what’s it like to feel such responsibility for stewarding someone’s way safely through the world, only to realize that ultimately he teaches me way more than I could ever teach him.
On family and parenthood lessons from Acting: The First Six Lessons:
Beau: It is a play about human behavior, so everybody will relate to it in a different way, all dependent on their own personal life experience.
Emily: One of the best things about Boleslavsky’s book is that it is as much about how to be a thoughtful and engaged person in the world as it is about being a present and prepared actor. It distills really beautifully all the lessons my grandfather wanted to pass along through the generations in our family. Adapting the book into a play made me feel really connected to him.
On relationships and how that influenced what’s next for Acting: The First Six Lessons:
Beau: Emily and I have been creating and performing a play, with Boleslavsky’s book at the heart of it, for a number of years. Now, we are so excited to see our years of nurturing come to fruition.
In 2019, David Shapiro (Semkhor Productions) partnered with us to turn Acting: The First Six Lessons into a film. It was David’s idea to bring in some of our family to talk about how the book has influenced us all. We filmed the play at Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, FL and used mostly students in our crew. My son, Casey Bridges, filmed and produced all the interview segments with various family members through his company, Bridges Media Arts.
Emily: I feel so lucky to have been able to go through this creative process with my dad. I love collaborating with family and feel grateful for every opportunity I have to do it. Our relationship has certainly grown. I was fresh out of college when we first started working on it together. Back then, I felt a strong need to prove myself, and I feel like I’ve gained more confidence in the years since. As we have performed our play over the last decade – and most recently, adapted our play into a film – our working relationship has become a lot more relaxed and intuitive. My dad has really good creative instincts, and is a generous collaborator. We have so much fun with this story, we keep returning to it one way or another.
So turning Acting: The First Six Lessons into a film was a dream! Working with the students at Ringling was really a life-imitating-art-imita
ting-life kind of experience. The students were so talented and really brought their all. It was so much fun to direct my dad this go around.
The film combines vignettes of each of the six lessons with documentary-style interviews with our family members. I’m hoping to communicate the feeling of our big, loud, creative family sitting around the dinner table. The story of The Teacher and The Creature carries us through the conversation as we discuss what we’ve learned from the lessons my grandfather passed on to us through Boleslavsky’s book.
On family being constant most valuable support:
Beau: I feel blessed to have a roof over my head and my health during this troubling time. I have been mostly quarantined in my house since COVID-19 hit. I go out only when essential and always wear a mask and gloves when I do. I have four grandchildren. Two of them are in New York and I miss them so much. My two younger grandkids live nearby and come over and observe social distancing. That means I can’t touch them or get near them – that’s tough. I am learning to appreciate what I do have and all the things that I can do during this weird time in our lives. I appreciate so much my soulmate, my sweet wife, for her love, patience and understanding as we negotiate together through this uncertain path. My dear family and my dear friends are more important to me now than ever before.
Emily: I feel so grateful to my family right now: my husband and son who are the best “quaranteam” I could hope for, my in-laws and other family who we talk to frequently on video chat, and my parents who we see often, even though I find myself sounding like a broken record instructing my toddler, “Clark, you’re getting too close to Packa and Mimi!” The times are tough, but family definitely makes it better.
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Photo: Emily Bridges and Beau Bridges