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Buffalo Actors Learning Lab: A Creative Network for Local Actors

Two years ago, teacher, actor, and director Megan Callahan founded the Buffalo Actors Learning Lab (B.A.L.L.) with the hope of providing local actors with an opportunity to explore new techniques and make connections with others who share their passion. 
As a transplant to the Queen City, Callahan brought with her a desire to continue her exploration into the Michael Chekhov acting technique and to share this concept with fellow actors. According to Callahan, Chekhov’s approach is centered on the psychophysical connection, maintaining that the actor should work towards attaining complete harmony between the body and his psyche. “It privileges the imagination as the actor’s source of inspiration and favors an impersonal, objective approach to characterization,” Callahan said. “The work is intended to create a real and spontaneous connection between the actor’s physical body and psychology and prepare the actor for what Chekhov calls ‘inspired acting.’ For directors, it empowers them to use these tools with actors who haven’t trained in the method.”
Callahan chose to establish her group with the mission of further exploring the art of inspired acting and providing a nurturing environment for professional and aspiring actors in the city of Buffalo to cultivate their talent. “Buffalo is growing into one of the most burgeoning regional theater markets, especially for a mid-size city,” Callahan said. “But we need more continuing and professional education for artists, as well as laboratories to explore our craft.”
Currently, B.A.L.L. is a close-knit group that ranges from four to 12 people per session, but Callahan hopes that the group will continue to expand. “I am open to whoever feels connected to this work attending,” Callahan said. “This work is wonderful for not just actors, but teachers, directors, dancers and musicians as well. Among many things, we will explore the psycho-physical exercises which form the basis of Chekhov’s work and how to approach characterization using imagination, qualities and atmosphere.” 
The group welcomes individuals of all ages and backgrounds to join their sessions, which are held on the second Sunday and the fourth Monday of every month. Sunday sessions are held from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the New Alt Performance Group on the third floor of 225 Great Arrow Way. Monday sessions are held from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Buffalo Yoga, located in suite 418 at the Tri-Main Building. In order to keep the group accessible and affordable, a sliding scale donation of $5 to $15 per session is gratefully accepted. 
Callahan has recently brought others on board to help her orchestrate meetings, including recent theater program graduate Martha Sawicki and Megan McClain Kwacz, who is in charge of the “Shakespeare comes to 716” program at Peace of the City.  Kwacz has been able to bring students of her program, which works with Buffalo Public School students between the ages of 12 and 19, to B.A.L.L. meetings to expand their education. “Megan’s students have been able to come and for the first time play and explore in the same session as their beloved teacher and they have been such a gift,” Callahan said. 
Callahan hopes that B.A.L.L. will continue to grow and that she can welcome other professionals to lead group sessions and host specialty workshops. “So many of the artists in this city have rich backgrounds and educations, but do not often have the platform to share these gifts with one another within the confines of a typical rehearsal process,” she said. 
In the future, Callahan also hopes to bring more guest artists to Buffalo and to work collaboratively with professionals from Toronto, Stratford, Shaw and New York City to create a cross-cultural exchange. Last September, B.A.L.L. hosted a special performance of “The Miracle Tomato,” which was created and performed by Jessica Cerullo, managing director of MICHA (The Michael Chekhov Association) and critically acclaimed performer from New York City. As the group develops, Callahan would like to continue moving in this collaborative direction in the future.
“As one of my beloved teachers Lenard Petit always says, you can’t help but feel better and more energized after you use your innate creative gifts,” Callahan said. “No matter how long the day is, getting together with other artists and open-minded individuals and away from computer screens, TV’s and phones, is deeply renewing and extremely important. We are all each others teachers and I feel that theater and live process or performance are an essential component of the human experience.”
For more information on the Buffalo Actors Learning Lab, visit the Facebook page.
Photo: “The Furies of Mother Jones” (directed by Callahan in 2010 using the Michael Chekhov Technique)

Written by Sarah Maurer

Sarah Maurer

I moved to Buffalo to attend Canisius College in 2007 and began writing for Buffalo Rising as a journalism intern in 2010. Working with Newell and meeting numerous entrepreneurs, activists and everyday folks who were working to make their city better made a huge impact on my decision to stay here. After witnessing all the positive development and grassroots initiatives happening in neighborhoods throughout the city, I was inspired to pursue a term of service in AmeriCorps and a career in Buffalo's non-profit sector. I currently work in the housing department at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of WNY and am excited to be a part of their ongoing efforts to revitalize the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood. I also volunteer as the project coordinator for Artfarms Buffalo. I continue to write for Buffalo Rising because I love having the opportunity to stay connected to those working toward positive changes for the Queen City.

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