I learned to act in a barn in France, and it changed my life.
Updated: Oct 3
Berridge alum Ian Soares (Class of 2015) writes about his experience on our Summer Acting Program at Chateau le Mont Epinguet in Normandy, France. This story was originally published May 21, 2020 on Medium where you can follow Ian and read more of his writing.
My high school theatre teacher called me into her office in the early spring of my junior year. She said it was decision time. Will I decide to pursue acting as a career, or will it continue to be just an after-school fling. She knew I didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted at that moment so she handed me a flier for a summer acting intensive. I winced at the thought of staying in a hot cinder-block dorm at some pre-college program, fighting for a chance to get “noticed” by the faculty at one of the big acting colleges. And then I saw the words, Normandy, France. Hell. Yes.
Berridge Programs offers an experience like no other pre-college summer acting or film, or program. What largely sets them apart is their ability to bring together a group of professional instructors from all over the world and offer you four weeks of dedicated, intense, conservatory-style training. A unique perk of this experience is that it all takes place at a beautiful chateau & barn in the French countryside. You live in the Chateau. You act in the barn. It’s pretty wild. By the end of my time there, I knew without a doubt that acting was going to be my life from then on.
Living in Normandy
Stepping into the Arrivals Hall at Charles De Gaulle Airport, I was warmly greeted by Kristy, one of the amazing instructors with Berridge. She ushered me towards a group of waiting students which I quickly got to know as we headed for a group of vans that would take us from Paris to the sprawling countryside of France where we’d be staying. As we blasted through France, music playing and the wind filling the van we all knew we were in for an adventure. Arriving at the Chateau, we were introduced to the rest of the faculty and our lovely Chef, James, and shown around the Estate. I shared a room with two other high school juniors and we were equally amazed at how this was all panning out so far. While most of my time was spent at the Chateau in class, or working on lines and assignments, weekends were generally free and that meant we had some time to explore. Berridge had scheduled a few excursions for all of us during some of these weekends, the best being a trip to Omaha Beach and the nearby town of Bayeux. It was a perfect opportunity to practice the French I learned in high school, and to try some actual, non-touristic French food. We also made several trips to the local market near the Chateau to pick up any snacks or essentials we might need for during the week. By the end of the four weeks, my roommates and I had developed an evening routine using the extra baguettes and Nutella James had kindly left for us! And if you’re more athletically inclined that I was, feel free to go for a morning run around the estate’s wide open fields where you can be free from any distractions.
Besides my high school acting classes, which largely had to bridge the gap between those with little interest to the hardcore theatre kids, I had no serious training up to this point. Berridge was created with this in mind, and offers a fixed curriculum of daily classes, along with an elective of your choice. I chose Improv as I knew it was a weakness, and I couldn’t show up to college without a little help first. Besides my elective, my schedule of classes consisted of Movement, Scene Study, Acting Technique, Shakespeare and an On-Camera class. The important thing that Berridge makes clear from the beginning is that they will show you what it’s like to be immersed in the performing arts every day, for the whole day. Like most pre-college programs, it offers a snapshot as to what your day-to-day would look like in a conservatory program (which I continued on to do at Syracuse University). They also structure their program in such a way where we were given exposure to multiple acting styles and techniques so we knew what we’d be missing if we later attended one of those stubborn schools that only taught one style. One of the areas where Berridge really excels is its Shakespeare training, led by Simon Purse. Most of us had a limited understanding of Shakespeare’s works and really struggled when it came time to transition from the the “page to the stage.” Simon made sure we were proficient in much of the history surrounding Shakespeare’s works before introducing us to cue-scripts. They’re essentially little scrolls given to each actor that contain their lines prefaced by cue words said by other characters in the scene. This meant that we would only know our lines, and unless we knew the play well, it would lead to some very interesting moments during performance. Simon explained that Globe actors (way, way back) would be given their cue-scripts, often multiple at a time, and perform without much rehearsal later that same week. The pressure was on. Think of it as a quick fix to solve any memorization issues you might be having. Thankfully we didn’t have multiple roles to memorize and we focused on one play, The Winter’s Tale, which we rehearsed and performed via cue-scripts, during the final week of the program. We had several opportunities to perform throughout the six weeks in addition to our Shakespeare work. Each Saturday would usually consist of an open-mic of sorts, where any student could present any and all material they wished. Being in the improv elective, we also performed a short segement weekly. This all led up to the final week where, in addition to The Winter’s Tale, we put on a showcase of scenes, songs, and dances for an audience of Berridge friends, locals and any family that made the trip out- And it all happened in a barn in France.
The one BIG reason you should do this
Yes, you’re in France. Yes, you’re learning to act. Yes, you’re eating great food. Those are all things you can expect from the program by just reading their website. But the best thing about this experience is the family that you get to join, for life. Though it’s only a six week program, Berridge manages to maintain a powerful alumni network and is continually in touch with former students. The friends that you’ll make there are incredible and will change your life just as much as the program does. I talk alot about the importance of connections in the performing arts world, but with berridge, it’s much more than just a connection. It’s an unbreakable friendship. So if you’re in high school and you think you might want to act, do it. If you want to travel, do it. If you want to eat french food, do it. If you want to be inspired, do it. If you want to meet people that will truly make a difference in your life, do it.
Ian Soares is a 2015 alumni of Berridge Programs and a graduate of the BFA Acting Program at Syracuse University. He is a writer and frequent contributor to Medium and you can read and follow his work.