Continually following and making meaning of an artistic process
Allie Kaye Dakers’ Back Story
A Love Of Performing At A Young Age It all began when five-year-old Allie Kaye attended a Saturday drama class in White Plains, NY. The first thing she remembers learning was a pantomime/pratfall combination – her introduction to body movement technique, physical expression, and dealing with an on-stage obstacle. It was the most fun she’d ever had. In fact, she teaches these same skills to her high school drama students today.
During the next three years, Allie participated in school and church “pageants,” acting out bible stories and dramatizing miracle plays, playing trees and personifying animals.
Yet, she considers her fourth-grade play, How the West Was Really Won, to be her first “real” production. Cast as Annie Oakley, in full western regalia and sporting a spot-on accent, Allie had a true “aha” moment: she realized she had talent as an actor.
Mom As Role Model Allie credits her mother with having the biggest influence on her nascent theater career. Mother and daughter always spoke in accents, sang together, and portrayed characters engaging in mundane activities. Watching her mother behave in an open, playful manner helped Allie cultivate a similar free, fun-loving quality. Once again, she communicates this key aspect of her early experiences to her drama students today.
The Theater As Emotional Outlet Allie describes her parents’ divorce as catapulting her into “self-preservation mode.” She discovered she could channel her energy and feelings into the theater and playwriting. These outlets proved to be therapeutic.
Allie further immersed herself in the theater while attending Rye High School in Rye, NY. Socially, she gravitated toward the “theater kids.” A shy adolescent, Allie found she could access and express her core self through the characters she was portraying. She could explore the full spectrum of emotional experience in the guise of a character because “it wasn’t me.” The theater provided a safe space to detach and lose herself in her characters’ lives, ultimately finding more of herself. Although she had already developed impressive acting chops, Allie’s confidence lagged behind her talent. She hated auditioning, a contributing factor to her placement in supporting roles. Gradually, as her self-confidence grew, she was offered more challenging parts.
Taking It To The Next Level Allie reached a point in her senior year when she was determined to get the roles she really wanted. She knew she had to own the process. Her hard-won self-assertiveness was on full display when she declared her intention to read for the part of Moonface Martin – a male character – in Anything Goes. She reminded the director that she had always been a character actor and urged him to trust her ability to play this character. Sure enough, Allie became the first female cast as Moonface Martin at Rye High.
Working with great people in a beautiful, expansive theater space proved to be intoxicating. Perhaps the most influential person during her high school theater career was Neil Mendick, Allie’s English and drama teacher. He encouraged Allie to embrace her true self, despite her fears, and fueled her passion for the theater with their deep, philosophical discussions. Moreover, Neil passed down his entire theatrical library to Allie upon his retirement, challenging her to dive headlong into the craft.
Allie headed into the college selection process convinced that she wanted to be a playwright, not an actor. In hindsight, she recognizes that part of this decision was driven by the fear that she couldn’t “make it” as an actor – nor did she want to “prove herself” every day. Yet, she chose SUNY Oneonta, largely based on the appeal of their theater company, Mask & Hammer.
Mentors Guide College Theater Development Taking more risks now, despite her fear, Allie read for multiple roles for Mask & Hammer’s Midsummer Night’s Dream shortly after arriving at college. To the chagrin of her older castmates, freshman Allie was cast as Helena, one of the two main leads. She stayed focused on developing her craft, immersing herself in a high-level, demanding environment, rehearsing three hours a day for three months. Her well-known, classical Shakespearean director mixed traditional acting approaches with improvisation and études. This experience led Allie to pursue a BS in theater, with a minor in directing and communications.
Allie credits two professors with shaping her as both an actor and director. They cautioned her early on to expect the directing path to be difficult, especially for women. Undeterred, Allie persisted and benefitted from their wonderful mentoring.
John Gorscak had the greatest impact on Allie’s theatrical development. Working with John led to a deep understanding of technique, particularly the Meisner method. Through this approach, Allie learned how to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances – how to exist within the context of the play, accessing and creating emotions/reactions as authentically as possible as if she was living in these circumstances. This technique contrasts with others in which actors access actual past experiences – particularly traumatic ones – to evoke emotional responses.
John taught her how to make the words her own so they would be filled with her essence. He stressed that it is all about the connection with your partner…being present in the moment…being truthful to the character. She learned to create parallel stories that would cause her to feel the way the character does – and connect with the meaning in it for herself. She came to understand how the characters define each other through their relationships; she explored and fleshed out those relationships outside the context of the script. Allie was encouraged to find the realism in the circumstances…keep the ego at bay to allow the character to step forward…work toward clarity and make authentic choices.
Allie came to the realization that she could cherry-pick the techniques that work best at any given moment; she didn’t have to be a “purist” in a single technique. Similarly, as a director, she could see which methods work with each actor under different circumstances. Nevertheless, she views her introduction to the Meisner approach as key; she has found it to be one of the best ways to understand context – and how to react realistically within that context.
From a more spiritual standpoint, another professor/director by the name of Claude greatly influenced Allie’s theatrical development. In particular, he introduced her to the idea: “leap and the net will appear.” He encouraged her to trust that she will receive what she needs if she stays grounded in herself, puts her needs forward, and stays attuned to insights and opportunities.
These tenets have remained the defining characteristics of Allie’s technique – and the basis of her approach with her middle school theater students today. John’s technical education and Claude’s spirit continue to infuse her process. During Allie’s senior year, she finally had the opportunity to direct a play of her choice, using an all-student cast and crew. She selected a post-Vietnam piece – a PTSD study called Strange Snow. Technically detailed, the three-person play was intimate, introspective, and realistic. Her father, a Vietnam vet, conducted workshops with the actors to share his experiences of war. Working with this intense material fueled her attraction to darker pieces. She found these works to be more interesting and challenging, affording her the freedom to delve as deeply into the darkness as she wanted to go. Allie’s idiosyncratic approaches resulted in her winning the university’s best director award that year. College summers found Allie assistant directing at a youth program. This job was Allie’s first experience teaching theater to kids – and launched her theater education career.
Contemplating next steps after graduation, Allie wanted to act, but knew she hated auditioning; she was uncomfortable with the comparisons inherent in the process and still didn’t fully trust in her abilities. Moreover, she knew that the life of an actor tends to be unstable.
First Professional Theater Experience So, she pursued her interest in directing, landing a position as director for a show written by a young playwright with a bit of financial backing. A Recreational Suicide premiered at CBGB’s lounge in NYC. Allie and the playwright encountered plenty of creative differences, and the script was challenging. Moreover, Allie was fresh out of college, working with a young playwright and producer, but with much older actors. Allie felt uneasy casting and directing older and more experienced colleagues; filled with self-doubt, she thought, “Who am I to have power over these people?” She gradually realized that the decisions she made and the approaches she took really mattered to the people she was working with. So, she “barreled through the thick fog of fear,” and received her first New York theater credit!
Training Following this directing experience, Allie realized she missed performing and took an acting class series with the Fort Hill Players – a White Plains, NY company operating out of the same studio in which Allie took her first drama class!
She then enrolled in a nine-month Meisner Intensive class with Meisner disciple Larry Silverberg at the NY School for Film and Television. Here, Allie received highly detailed, structured knowledge about the Meisner style that she would incorporate in her own teaching down the road. The program emphasized the importance of separating out your personal issues to keep them from blocking access to what you need to reach to authentically connect to your character and allow it to come out.
Dual Career: Education And Theater At this point, sick of waiting tables, Allie accepted a job as a special education aide at Rye Brook, NY’s elementary school. Her timing turned out to be fortuitous. The Metropolitan Opera Company did a residency at the school in which they worked with the children to create an original production from scratch. Given Allie’s theater experience, she was invited to work with the company on every facet of the show’s development. She soon recognized the value of watching highly trained professionals work with and manage children. She received a hands-on education in classroom management and organization, methods and timing regarding the introduction of new material, effective communication techniques, and ways to facilitate the children’s ownership of their work and their process.
As with the skills learned in her first drama class, the mentoring she received from her college acting and directing professors, and her formal training in the Meisner method, Allie regularly incorporates the key aspects of her Metropolitan Opera experience in her work with her current drama students.
Allie subsequently became a certified teaching assistant and was placed in the Blind Brook Middle School. Once again, her timing was fortunate; the director of the middle school drama program was leaving and chose Allie to replace her. This endeavor became an arena in which Allie could capitalize on all her training, gradually shape it into a process-oriented experience, and truly make it her own.