Leading another life on the boards

Acting tutor Daniel Bechir Urrizaga is enticing people to the stage in Tauranga. Photo: Nikki South.

Acting classes will never take off in New Zealand, his thespian friends told him. But Daniel Bechir

Urrizaga took a punt that the Kiwi ‘give-it-a-go' attitude would extend to acting, and it has paid off. 

The Argentinian actor, who chose to make Tauranga his home last year, has been teaching adult acting classes out of 16th Ave Theatre since the beginning of the year. 

He has about a dozen regulars, and this term has extended the classes to include sessions for teenagers aged 12-16 years and young adults aged 17-21. 

Daniel, 37, studied performing arts in Argentina and went on to develop his craft in Cambridge, England and in Granada in southern Spain, where he worked as a full-time actor and co-founded a physical theatre company called ‘La Esclusa'. 

He travelled to New Zealand 10 years ago on a working holiday and returned here to live last year. 

With full-time acting not an option in Tauranga, he works as a swimming instructor but joined 16th Ave Theatre to keep his passion for the dramatic arts alive. 

“They opened their doors to me and have been just amazing,” he says. “I'm learning a lot about community theatre and loving it.” 

Daniel says he was asked to do an acting workshop, but he suggested running a series of weekly classes instead. 

“I believe if you want to be good at acting you need to learn, take it home and process it, and then next week do it again. It's really intense to be acting for four hours at once.” 

Daniel is pleased with the attendance at his classes so far and the progress his students have made. 

“I'm very proud and happy. The first term I had five students and that has since grown to 12.”

Most of Daniel's adult students range in age between 30-60 years, but he also has a man in his 70s who did some part-time modelling in his younger days and was keen to regain some of that confidence. 

“Most people come here thinking ‘I'm not going to be able to do it'. The first class is free so this is your chance to realise you can do it.

“Lots of people are shy or have anxiety problems and would like to feel more comfortable and confident. Most of them say they don't want to be actor, they just want to do something different.” 

Daniel knows all about being anxious. 

“When I was 20-years-old I had anxiety problems and I was really shy. My therapist told me to try acting classes. I was like ‘are you crazy?' It was hard for me to meet new people and she wanted me to go to an acting class and play the clown. She said ‘go take a look and see what you want to do'.” 

The rest, as they say, is history. 

“As soon as I started I realised that it wasn't me I was playing. You can lead another life. That, for me, is amazing. You get to do things you would never do in your life. 

“As adults we are told not to play, not to make eye contact with strangers, not to touch anyone. 

Then you realise you're allowed to be warm and do things you like as long as you're not bothering anyone else. I was hooked and I never stopped.” 

Acting is a great communication tool, says Daniel. 

“A lot of my students, especially the young ones, say ‘sometimes I feel I want to say something but I don't know how to'. If you think something is unfair, you can do a play. It's a great way to tell someone something without actually sitting down and telling them.” 

The acting classes involve a lot of games and theatre sports where people realise it is okay to make mistakes and feel a little bit silly, says Daniel. 

“People are really aware of what other people think of them, and I love to break that. Why? Why do you have to be so aware of what other people think? 

“People also have lots of issues with touching. One of the exercises we do is the painter and the canvas. You are my canvas so I tell you the story of what I'm painting on your back and you take that shape. 

“I was shocked that most people were drawing in the air. The brush needs to touch the canvas. At some point, as an actor, you need to be able to cope with that kind of thing.” 

Daniel is the ‘physical coach' for 16th Ave Theatre's current production of ‘Season's Greetings' and upcoming production ‘Jack and the Beanstalk'. 

“A physical coach in theatre gives the actors the little details about what you do physically when you're saying your lines and how to show it.” 

He is stoked that one of his students, after only three acting classes, secured a role in ‘Season's Greetings'. 

And Daniel's advice to anyone interested in taking an acting class? “Go on your own. Sometimes if you have your buddy or your mum or your brother you think it will be better, but it's just the opposite. 

Everyone sings in the shower or plays their music really loud and pretends they're Rihanna or Beyoncé, but if someone opens the door you're like ‘get out of my room'. You wouldn't carry on and it's the same thing in a class.” 

Daniel's acting classes are held at the 16th Ave Theatre every Tuesday. For more information phone: 022 165 6155 or email: nowyouact@gmail.com



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