Acting Gym Offers Free Training to Community


Clarissa Moon

Dion Leonhard, adjunct professor of theater, leads a movement workshop at Acting Gym on Feb. 25 at Valencia’s East Campus.

It’s a quiet morning at the courthouse. A perpetrator with a gun walks in, warning screams are heard, and everyone drops to the ground as “bullets” soar overhead.

No, this isn’t an actual emergency. It’s a training scenario for police officers, and an acting exercise for students of Valencia’s Acting Gym. The perpetrator is actually a police officer, the bullets are blanks, and on the ground are 40 or so students that have just experienced an intense acting challenge.

This exercise teaches actors to get out of their heads and react fully in the moment, said Theater Department Chair John DiDonna. Rehearsing mass shooter and police scenarios like this one is one of the many learning opportunities participants have at Valencia’s Acting Gym.

Valencia Acting Gym offers free college-level acting training to the community from 1-3 p.m. on Saturdays at the East Campus.

The program is open to both Valencia students and members of the Orlando community. Participants are not required to have acting experience.

“Acting gym is a unique way for students to come together with faculty, staff, and members of the community to learn about acting, theater, and themselves,” said DiDonna. Each week, actors work with DiDonna himself, or participate in workshops taught by area professionals.

Previous workshops have included acting for the camera, neutral mask work, vocal technique and dance. Actors also had the chance to perform for casting directors from Disney and Universal at an audition workshop. Usually, actors work on scenes, monologues and improvisation with DiDonna.

“It’s a wide variety of experiences,” said Autumn Huff Garick, a community member and frequent attendee.

Actors give back to the community at Acting Gym by doing scenario training for Orange County Sheriffs, the University of Central Florida, Nova Southeastern, Florida Hospital and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We do live active shooter scenarios. Around 120 deputies, 40 of our students, and very dangerous situations acted out. This is a valuable service to the community, and an amazing acting experience for the students,” notes DiDonna.

Acting Gym isn’t just a learning environment. It’s a diverse, supportive community of artists. The Acting Gym Facebook group is covered with posts advertising students’ performances and casting notices for projects in Central Florida.

“It’s just a community,” said Garick. “I think any time you get a community of artists together when people know your work, they become more familiar with what you can do, and when the opportunity arises, they remember that.”

For more information about Valencia Acting Gym, contact John DiDonna at [email protected] or visit the Valencia Acting Gym Facebook group.