Green Shirt Studio

Teacher Profile: Jose Antonio Garcia

Tony Garcia

Growing up, Jose Antonio “Tony” Garcia was a shy kid who was into martial arts. And although moving his body came naturally to him, when he started acting during his freshman year at the University of Connecticut, he didn’t know how to bring his martial arts background with him onto the stage.

Then Garcia took a class in the Suzuki Method — a movement technique that uses elements of modern ballet, Kabuki theater and Indian Kathakali dance to help actors get more grounded and improve their relationship to the earth — and he loved it.

“Being in my body came naturally; it just made sense,” he said.

And it helped his acting, too. “It gave me a strength I hadn’t yet found at that time and a level of breath control and projection I had formerly struggled with. And it gave me a new-found level of confidence, which drove me forward from then on,” he said.
Today, Garcia is a working actor in Chicago who has appeared in productions at The Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and more, as well as in TV shows such as Shameless, Chicago Fire, Mob Doctor, and Prison Break. And he continues to pass on what he learned in his Suzuki training to other students through his Suzuki Method classes at Green Shirt Studio.

We sat down with Garcia and asked him about how the Suzuki Method has made a difference in his acting.

Green Shirt: You were 17 when you took your first acting class. What did you like about it?

Garcia: I’d always been involved with arts classes and programs in one way or another, but it was all visual arts, no performing arts. I decided to finally give it a shot because I thought it would be fun and easy. Yup, I was that guy. I got hooked very quickly. I liked how it forced me to face my shyness at first. Then I liked the confidence it gave me. Then the freedom and playfulness. Then finally the ability to express myself through myself. When I was drawing or painting, I would make something, put it up, go hide somewhere, and let the piece do all the talking. With acting, I had to do the talking. Of course, I was using other people’s words and stories, but I soon found my own voice with which to tell them.

Green Shirt: What does the Suzuki Method emphasize?

Garcia: Suzuki is about getting in touch with the core of the body and strengthening the relationship between the performer’s feet and the floor/ground/earth. It’s about rootedness, groundedness and presence. The lower half of the body (primarily) is used to execute different exercises that attack and challenge the actor’s center. It forces the activation of the core as well as the diaphragm. It also leads to a heightened level of focus and concentration.

Green Shirt: You first got introduced to the Suzuki Method when you were getting your BFA in acting at the University of Connecticut. What did you like about the Suzuki Method at the time?

Garcia: Suzuki instantly spoke to me in a way that no other training did. I’d been studying martial arts since I was 9 years old. Finding a methodology that used a lot of elements of training I was familiar and felt comfortable with gave me a whole new level of confidence, and therefore a greater ability to explore my creativity. It gave me the focus I needed at that young age, as well as the discipline. It became a great anchor for me, something to keep me rooted whenever I felt overwhelmed or like I was getting in over my head. It’s worth mentioning, however, that just because someone has martial arts training that doesn’t mean the Suzuki training will or should come any easier for them. While a lot of the ideas may be similar and familiar, the work certainly has different goals and purposes.

Green Shirt: Why is it important for actors to be “in their body”?

Garcia: Every artist has his or her tools. Actors are no different. Our body is a very important tool and we need to be able to use it to its full potential. Too many actors train with acting classes, some voice classes, but leave out the body altogether because they think they’re not a dancer or not in shape. This creates actors who are saying one thing with their voice and emotions, but a totally different thing with their bodies. Because their voice and body aren’t connected, different messages are being relayed to the audience. In addition, anybody who’s been an actor for longer than 10 minutes will tell you that it can be taxing on the body if one is not prepared for the challenge and the strain. Being active and alert for extended periods of time on stage can be draining. You don’t have to be in great shape to be an actor, but your body does have to be capable of taking on all the different challenges it will face, regardless of your fitness level. Being in your body also helps you to stay grounded and strong, which is a big power source to draw from.

Green Shirt: You have several film and TV credits. How did your movement training help you in these on-camera roles?

Garcia: Immensely. One of the first things you learn for on-camera work is that everything needs to be smaller, tighter, less. Coming from a theater background, this was actually fairly difficult for me. My energy and adrenaline needed to go somewhere, so I put it down into my body, in a very sustained and boiling water sort of way. This is what worked for me. I was still using all of that energy and presence, but I was directing it elsewhere so it could still do its work for the camera, but not overwhelm it. Plus, I tend to play not-so-nice-guys (can’t imagine why!), so knowing how to carry myself a certain way without overdoing it or having it look put-upon has worked well for me.

Green Shirt: What do you like about being a teacher?

Garcia: It feels like I’m paying it forward. I’ve been very lucky with getting to work with some pretty great people during my professional career. I’ve learned so much from everyone that I just feel like it would be almost selfish of me not to share. Being an actor is such a competitive thing, even here in Chicago where almost everyone knows and roots for one another. If I can take something I’ve learned and share it with someone else and it helps them get a little better, that’s such a great feeling. It’s so fulfilling. I like removing the competitive aspect, if just for a bit, so we can collaborate and maybe elevate both of our games.

Tony’s next Suzuki Method class runs on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Green Shirt Studio. Classes start April 2. Sign up today!