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It’s As if He Never Left High School

David+Sinaiko+playing+the+chorus+in+Shotgun+Players+presentation+of+Antigonick.
David Sinaiko playing the chorus in Shotgun Players presentation of Antigonick.

David Sinaiko playing the chorus in Shotgun Players presentation of Antigonick.

Photo by Pak Han

Photo by Pak Han

David Sinaiko playing the chorus in Shotgun Players presentation of Antigonick.

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Tradition, scratch that.

A tradition is something with cultural or historical importance; however, it can be limiting. The familiarity of tradition can prohibit people from breaking out of their comfort zones and trying new things. At times, tradition can conflict with all human’s childlike ability to imagine and pursue things that are out of the ordinary. David Sinaiko, one of Marin Academy’s theatre program directors and community leaders, has an interesting relationship with tradition. Sinaiko looks to challenge the minds of his audience, his actors and himself by leaving tradition behind and embracing the unfiltered side of acting.

Dominic Colacchio
Maia Sinaiko as Puck sings The Beatles’ I Am the Walrus in MA’s 2013 Winter Theater Production of A Hard Day’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

No one will ever enter the MA theatre to see Guys and Dolls, instead, they will see a modified rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream sparkled with Beatles music to bring a traditional piece a little 70’s flair. Sinaiko, referencing one of his all-time favorite bands, said, “The Beatles’ goal was to make every song different, a different instrumentation, a different feel;” a philosophy he likes to mirror as an MA director. Sinaiko shares, “People can connect to the show, but see it in a different light”—challenging the angles from which an audience member can view tradition in this day and age. For the MA community and beyond, Sinaiko wants “the program to be something [that expands] people’s ideas of what theatre is.” Particularly for high school theatre, Sinaiko wants to deliver the unusual, the unnerving, the weird and the wonderful in his shows because he not only wants his actors but also his audience to walk away having learned something they did not expect themselves tojust like he did after his last year of college.

Sinaiko, the “huge film buff” and “baby of the family”—he says with a laugh—from Hyde Park, Chicago, gained an interest in the performing arts at a young age. He studied a more traditional style of acting at the Stella Adler Studio of NYU where he built his foundational skill; however, his growth as an actor came from his last year of school when studying at the school’s Experimental Theatre Wing or “ETW”. It was at the ETW that Sinaiko, “threw everything he knew out the window.” What continues to impact him today is the lesson that, “when you scrap what you know, everything you really know sticks with you [and] a lot of the stuff you throw away is preconceived misconceptions or limitations put on yourself and you allow yourself to be opened up to a lot of new things.” The abstract and modern methods of acting that Sinaiko learned at ETW have been his anchors throughout his professional career.

“I think I still have a little sense of being a kid in me; most actors do maintain that,” he says. Coming from someone who has devoted his life’s work to one of the most artistic and impactful professions, Sinaiko says, “it’s just pretend after all.” Acting is playing dress up with pearls on: the same basic premise, but with a message to convey. “We tend to take it really seriously and people have their shows that they really love and we get really into them and they become big parts of our lives and we attach a big cultural weight to them, but in the end they’re all really light and fun things to do, and I think we identify really strongly with them as observers,” Sinaiko says. People get invested in the stories and lives of characters they see depicted in film or theatre and that is why they hold such importance. Finding a commonality amongst professional actors and professional baseball players, Sinaiko argues, “in the end, we are just getting up in weird uniforms and playing a kids game.”Carrying a child-like spirit with him, Sinaiko is committed to everything that he does whether it is being an avid supporter of a baseball team—him having not forgotten to add in a shameless plug for his hometown’s team during the interview, “Chicago white socks! Southside!”—or pushing a student to bring the best they have to any performance. Sinaiko creates a space in which his students can learn and discover the unexpected in their acting abilities by teaching the rare material and new interpretations of traditional material.

Carrying a child-like spirit with him, Sinaiko is committed to everything that he does whether it is being an avid supporter of a baseball team—him having not forgotten to add in a shameless plug for his hometown’s team during the interview, “Chicago white socks! Southside!”—or pushing a student to bring the best they have to any performance. Sinaiko creates a space in which his students can learn and discover the unexpected in their acting abilities by teaching the rare material and new interpretations of traditional material.

David Sinaiko
David Sinaiko, MA’s Thoreau Chair out enjoying nature!

Sinaiko has a way of speaking that hits you in the face, in a good way. As his eyes, with their signature intensity, light up to emphasize the rules of the game Murder to his Theatre 1 students, Sinaiko makes his words stick to all who listen. As a director, he admits, “I push people a little bit and get them to stretch.” In the black box, the signature room where each of his and co-director Annie Elias’s pieces is born, Sinaiko hopes for his actors experience to be “fun. Yes, always fun, but powerful too.”

Within a light-hearted atmosphere, Sinaiko also wants his students to take advantage of the time they spend working with him and really get something out of it. “You really gotta bring it; you really gotta show up all the time,” is a mentality Sinaiko pushes his students to have every time they enter the black box.

Acting in the professional world consists of, “long hours, not always making it home for dinner”, Sinaiko says, which is why he makes the time he has on stage count. Sinaiko found himself cast in a show where each night the audience would randomly pull a character’s name out of a hat—“I think it was actually a skull,” Sinaiko says—to assign to one of the actors; this required Sinaiko to be able to embody the roles of eight characters at the drop of a hat (literally): requiring commitment and focus.“The approach to that was different than anything I had ever done. Around the same time, I was cast as another role and with that one, I had to really think about how he entered every scene that he was in, he was a plumber; it was kind of a minor role, but he had lost his wife, he was a tragic character,” Sinaiko says. An entrance speaks loudly of a person whether on stage or at work. To authentically express the role of a plumber, Sinaiko had to focus all of his attention on understanding the emotions of that character.

Although society may see high school theatre students, Sinaiko sees potential in everyone he teaches and wants that fire each of us has inside to be let out on stage and out in the real world. Whether it’s a new found passion for stage managing a student never knew she had or Shakespeare’s Hamlet being dressed in a black t-shirt and a beanie, MA theatre allows new discoveries and artistic experimentation that reaches beyond tradition: all rendered in-part by one of Marin Academy’s greatest treasures, David Sinaiko.

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