Who knew that throwing koosh balls could help you become a better actor?

I sure didn’t, until I took a free acting workshop on Monday by Acorn Productions in Westbrook.

But there I was, standing in a circle with nine other people, tossing balls back and forth, forth and back, trying to remember who the correct recipient was supposed to be.

It may sound silly, but it was a good lesson on how actors need to be on their toes at all times — and it set the tone for the rest of the 21/2-hour session with our instructor, Michael Levine.

Acorn offers the free workshops as an introduction to its paid acting classes for adults and children. It allows would-be actors the chance to dip their toes in the water without any monetary commitment while giving those with acting experience a chance to brush up on their skills and learn new ones.

We had people from both categories in our class, and I was among those with no acting experience whatsoever. I had always wondered whether I would enjoy acting, and how I would react onstage with other people watching. Would I freeze? Would I make a fool of myself? Or did I have the makings of a master thespian and not know it?

I’m still not sure of the answer, but I do know it was a lot of fun.

Anyone who assumes Acorn’s acting classes are all about reading lines from a script are wrong. Only one exercise was like that, and it involved pairs of people exchanging the same bit of dialogue to emphasize how different vocal characteristics and character goals can set the tone for a scene.

The rest was all up to us. We were given a line, a nervous tic, an emotion or a vague backdrop against which we had to improvise dialogue, behaviors and settings. The one thing it all had in common — and the secret to good acting, Levine said — was to react to something, and to do it in a natural way. One actor says something, another actor says something back, and you go from there.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t that difficult. Rather than trying to force myself to behave like I felt a character would react, I found myself behaving like I normally would, just under different circumstances. When someone’s yelling at you, your natural inclination is to yell back. If your acting partner is tense, you feel tense. If someone’s playing a mad significant other, well, who hasn’t had that experience?

It really is art imitating life, with actors drawing on their life experiences to make it believable. None of this “act like a flower” nonsense.

Acorn has one more free fall acting workshop — for children — from 4 to 5 p.m. today. Regular classes for adults cost $150 for new students and $135 for returning students, while regular classes for children and teenagers cost $100 for new students and $85 for returning students. Most classes run for eight sessions.

For information on regular classes or to inquire about future free classes, call 854-0065 or visit acorn-productions.org.

Whether you’re interested in a career in acting, the chance to perform in community theater or just a fun time, I highly recommend checking it out.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at: [email protected]