Finding Therapy Through Acting

Reference: Pediastaff Inc Pediatric and School Based Discussion Group April 20, 2011

According to the dictionary, a stutter can be defined as “distorted speech characterized principally by blocks or spasms interrupting rhythm.”  In the U.S. alone, over three million people are affected by this disorder says the Stuttering Foundation of America.  While this may be a reason for some to be shy or anti-social, often times this isn’t the case.  Many other people find ways to overcome this impairment.  Through classes, practice and other methods they prevent this from hinering their lives.  You probably wouldn’t think that theater and acting would be a potential solution; but one student here at Fredonia found this worked for him. 

Senior acting major Matt Nersinger of Webster, NY may be known for his stage roles but at one time his stutter defined him.  Since childhood, Matt struggled with a speech impediment that he wouldn’t address until late middle school.

Growing up, Matt never thought he would be an actor.  He assumed that his impairment would keep him down and prevent him from this art, or as he puts it, “I couldn’t even talk or form a sentence at the time.”  Before he discovered the stage, he admittedly didn’t think theater was for him and even mocked the art.

It wasn’t until his freshman year of high school that he got his first stage experience, sort of.  He decided to join his friends on stage crew for his school’s fall production.  This behind the scenes experience changed his attitude toward the stage for the better.  The upperclassman actors of the show treated him very kindly even as a younger crew member.  This kindness convinced him to try out for the school’s spring show.

This opportunity really broke him out of his shell.  Before this he rarely ever wanted to even talk to others, in fear of his stutter getting in the way.  While being on stage made him nervous, knowing what he was going to say helped him not fumble his words.  A combination of his speech therapy and acting roles allowed him to do this.

Another concept that helped Matt was the simple act of singing.  He figured out that when he sang his words he didn’t stutter as much and was more fluent.  This prompted him to puruse singing throughout his high school years.   He saw this as a type of “therapy” for his impediment.  There were times when he even sang within his household, although, “my sister hated that, she’d be like stop singing,” he said.

You might be wondering why he went to school for acting if he was more interested in singing.  It began senior year when he developed what he called calluses on his throat, similar to ones you would get on your feet or hands.  This prevented him from singing and even talking for a period of time.  He eventually dropped the idea for the sake of his voice and concentrated on his acting skills.

When choosing potential colleges for his acting future Matt didn’t take much time to look.  He became familiar with Fredonia through visits he made with friends while in high school.  “I didn’t really put the needed time into college searching,” Matt said.  While he somewhat regrets not looking more into this, he sees Fredonia as a blessing in disguise.

He started as a theater major and instantly fell in love with the program.  “People are what make this school,” he said.  “They are just so nice, welcoming, accommodating and accepting.  I was always terrified of auditioning because I would just get very nervous.  When my nerves, go, I start to stutter and that makes me more nervous,” Matt said.  Overcoming his stutter to get into the theater program was one of many steps he took toward self-improvement.

Aside from his stage roles, Matt is involved in other activities on campus as well.  He has been involved in another performance group, the Guerillas, for a few years now.  Since high school, he always wanted to be involved in an a capella group.  His time with the group has allowed him to expand his performance skills and utilize his previous passion of music.  He’s also a member of Alpha Psi Omega, an upperclassman honor society for theater students.  Another resource Matt utilized to help his speech is the Youngerman Center.  This on-campus speech clinic offers therapy to those who inquire.  At first he was not interested in this prospect.  “I did not want to think of my stutter as a handicap,” he said.  He slowly changed this view after his fluency began to take a tumble.

By his junior year he finally decided to inquire.  He made an appointment with one of their specialists and started the process of speech recovery.  These classes acted as a “refresher” course for him.  Combined with his theater lessons, he created his own sort of speech therapy.  One of his future missions is to open a theater therapy clinic to further assist those with stutters and impairments as a way to give back to the art that helped him so much.