Thursday, October 27, 2011

Is This English Class or a Drama Lesson?

Two blog posts in one day might be a bit excessive, but I have to get this down while all the details and excitement are so fresh.

This week, the Actors from the London Stage are on campus to do a 5 person production of The Tempest. I will be seeing that on Saturday since I am an usher, so there will be a review of it for sure. BUT today, one of the actors came to my English class. This makes sense because of the name of the class (Nineteenth Century British Novels) as well as the fact that this actor is from Manchester, and we're currently reading Mary Barton, which is set in that town.

Our professor told us he was going to talk about the dialect in Manchester and the history of the place. He did do that, for about 20 or 25 minutes, which was really interesting. He was very engaging, and of course his accent was simply charming.

But about halfway into the class, he had us read a passage of Mary Barton out loud, alternating readers. He stopped us in between paragraphs to ask us what we noticed, what we learn about the characters in any given sentence. This is when the actor in him really started coming out. He was talking about how, as an actor, you have to be a detective. You have to look for clues within the script, and then flesh out the story of this character to play him/her to the best of your ability. I was so into this.

He then asked for volunteers to read an exchange between two servant characters. I volunteered to be the housemaid, and another girl in my class volunteered to be the footman, Thomas. But the actor (I can't for the life of me remember his name) said he'd read Thomas first, just so we could get a sense of how the dialect sounded. So I got to read with him, which was wonderful. It just flowed for him. Then he had me do it with Carly, kind of creating a romance between these very small characters, to show they still had importance in the context of the play.

He said when he goes to see a show, if the main roles are 'alive' in their acting, but everyone else on stage is 'dead,' then the show is over for him. He stressed the importance of even the smallest characters. Their story is just as vital as the story of the main characters. It makes the show complete.

All of this really resonated with me, considering my role in Skin of Our Teeth is quite small, and I'm a bit unsure how far to take it. I think I'm going to work on creating a character so all of my actions make sense. Another interesting thing he said, though, was that he loves contradictions in characters. He said we're all human, we're not consistent, so why does the character have to be? I loved that.

Basically, our class turned into a mini acting lesson, and I was totally engaged. It was awesome. I feel so lucky to have so many opportunities just handed to me at Vassar, and I plan to take advantage of all the great, talented visitors that we have the opportunity to host.

Here's the poster that's all around school right now:

The guy that visited us is the one in the middle!

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