Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Blast From the Past

I was in my local grocery store the other day and came across another shopper who was in my 1981 graduating class at the University of Delaware. She was a double major too (both of us got a B.A. in Theater and a B.A. in English)and while standing in the ethnic food isle, we briefly visited our shared past and caught up a bit, promising to "do lunch" in the near future.

As a college student, I learned that the university campus and academics provide a microcosm study of politics. If I never completely understood that life was unfair, I "got it" loud and clear as a college student. These years were the most intense of my life at that point; I was a student carrying two majors and doing professional work both as an actor and a writer. (My parents would only pay for my being a theater major if I also took another major they felt would be more promising work wise hence the English major)

I was not part of any clique in college and that worked against me in some situations but paid off in others. My acting teacher had favorites and nothing some of us did impressed her to give us anything but a "C" or a "B." I was furious about getting a "C" and no important roles for the shows this professor directed.

Then came the announcement that members of the Royal Shakespeare Company would be coming to our campus for a seminar as part of a national college tour. There were about 10 members of the RSC visiting and the three more prominent names included Derek Jacobi, Ian Richardson and Sebastain Shaw. I was familiar with Ian Richardson but that was it. Because of the aforementioned political situation above, I didn't even think about being one of a handful of theater majors who would be selected to participate in the acting seminar.

I was selected in spite of Ms. Acting Teacher.

We got to choose with whom we wanted to work. All of my colleagues except one wanted to work with the younger actors of the RSC. Not me. I wanted to work with the older ones and selected Ian Richardson and Sebastain Shaw. What a smart move that was on my part. They were "old school" and none of this method crap entered into their work.

Our assignment was to rehearse a scene from a play (also assigned) with these two actors and then present our work to the other student actors and the visiting RSC. What was unnerving about that prospect was performing in front of far more experienced actors and members of a renowned acting company. I had very little experience working with Shakespeare text so the prospect of performing in front of the Royal Shakespeare Company was quite daunting.

But I got through it and the performance went fine. I watched Ms. Acting Teacher for any sign of anything after I finished the scene with my partner and got nothing. I was tempted to hold up a mirror in front of her nose to see if she was breathing. Ian Richardson got up after we finished our scene to dissect our performance. Of me he said, "Nancy needs to work on speaking the language of Shakespeare but knows what she is doing and has tremendous stage presence that will serve her well in any stage production. That was a marvelous scene."

I wanted to stick my tongue out at Ms. Acting Teacher and say "Ha! Ha!" but thought it might not be prudent to do so. I resisted, barely. I later go to thinking well, Mr. Richardson had worked with us and maybe he was just saying what he did for that reason."

But other professors who never said a word to me before complimented my work and suggested I pursue classical theater work.

It turned out that Ms. Acting Teacher's precious clique of students didn't fare as well in the seminar during the critiques or the performances. I didn't wish that on anyone but it did make it clear to me and anyone else watching outside of that clique that politics is what is always at play even while you are a student trying to get a good grade.

But my battles on the academic playing field in the quest for a fair grade did not end there.

To be continued. Please don't die of suspense in the interim.

2 comments:

Irishcoda said...

"To be continued. Please don't die of suspense in the interim."

ROFL! :)

John P said...

That's great! I read recently that Reese Witherspoon dedicated her Oscar to "all the boyfriends who dumped me." She added that when she was dumped, she hoped that one day she would be on a stage and that they would live to regret it. How great. Incidentally, I am very distantly related to her, so three cheers for Reese!