UVU theater director: 'There's more to acting than acting'

2013-06-28T00:23:00Z 2013-06-28T06:40:16Z UVU theater director: 'There's more to acting than acting'Barbara Christiansen - Daily Herald Daily Herald
June 28, 2013 12:23 am  • 

OREM -- Be heard, be understood, be believed -- those are the three goals of director John Newman of the Noorda Theatre Center at UVU. He shared them with youth he was teaching at the annual Theater Summer Camp for kids. They are producing an original work he wrote, "Gathering Grimm." To prepare for it, he researched the famous Brothers Grimm, compilers of German folk tales and other similar traditional works.

Newman shared his theatrical goals with 23 students preparing to present the play. The productions continue Thursday at 7 p.m. and Friday at 2 p.m. in the Noorda Theatre in the Gunther Technology Building on the campus.

But the presentation is not the main goal.

"The focus of this whole thing is the experience of the actors," Newman said. The students learned skills in acting, production backstage skills, public speaking, playwriting, stage combat, storytelling and puppetry. They also learned about playwriting as they researched historical characters to contribute to the script.

In the play, Lottie Grimm, the younger sister of the Brothers Grimm, has hidden the manuscripts of her brothers' folktale collection until Jakob Grimm publicly acknowledges their origin. Rather than being told by old peasants, most of the early tales were told to the brothers by middle-class schoolgirls. The play includes dramatizations of seven of the tales of Grimm. The frame story tells the true tale of the unrecognized young women who shared their stories with the world, as well as Lottie Grimm, who brought them all together.

When they rehearsed, they broke down the seven scenes of the play and worked with the students in small groups, with five UVU students serving as assistant directors.

"It is hard to keep all 23 people busy at the same time," Newman said. "It takes a lot of doing." This is the fourth year for UVU to present the workshops and the third year Newman has been involved.

The program is growing, with an 11 percent increase in enrollment from last year. Newman said the UVU theater department is the second largest in the state and its students often have a variety of skills, such as actors who double as technicians or carpenters.

"What we do really well at UVU is we send students out who have multiple skill sets and can find a position or create their own companies," he said.

The youth and some adults who attended should be able to express themselves better than they did last month, thanks to the workshops. This year the workshops were expanded to provide classes for the parents. Adults and older teens have participated in a grassroots Shakespeare class and a class to teach them how to present themselves in auditions.

There's more to acting than acting, they discovered. Most people have at least heard of the stereotype of the individual with an artistic temperament, wrapped up in the craft of portraying a character, and oblivious to much else.

But the reality is that most actors work as independent contractors and need to be concerned with such mundane challenges as preparing taxes.

UVU called on the expertise of Traci Hainsworth to teach the "business of the business" at one of the workshops. She has spent 30 years working in Hollywood and has experience helping actors with the AIA Actors' Studio.

"I had two prongs I taught," she said. "They were the audition process, with its politics and procedures -- how to do a resume and a headshot, how to do a monologue."

"The second prong was the business of the business," she said. "Anybody who goes into the business, nine times out of 10, you will be an independent contractor. You are president and CEO of your own company."

She learned the Larry Moss method from actor Jason Alexander -- George on "Seinfeld," among other roles -- and said it was very intensive. However, it is worth it.

"There isn't a magic pill," she said. "You can build a solid resume. In a year you can be an actor making a living versus being a waiter with a dream."

With nine participants in that workshop at UVU, she was concerned that some might be bored while she was working one-on-one with individuals. Instead, they worked together to help each other, breaking down each of their approaches and offering suggestions.

Randy McNair was one of the participants. He teaches puppetry to all ages and does not plan to become an actor, but still found value in the information.

"I thought it was a really great overview of the dos and don'ts, especially in a place like Utah where you have a lot of professionals and unprofessionals mixed," he said.

McNair said learning how to present yourself applies to every walk of life, not just to actors.

"I don't aspire to act, but I do interact with the creative industry quite a bit," he said.

Hainsworth taught the students to carry a notebook with them at all times. When they complete an audition, they should mail a note thanking the person for the opportunity. That's fairly standard advice, but Hainsworth carries it further. Since many times the same individual will conduct auditions for various productions, she told the students to keep track of those people and when they meet the person again, they should remind them of their other meetings.

"It develops a relationship," she said.

McNair said he also learned not to take an "actor's moment" prior to speaking in an audition, such as gesturing or closing your eyes to get in the mood.

"That is the sure sign of the difference between an amateur and professional," he said. "You should just give your name and start speaking."

He was glad he attended.

"I was expecting something that was good, but it was great," he said.

-- Barbara Christiansen covers news in American Fork ˜ government, schools, residents, business and more.
Read more from Barbara Christiansen here.

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