5/24/2007

Today we welcomed one of my oldest, most ancient, aged, superannuated friends, Jjana Valentiner. Jjana came to help us out with some Shakespeare acting tips in preparation for our monologue performances next week. Jjana is a classically-trained actress, has an MFA degree from the Academy of Classical Acting at George Washington University, and has appeared on stage in many productions in Washington D.C. and New York. Basically, what I’m saying here is she’s too good for us, and, really, the only reason she graced us with her presence at all was because I cruelly exploited her weakness for good sushi.

Anyway, here’s a basic rundown of what we did:

First, Jjana warmed us up with some serious stretching. Apparently, it can be very dangerous to act if you’re not warmed up and stretched out.

Then we spent some serious time talking about punctuation. It’s kind of funny how very creative stuff like Shakespearean acting combines with what a lot of you guys probably considered those kind of boring grammar lessons about punctuation we had last week. It turns out it’s all connected. It’s almost as if somebody PLANNED it that way–as if there were some person thinking about your educational process and your creative goals and figuring out what you might need to know to move on to bigger and better things. Who could this person be? Who would spend all of their time and energy planning for your educational and artistic progress? God bless you, whoever you are.

Anyway, to illustrate the importance of grammar, Jjana had us get up and mill around in the middle of the room. Every time we came to a punctuation mark, we changed directions, which caused us to pause a beat in our reading, and also made us re-evaluate the flow of the speaker’s thoughts in that moment.

While we were milling around, Jjana also had us choose one or two “big” words from our monologues and just repeat the words over and over as we walked. It was cool to mill around amidst all these people and these big words. Eventually, she told us to start saying our word to different people while trying to elicit a specific emotional response to our utterance. It was hard for most of us to make our word sound anything other than “funny,” but we tried. We really tried.

After that, Jjana showed us how to closely scan a line of iambic pentameter, and she pointed out different ways Shakespeare plays with the pattern to emphasize certain words. We’ll do a close analysis of our own monologues along these lines tomorrow.

Then came the coolest part of all, where Jjana showed us what a real performance should actually look like. She performed a scene from Cymbeline, and it was really cool to see her slip into character so quickly. It’s a rare opportunity to be able to see a professional actor so up close and personal, and the class could really feel the power of the language as chaneled through Jjana. For most classes, we also got to see Jjana do a little bit of her “strumpet” character, Doll Tearsheet (one of Falstaff’s “special friends”)  from Henry IV, and it was both bold and saucy.

So. If you missed it, you should feel very sorry for yourself. I know we all do.

MT

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