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Seminar teaches acting techniques

Christina Collins Burton
Staff Writer

Screaming, weeping and laughter could be heard echoing from the Jane Dibbell Cabaret as students attempted to submerge themselves in the meaning of sad and silly.

Speaker Kate Noonan brought her teachings she received from the distinguished actress Stella Adler and spoke to students on Nov. 4.

“Stella knew everything about everything, she was very scholarly and knew everything down to the last detail,” Noonan said.

Adler attempted to make a theater with a new kind of acting. Opening up two acting schools, one in New York and the other in Los Angeles, Adler wanted to teach actors by showing them how deadened they were in their daily lives.

Adler would spend six months focusing on an actor’s habits and then help them get rid of the habit so that they knew the difference between their habits and the character’s.

“I can imagine what she would be doing today with all of this stimulus,” Noonan said.

Activities that Adler would often have her students do included one in which she challenged her class to go out and find different shades of red and then have the class describe the quality of it.

“It is something you would normally take for granted,” Noonan said.

Noonan emphasized how acting is not about temperament or personality, but how it is about circumstances and finding what the playwright wanted to portray.

Noonan demonstrated Adler’s teachings through an activity that required simple action.

In theater performances, actors are expected to portray a character and know why they are doing it that way.

Noonan had the students stand up and sit down once, and then asked them to sit down differently than they had before.

The exercise tested the student’s ability to turn a simple action into a complicated one.

Students climbed over, squatted on and flipped over their chairs in an attempt to complicate sitting as much as possible.

Noonan then challenged the students to justify why they did that particular action to just sit down.

Alexander Clague, sophomore theater arts major, explained his sitting strategy as being an alien from Mars that has not had sitting explained to him by humans. Clague had flipped the chair and sat on the underside of it instead of sitting in the seat, following Noonan’s instruction.

“In order for you to make it work you have to believe it,” Noonan said. “Until you believe it, no one else will believe it.”

“It was insightful. It had a lot of information on the theater that was handed to me on a silver platter,” Alvaro Renteria, sophomore theater arts major, said. “I thought as I walked in it would be a seminar where we would sit there and listen.”

“I’m not an actor, I paint,” Caitlin McCarthy, senior art major, said. “I was thinking that I could apply her advice but I wanted to see what she thought.”

“It was one of the most interesting seminars I’ve been to. I was really involved in it,” McCarthy said.

Noonan introduced the essentials taught to her by Adler to budding actors and gave them advice on how to tackle even the biggest of roles.

“Honor and acknowledge theater and yourself. ‘Here is what I can give and only I can give it’,” Noonan said.

Christina Collins Burton can be reached at

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