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Interview

Pro Actors Return to College at Theater Emory

Pro Actors Return to College at Theater Emory
Photo Source: Ann Borden

Leave it to one of the country’s leading teaching institutions to convince professional actors to go back to college. Well, sort of. At Theater Emory in Atlanta, Ga., Emory University’s resident professional company, “undergraduates work alongside professional theater artists in an atmosphere that is adventurous and intellectually stimulating,” as artistic director Jan Akers explains. “In the past three seasons, Theater Emory has hired approximately 345 pros in the areas of performance, design, stage management, and tech; in that number, approximately 130 were actors. (Pictured above is pro actor Danielle Deadwyler working with student Natalia Via in a production of “Marisol.”) 

The benefit to the students is obvious. But professionals also consider their work here to be an advantageous experience. In addition to enjoying a longer rehearsal period—full productions usually consist of five weeks of rehearsal with a two-week run—actors often comment on how much they appreciate dramaturgical support on certain projects and the substantive conversations about their work. “Pros see Theater Emory as a place for innovation and experimentation, a laboratory for theater research and the development of original projects,” Akers says. “They are given the inspiring experience to work in an atmosphere that values research, taking risks, and the time to create bold and multilayered theater.”

For the company’s upcoming spring 2016 season, Theater Emory is focusing on Shakespeare in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Two versions of “As You Like It”—one all male, one all female—will begin their Shakespeare celebration. (Auditions take place this weekend; actors can make reservations until 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 13. Equity members are seen without appointments, as per union rules.) “We are curious to see if certain themes, points of view and emotions might come into focus differently or similarly in the two productions,” Akers notes. “The genders of the characters remain as Shakespeare wrote them. We are asking the actors to seek what is human in each of the characters.”

While the audition process can vary depending on the focus of each director, Akers’ best piece of advice for actors is to redefine auditions in their heads. “Auditions are an opportunity to act and, presumably, that is what you love. Convince yourself that auditions are the best part of your day,” she says. “You have this moment, however brief, to do something meaningful, exhilarating, human. You could be doing so many other things for those few minutes but instead you get to express yourself: tell a powerful tale, bring to light someone’s complexities, vulnerabilities, aspirations. Auditions can rattle the nerves, but you might surprise yourself if you can filter out all the distractions and engage in the pleasure of performance.”

And if actors shows a sense of enthusiasm for the work, they can really set themselves apart. “I think it shows when actors are really committed to the experiment at hand and if they have convictions about creating compelling work,” Akers shares. “As a director, I enjoy talking with actors about the playwright’s themes and to figure out how every character in the play reflects those themes. It is lovely to know in the auditions that an actor shares that interest.”

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