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Ithaca Journal - Apr 30, '09: AWI Spotlight

Actor's Workshop to spotlight students past and present

by Jim Catalano

The Actor's Workshop of Ithaca, a local acting school that teaches the in-demand Meisner Technique, will host a pair of Spring Showcases on Friday and Saturday nights at Cornell's Risley Hall.

Friday's showcase will be at 6 and 8:15 p.m., while Saturday's will take place at 5 and 7:15 p.m. Current students will showcase their skills in improvisations, monologues and one-act plays.

"The purpose of the showcase is to give the students the opportunity to show off the fruits of their labor," said Eliza VanCort, the school's founder and director. "They spend two-thirds of the semester on technique and the final third applying technique to text in the form of one-act plays and monologues. They work really hard and this is a great way for them to show off what they've learned.

"Of course, it also serves the practical function of giving them stage experience, which some of them do not have."

In addition, some Workshop alumni will return for the second Saturday session to work alongside the current students as well as to talk about their careers. For more information, or call 339-9999.

VanCort describes the showcase as "theatrical tapas."

"The thing I love about our shows is that we have wide range of genres because we're doing several one acts and monologues," she said. "So if you don't like drama, you can be sure a comedy is coming up.

"You'll also see a very brief repetition demonstration, which is the bedrock of the technique we teach," she added. "

A happy homecoming

The 7:15 p.m show on Saturday will feature several Workshop alumni who are now pursuing careers in New York City: Amanda Setton, the Ithaca College graduate who plays Penelope on the hit television show "Gossip Girl"; Esosa Edosomwan, an actress, writer and "directress" who attended Cornell; Lucien Dodge, an Ithaca native who does voice work on children's audio books that are available through Live Oak Media as part of the Math Matters series; and Maria Victoria (known as Ria to many Ithacans; she used to dance with the Mofos), who has been working in small film and television roles while working on a book/screenplay.

The four will performing with students from VanCort's Monday/ Wednesday evening class. "I've seen some of the work they will be doing and it has blown me away," she said. "I feel so lucky to have been able to round up even four of our working grads at one time. They're all so busy, getting even four of them to be able to come was a real coup."

The alumni each credit the skills learned from VanCort's classes as crucial to their careers.

"It laid the foundation for nearly every single performance I've given on stage or on screen," said Maria Victoria.

"As an actor it was imperative, as I only felt like I truly understood what I was doing until after taking the workshop," Dodge added. "Before that, I was just stumbling in the dark, finding clues, but never any buried treasure. The workshop provided the illumination I was looking for."

"Meisner is about being in the moment," Edosomwan noted. "Most actors get into the trap of trying to say the line before the actual moment happens or telegraphing things. But it completely started me on a foundation of trying to be completely truthful and in the moment. So I never had the problems all these other actors had later —everything was always spontaneous."

Setton noted that her Actor's Workshop training was particularly invaluable for auditions. "Aside from acting technique, Eliza also focuses on cold-reading skills and audition techniques," she said. "Just having that practice under my belt — feeling those nerves from having just received a two-page audition script from her, going into the hall to rehearse for two minutes and coming back out and working with a random partner. You're thinking, 'I'm nervous and I have these butterflies,' but your mind is in a safe environment because you're in the studio. Having the ability to tap into that comfort, and also knowing what those feelings were for auditioning and how to deal with them, definitely gave me a leg up in the audition process."

Setton said she uses her Meisner training on "Gossip Girl."

"Just being in the moment and reacting off my partner," she said. "A lot of the work I do in 'Gossip Girl' is very formulaic and very deliberate and the lines are written very much for the machine of my character. Don't get me wrong — the writers are incredible, the show is great, etc. But for the head mean girl, I can only interpret the lines so much. But the Actor's Workshop and Meisner technique has helped me with my overall demeanor, and work ethic. In that way, it's definitely affected me on the show."

VanCort described herself as a "proud parent" when assessing her former students' myriad accomplishments. "There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than seeing students you adore go out into the world and succeed," VanCort said. "It's an indescribable feeling. And I feel particularly close with these alumni."

A good cause

Proceeds from this weekend's showcase will go to helping future Actor's Workshop students with financial needs.

"My only real concern is with the economy as shaky as it is, it will be more difficult for students to afford to take our classes, although we keep our rates very, very low compared to most students in order to make them more accessible people of all incomes," VanCort said.

"That's another reason why these showcases are more critical than ever. All the donations we get at the door go towards our scholarship fund, and students seem to be needing more help this year than ever."

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