Performing Arts Initiative Places Student Actors Alongside Professionals
Performance Salon gives students the experience of staged readings alongside industry actors
March 3, 2017
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Ever dreamed of working alongside experienced actors? If so, Cal State LA’s Performance Salon (PS) is a dream come true. Started this past fall by theater arts professor, Dr. Theresa Larkin, PS provides students with the special opportunity to perform staged readings alongside professional actors.
Last semester, Dr. Larkin drew from numerous classics sources, such as William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. Cast across age, gender, ethnicity and race, Larkin adapts each of these pieces so as to be read in a multicultural context.
When plays are in the public domain, Dr. Larkin also adapts pieces through a modern day lens. “We are doing two readings of Ibsen’s “An Enemy Of The People” in this exact manner. The first reading is set in the actual time of the late 1880’s and the second reading is set in current day Flint, Michigan,” said Dr. Larkin.
Dr. Larkin hopes that by exposing students to classic dramatic literature, they will develop an appreciation for the artistic depth and complex characterization found in these plays. However, the most unique benefit in her opinion, is the provision of professional actors, which she says, “elevates the playing level of both the rehearsal and performance for our students.”
Evea Gornall, a theater student who participated in the Performance Salon last semester, noted how the experience of working with professional actors made her more attuned to the demands of the professional stage. Playing the Woman in “Death of a Salesman”, she recounted her experiences with the professionals.
“It’s helpful noticing what it is that this person is doing differently that is making them so good, that is drawing me in. Like I’m in this performance, and I’m still on the edge of my seat listening to the pros,” said Gornall. “I study them, while we’re on stage. Like the eye contact thing. That’s something that I noticed a lot of them we’re doing, so I thought I should try doing that, too.”
In staged readings, actors typically do not memorize their lines and operate within a limited rehearsal period. Gornall did not think this detracted at all from the quality of the production. She found that staged readings exposed her to many more plays than long and tedious full blown productions.
“It’s a great way to read plays that you haven’t read before or aren’t familiar with or haven’t read in a long time. Because I had read “Death of a Salesman” a long time ago – I knew the premise of it, but I’d forgotten about it. And then we did it, I was just like wow, I forgot how good this was,” she said.
But there is one exception to Gornall’s preference for staged readings. “If it’s a show that I’m really passionate about, that I really love, then I want to do the full on production, so I can really ‘unpack’ it,” she said.
In addition to “Salesman”, Gornall also performed in “Homeless”, a compilation of monologues written by PS students. During the performance, Gornall read a monologue written by one of her peers, Amelia Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who performed in a PS adaptation of “The Persians” by Aeschylus, noted immediately how difficult it was. “You are given very little direction, you are reading straight through it, and you have to constantly be paying attention to how the cast is reading so you can match their tone and emotions,” she said.
Overall, she thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and would “definitely choose to participate again.” Gonzalez pointed out that after every PS reading, there is a talkback, in which audience members can ask the actors questions about the rehearsal process or performance itself.
Above all, PS shows students that classic literature is not as impenetrable as they may think. “PS helps students recognize that what is relevant today was also being explored hundreds, if not thousands of years ago.”
Their upcoming staged reading of Macbeth, premieres March 4, in the Arena Theater. Free admission for all and refreshments to be provided.