Two theatre majors from Southern Arkansas University had the opportunity during the fall to travel to New York City where they were able to practice the skills they have learned in the classroom.
Junior theatre major Amanda Cannon of Drasco and sophomore theatre major Christian Williams of Hope performed at the Bridge Theatre in New York City in October in a staged reading of Eugene O’Neill’s impressionistic play, The Hairy Ape. The play was produced by New York’s Sanguine Theatre Company and was directed by SAU assistant professor of theatre Clayton Guiltner.
Cannon and Williams were among 13 professional actors who were cast in the production.
“It is always exciting to direct professional actors,” Guiltner said. “I cast some with impressive careers, everything from super bowl commercials, soap operas, to actors from NBC’S 30 Rock.”
The project began with rehearsals at the Shetler Studios in New York, located just steps away from Broadway.
“Being in that rehearsal room with the actors was exciting,” Cannon said “I was so nervous the first night, but by the time we performed the play I felt comfortable.”
Cannon, who is currently enrolled in the SAU theatre course Auditions and Business, was given a list of questions by students in the class to ask the New York actors. The questions centered around topics discussed in class.
“I would talk to the actors during our rehearsal breaks, and would ask them some of the questions,” Cannon said. “I learned some valuable information from them and will be bringing that information back to class with me this week. It’s one thing to learn from a book, it’s another to actually be there in New York and be able to find out first hand what it’s like in this business.”
This was the first opportunity the Department of Theatre and Mass Communication has provided for students to receive direct experience in a major entertainment market. The idea to include Guiltner’s students stemmed from a goal implemented by Dr. Trey Berry, dean of the College of Liberal and Performing Arts, for professors to find ways to practice instruction outside of the classroom when possible.
In addition to the play production, Guiltner took the students to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they saw impressionistic paintings from the same time period that the play was written. They also toured a costume design exhibit at New York University’s Tish School of the Arts.
“New York is the spot where live theatre in our country thrives, and to be able to introduce students who want to have careers in acting to this environment is a significant part of their education,” Guiltner said. “It’s not just a sight-seeing trip, it’s a trip which actually involves working on a play, which is of significant value to our students.”
Guiltner plans to make this an annual opportunity for SAU students and an integral part of their education in SAU’s theatre program.