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Guest Artists

BYU Theatre Students Build Characters with Actors from the London Stage

Advanced theatre students attended a workshop taught by Shakespearean actor Chris Donnelly focusing on character motivations and acting from moment to moment

Theatre students taking advanced acting at BYU were treated to a workshop taught by Chris Donnelly, a member of the Actors From the London Stage touring company. The five-member group recently performed “The Taming of the Shrew” on campus as part of the BRAVO! Professional Performing Arts series. Donnelly started off the class with a series of drama games. Though the games may appear to be silly to outsiders, Donnelly emphasized why they are so important for actors.

“If you are wrong,” Donnelly said, “be wrong with confidence.” He urged the actors to act without hesitation, be brave and “talk from the part of the brain that doesn’t process information, but is silly and irrational.” After warming up, the students performed the two-person scenes they worked on winter semester. The scenes were taken from various advanced plays by Anton Chekhov, Tennessee Williams and others. Donnelly took time with each scene, critiquing and re-working specific moments, often having students try out different approaches. “Play it like it has never happened before,” was advice Donnelly gave often. In order to bring the theory into reality, he demonstrated how the actor’s body should physicalize what the character is feeling before any words are ever spoken. This helps convince the audience that they are not watching actors, but real people living from moment to moment. Donnelly also emphasized how everything done on stage is for the benefit of the audience. “No matter how personal it is,” he said, “it is for the audience. Think of the greatest actors and how they give everything by seeming to do nothing.” These actions could be small or large but should always actively portray the character’s desires and tell the story.

Stephen Moore, a student who acted a scene from “Uncle Vanya” opposite scene partner Brando White, shared his thoughts on the experience: “We were all able to find a greater depth of character, but also a greater understanding of acting as a whole. We received an outside perspective from someone who is very skilled which helped me take a step back and re-evaluate what my process is as an actor as well as some of my bad habits.” During Moore’s work session, Donnelly focused on relying on the text to guide choices and discover meaning. He told the class that the clues are all in the text and that the scripts of classic plays are too good ever to fight against or perform lazily. He also said to not “swallow the words. Therein lie the pictures and the psychology.” “The workshop with Chris Donnelly was an amazing experience,” Moore said. “It felt very in depth and I also felt like I got to meet someone that was such a fun person. I hope BRAVO! continues to provide fantastic experiences like this for students.”