Sunday, April 1, 2012

Alma Mater honours me

I just returned from Minneapolis where I went last week to give a presentation to the students in the theatre arts program of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.  I graduated with an honors undergraduate degree back in the middle ages and when they asked if I would return, I happily agreed.

I haven't been back since I graduated.  At the time I attended, U of M had 60,000 students.  It's grown to 100,000 and since raising $1.5 billion from the people of the Twin Cities a few years ago, has also been on a building boom.  I hardly recognized much of the campus.  What hasn't changed was Rarig Center, a state of the art facility that housed the theatre arts program.  Four theatres--all as nice or better than any of the stages I've worked at during my professional career--plus classrooms and studios make it a great place to go to drama school.

Two of my old profs were still around and I got to reconnect with them.  Professor Lance Brockman taught set and lighting design and Professor Elizabeth Nash taught voice.  Professor Nash's voice courses have proved to be incredibly valuable since I studied there.  And I've found that I use the techniques she taught not just in the theatre but perhaps more so on film and TV and certainly in voice engagements.  But both of them and the others who are no longer, Professors Charles Nolte, Arthur Ballet, Lee Adey, Wes Balk, were also role models as they all worked professionally as well as had an academic's understanding of the subject they taught.  At least I was able to thank Professor Nash and Brockman personally after all these years.

Only a few students were able to attend my presentation, but the ones that did were extremely engaged and interested in what I could give them.  My presentation ranged from talking about film acting--I screened my demo reel which showed them the range of accents I've had to use--writing for the Muppet series Fraggle Rock--I screened a clip from my favourite episode which I'd been inspired to write from my interest in Samuel Beckett's writing.  (In fact, I acted in Waiting for Godot in my previous university and directed Endgame for my honours thesis at U of Minnesota.  I staged the play in a little garage that was used as a rehearsal space by the theatre arts department.  A kind of perfect locale for the play, given that I had no money for a set.)  I also showed them the trailer to Dany Boy, an independent feature in the financing stage that I'm planning to shoot this summer.  And I was able to show them photographs from Pleiades Theatre's production of Tagore's The Post Office I acted in last spring.

The culmination of my visit to my alma mater was receiving an Alumnus of Notable Achievement award from the College of Liberal Arts.  Since 1995, CLA has given 1200 awards from 100,000 alumni. This year 14 of us were honoured and I was in some pretty amazing company.  They were all captains of industry and academe. One recipient had founded the first women's shelter in the US.  Another travels to disaster zones, like Haiti and New Orleans to do relief work.  My biggest claim to fame was being in Little Mosque on the Prairie, which is seen in 63 countries.  The other winners were fascinated and wondered why it wasn't shown in the USA.  I replied, "Fox News and Rush Limbaugh?"

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