“An actor must have the soul of a rose and the hide of a rhinoceros,” Stella Adler once said.
Her words were echoed in Room 306 last November by outstanding actor, educator, and solo performer Nilaja Sun, who led us in a Solo Performance Workshop as part of our second-year training. Her invitation to really pay attention to the singular power of our individual voices and stories as well as to the absolute strength in vulnerability brings to mind the wonderful guest artists that I’ve had the privilege of working with in my three semesters at Juilliard.
Parallel to the extraordinary teachings of our faculty, every now and then we attend master classes taught by guest artists, and we also hold community meetings with visiting artists.
In my first semester at Juilliard, I was part of a master class taught by director and educator Kym Moore called Acting Outside of the Box. It made us engage with important sociopolitical discussions and face a history of oppression to create from a more profound understanding of the world. We read articles and watched documentaries and conferences on race. Our final project consisted of interviewing one of our classmates and then "getting into their skin." This exercise allowed us, very early into the program, to connect with our ensemble and practice the beauty of empathy.
Mario Biagini gave us a six-hour master class on the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. Biagini is the associate director of the Grotowski Workcenter, in Pontadera, Italy, and this extraordinary opportunity came to us thanks to my wonderful classmate Arianna Stucki, who has collected incredible experiences training all over the world. Biagini elaborated on what freedom within a structure means. I especially remember two important ideas: that just like any person, a character occupies psychic space made up of memory and imagination, and that when you’re on stage, behind you, there’s a whole crowd of ghosts with intentions and desires. “Your arguments are all around the space; you need to look for them”, he told us.
We also trained under the guidance of Budi Miller, who became the first African American ceremonial mask dancer of Bali. A teaching artist who has traveled all over the world teaching Clown, Viewpoints, and Grotowski, came to Juilliard to teach us a mask-work master class. I remember the three spirits of mask: the thinking body, the feeling body and the will body, located in the head, the heart and the gut respectively. “We step forward because we enter the realm of work and creation,” he would tell us. I remember the stumping on the floor as we connected with our will power, and the openness of the chest when allowing emotions to flow.
As part of our community meetings last semester, Oscar Isaac, a Juilliard alum who's had all kinds of amazing theater and film roles, paid us a visit. He encouraged us to explore, take risks, eradicate the fear of failure, to lower our personal stakes so the stakes of the character can increase. His presence was also very important to me as a fellow Hispanic actor living in the United States. Isaac, who was born in Guatemala, advised me to transform the industry little by little, and when something’s off, to talk to directors and writers, to try to make the characters as complex and interesting as possible.
There are so many more that I will only mention. Multidisciplinary artist Meredith Monk awed me with her artistic freedom, sense of wonder, and surrender to the craft. Former Hamilton star alumna Philippa Soo encouraged us to try new works as they’re developed, to become mapmakers, and to create from that exploratory territory. Actor Steven Skybell, who's a guest teaching artist, worked with us and his passion for Shakespeare and the intrinsic power of language was intoxicating and enlightening.
I count this wide array of artists we work with as one of the main strengths of this program. This initiative only adds to the richness and diversity of knowledge we will have encrypted in our bodies when we fully exercise the craft outside this building.
Attend a student performance on campus.