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Christine Ebersole: The power of who you are

What can legendary performers on stage and screen give to aspiring young performers who hope someday to be professional artists? That was the question floating in the air Friday, Jan. 25 at Agassiz House where Christine Ebersole, a performer of stage, TV, concert halls and more, worked with three students to offer advice on their musical theater performances. Ebersole is in town for a Celebrity Series of Boston performance Saturday at Sanders Theatre and taught her Master Class at Harvard as part of the Office for the Arts Learning From Performers program.

Mark Mauriello ’15, David Sheynberg ’16, and Lily Glimcher ’14 were accompanied by Madeline Smith ’14 and performed songs by such classic composers as Cy Coleman and Stephen Sondheim. After each solo, Ebersole offered advice and praise.

Theater artist Christine Ebersole told students: "All we can do is remain true to ourselves and to the art form." PHOTO: JACOB BELCHER/OFA

After listening to Glimcher deliver a passionate rendition of Lying There from Edges, Ebersole commented that “desperate doesn’t always mean loud,” and encouraged the performers to consider songs from multiple perspectives while forming a character. Glimcher, eager to experiment with this advice, sang the end of Lying There again, this time with a quiet vulnerability. When she finished, Ebersole had tears in her own eyes and spotted them in the eyes of others. Ebersole believes actors “erroneously think that [they] have to show that emotion,” when really they must tell a story and let the audience show the emotion.

During a question and answer session, the audience — made up of students and community members — focused on the tension between the performing traditions of yesterday’s generation and today’s. Ebersole attempted to bridge that gap by emphasizing similarities. Acknowledging that traditions in performance will change, she says that there will always be authenticity in live theater. Some audience members complained about the artificial sound and high-volume experience created through modern amplification, but Ebersole focused on the positive effects amplification systems have had on acting. Without worrying about volume, actors are free to focus on performance, improving theater quality. Students in the audience brought the questions back to performance: How can they pursue lives as artists? How does Ebersole develop characters? How did she become an artist?

In the end, Ebersole left the audience with a dose of her own tremendous hopefulness about the future of theater. “As long as there are humans on earth, there will be live theater,” she said. She encouraged performers and the audience alike to “recognize [their] own gifts” and act on them. “The power of who you are and what you bring to it — that’s what gets transmitted,” she said.

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