by Tom Lee
"All of you have something that is unique to you, but it won't exist unless you present it to the universe."
Those words were spoken by playwright and actor Eisa Davis '92 at the opening of her Learning From Performers workshop last Monday, October 19, setting the stage for—and presenting a challenge to—the 14 students who participated.
Davis—acclaimed for her plays such as the Pultizer Prize-nominated Bulrusher as well as her many performances on stage, television and film—skillfully advised, guided and directed the students during the two-hour workshop, a how-to session on exploring, in her words, "the ephemeral relationship between performer and audience that nourishes us." She led the students through several exercises designed to generate ideas for dramatic monologues and short scenes, including memory games, a bit of mime, and "acting one's mood."
The workshop's centerpiece was an exercise inspired by the "documentary theater" technique of one of Davis' most significant mentors, actor/writer Anna Deavere Smith. The students were assigned to conduct an interview with the person sitting next to them; after two minutes the roles were reversed, with the interviewer becoming the interviewee. Finally each student had to enact, with words, gestures, and vocal-physical impersonation, the person they had interviewed. Beyond their obvious humor, the monologues revealed as much about the actors—and the choices they made—as the subjects they were impersonating.
The students are currently working on scripting monologues and scenes, which they will perform in a works-in-progress performance workshop on Monday, November 9 at 4 pm in the New College Theatre Rehearsal Studio (the public is invited, and admission is free). Davis will once again be on hand to continue guiding the playwright-performers, encouraging them to "face your fears, imagine utopias, and give voice to your and others' experience" as they present their work to the universe.
[Caption: Actor/writer Eisa Davis '92]