Friday, April 19, 2013

Acting is about uniting the mind and body

Professor uses different approach to teaching theatre in first year at PLU

By Kelli Breland, A&E Writer

To Lori Lee Wallace, acting is a lot more than just reading lines and navigating the stage. Instead, it’s an art of uniting the mind and body, abandoning the ego and becoming fully immersed in the character.
This year was Wallace’s first year teaching at Pacific Lutheran University as assistant professor of theatre. She has an immense amount of experience with the art of performance.

Wallace said she grew up on the stage, participating in her first play, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when she was only 5 years old. 
While she said she loves spending time outdoors, Wallace’s passion for theatre has never faltered. She said she has participated in more plays than she can count and that Shakespeare wrote most of her favorite productions.
After attending the University of Arizona, she earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Exeter in the U.K., and her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado.
Wallace said she met one of her most influential professors, Phillip Zarrilli, while studying in the U.K.
In Zarilli's classroom, Wallace  said, she learned the importance of the physical aspect of acting. The class was a grueling three-hour session with intensive physical work, but “I don’t think I’ve ever been more in tune with myself as an actor as when I worked with him,” Wallace said.
Also while studying in the U.K., Wallace had the opportunity to step out of her usual roles and try new characters.
During the end of her studies at Exeter, Wallace auditioned for Shakespeare’s “King Lear.” She expected to play her traditional role of Cordelia, but instead won the role of Edgar.
“Edgar’s been framed by his brother Edmund, and he’s on the run now from people trying to kill him,” Wallace said. “It was the coolest role I’ve ever played.”
Now, Wallace teaches what she has learned from both her own experiences and her studies with Zarrilli to her students at PLU.
Alongside more traditional acting lessons, her students learn various physical arts similar to yoga in order to unite the mind and body and abandon the ego.
“I think she is really able to make sure that the students are engaged, not just mentally in the material,” Amanda Sweger said, a fellow assistant professor of theater. “She is also actually able to physically engage the students, creating story through movement.”

Sweger and Wallace worked  together in two PLU productions, “How I Learned to Drive” and “Our Town.”
Something Wallace said is particularly important to her is teaching her students to abandon their ego, which she first began to learn when studying at Exeter.
“We all struggle with ego,” Wallace said. “It was when I worked with Zarrilli where I first started to learn to abandon it, and it’s something that I’ve carried with me.”
While her students may struggle with this difficult concept Wallace is known for her kindness and willingness to help.
“She is really open to having you come to her office hours and giving you plays and monologues to try out that you’re not necessarily familiar with,” senior Myia Johnson said. “So that’s really cool.”
The feeling is certainly mutual.
“The students here are amazing, they’re talented, they’re intelligent, they ask big questions and they inspire me every single day as actors and as students,” Wallace said.