Scattered about an airy rehearsal room at the back of the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, ten students dressed in black fidget with frypans, swing coils of rope, and play imaginary violins, all the while mumbling to themselves:
“He sat and ordered a glass of wine…”
“Sometimes I think he resented us.”
“…and then another glass, and then another…”
“That’s the face he made when he played violin.”
“…after about three hours, he had polished off a whole bottle by himself.”
“I did not want to call it a Pogrom.”
Such was the scene one day in Acting Theory and Performance II, a course in Macalester’s Theatre and Dance department, before the arrival of professor and department chair Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento, who soon burst into the room and called the students to the front for the day’s instructions.
As they gathered in a circle around her, Tatinge Nascimento explained the day’s exercise: “Start at the edge of the room, and enter the performance space together” she said. “You’re all on a boat, the boat that will bring you to America.” Once all were aboard, students would start performing the individual pieces they devised for the course. They should improvise when to start or interrupt their scores, with an attention to how one piece could relate to the others.
As she soon explained, the current political debate around immigration inspired each assignment. Tatinge Nascimento decided to frame the course around stories of ancestry, displacement, immigration, and the making of this nation. Students wrote creative non-fiction pieces—essentially four- to five-minute monologues with action—telling the immigration stories of their own relatives. “Last week we visited the Minnesota History Center with Macalester librarians Ginny Moran and Ellen Holt-Werle so that students could conduct archival research into the different immigration waves to the state.” For a second nonfiction piece, each student will write about a person from a different background.
In the rehearsal room, Tatinge Nascimento clapped her hands, and the students drifted into the “boat” on a makeshift stage, taking improvised places about the room. Soon one of the students began to sing, dance in place, and then recite the details from her immigration papers: “23-year-old, unmarried, immigrant. Engersund, Norway. Ingall.”
“Ingall was my great-great-grandmother on my dad’s side,” explains Elinor Jones ’21, after the class. “She immigrated from Egersund, Norway, in the late 1800s, before Ellis Island, and she ended up in Chicago.”
A theatre major, Jones took Tatinge Nascimento’s Introduction to Theatre Studies course in the fall, and knew right away she wanted to keep learning from her in Acting II, which combines everything from physical training, to reading, to original creative writing, and performance. “I feel like I’ve made great strides on my creative writing,” Jones says, adding that “my acting style has improved dramatically,” as she learns to become a more technical performer. Great part of the course is dedicated to acting techniques such as the use of tempo-rhythm, composition, and object manipulation.
Those advances come both in rehearsal time and in the kind of one-on-one coaching students get from Tatinge Nascimento. “Whenever Cláudia works with someone in front of all of us, she asks after they’ve performed, what do you see? What do you believe? What do you understand?” Jones says. “So we all share our insight, and then she’ll take our comments and work off of them and what she sees. It’s really cool how she’s able to include our observations to help someone else’s piece.” Tatinge Nascimento explains that one of the course’s goals is to develop each student’s artistic autonomy. For that, it is important that they learn the field’s vocabulary, and how to identify a piece’s strengths and weaknesses. “In performance,” she says, “one’s critical eye supports their critical thinking.”
While improved acting is part of Tatinge Nascimento’s intent, there’s more to the course as well; she also wants students to think about immigration and displacement, as well as to learn how to do primary research, write, and actively listen and respond to one another, skills that will carry well outside the theatre.
“She instills a higher level of professionalism than I’ve ever been taught or observed,” Jones agrees. “It’s done wonders for my ability to focus and get into a flow in rehearsal, in class, and just life in general.”
March 19 2018Back to top