Such wonderful memories! I studied there from September ’82 to May ’83 under the one and only Stephen Strimpell! I was so upset when I learned he had passed away. Might my muffin tins used for a scene from Crimes of the Heart still be there?!!
Although I studied for 5 years in Ms. Hagen’s class, from 1975-1980, and worked as a registrar in the front office, as Marlene Mancini’s assistant and did payroll and bookkeeping for the Studio, my first class at HB was with Herbert Berghof. As a new college graduate back in New York, fresh out of the Northwestern University theater department, my first meeting with him was unforgettable. Trembling, I introduced myself, Dan Schweid (my last name is Shaw now), and he drawled, in his lovely Viennese accent, “Are you related to Mark Schweid?” My jaw dropped and I said, “Yes, he was my grandfather.” Herbert proceeded to tell me that he and my grandfather were in a Theater Guild production together in the 1940s, of a play called “The Russian People,” an adaptation by Clifford Odets of a Russian play. He told me that one night, at the end of Act II, my grandfather forgot his dramatic closing line, and improvised something instead that left everyone on stage broken up with laughter as the curtain came down. Laughing with the memory, Herbert said, “Alright, you can be in my class, but we’ll see if you’re as good as your grandfather.” As thrilling as it was to be accepted into Herbert’s class, it was even more wonderful to learn that my grandfather, who was very ill as I grew up and whom I never really got to know, was an actor admired and remembered by the great Herbert Berghof.
I began studying at HB as a singer, taking all of the Musical Theatre classes available, particularly those of Helen Gallagher. In large part, because of my work with her, I was awarded a Fellowship at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center Cabaret Symposium, where I had the privilege of working with such legendary performers as the late Julie Wilson and Margaret Whiting. On returning to HB, I felt that studying acting would help greatly with my interpretation and performance of lyrics and musical roles, and began working with the late Bill Hickey. I went on to study with the great Anne Jackson, in whose class I met my now husband, actor Liam Mitchell, and to study with the wonderful and unique Austin Pendleton. With the skills honed by working with teachers of this calibre, I began to audition for acting roles on stage, as well as in film and television, and earned my AEA and SAG/AFTRA cards. In the last year I have appeared in two feature films: “”This Is Where I Leave You””, with Jane Fonda and Tina Fey, and “”They Came Together””, with Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, as well as in cabaret around the country.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the deep and lasting friendships, as well as professional contacts that I have made at HB. I am, and will be forever grateful for the impact that HB has had on my life.
I had the honor to stay personally with Herbert Berghof in the studio while he was teaching. My first day I went to watch one open lesson then I wanted to come back and stay for one full day so my second time he asked me when he saw me who i was and where i was coming from ,I had an accent ,so I explained him i was italian and i loved theatre so he asked me to perform on stage to show him what i was able to do so I played a monologue in italian from Luigi Pirandello it was the role of the daughter from six characters looking for an author.I finished and he said to me very well this is Pirandello! where are you studying? I told him and also I told him I was going back to italy so he answered me: well then I’m going to help you I will write a letter to the great director Giorgio Streheler in Italy to recommend you. So he wrote this letter to the great italian director. I still have a copy of that.In the future I met him in Milan- and then he started teaching again his lesson and I left him a wonderful bottle of white wine S. Margherita because I loved his talent and I was honored about what he said about me and the way he welcomed me even if I was in another studio I will never forget! thank you
I came to Hb fresh out of high school and hungry for serious acting training. The lessons I gleaned my teachers Lorraine Serabian, Mary Anthony, Rasa Allen Kazlas & Ian Marshall have ended up shaping the path of my life in ways I never could have anticipated. Lorraine imparted the importance of experiencing all I could out of life and not being afraid or judging the moments that were difficult, but to embrace them, observe myself and use it to stay connected & focus each aspect that is within me. My time with Mary Anthony was interesting; I feared her because she was harsh, honest, passionate. She didn’t hold back anything to be nice. She challenged everyone in the class, especially me, in the way that I held my body and took care of my most precious vessel for acting. I credit her with planting the seeds that grew a newfound interest I took in the health and awe of my body. I am now a dancer, I think because of her. As a result of her and Lorraine’s wisdom about traveling to observe and throw oneself into Life, & learning how to respect and play the body like a beautiful instrument, I have found myself on a journey as a teacher & performer of Flow and Fire dancing. My improv and acting training has given me a unique edge as a performer, and I even incorporate exercises out of Challenge for the Actor into my classes, to bring more meaning and connection to students’ relationship to the objects with which they dance. Hb started it all for me!
I was fortunate enough to study with Uta Hagen, Earle Hyman, Doreen Cannon, Ellen Foley, Elizabeth Hodes, Mary Anthony and the incomparable Sandy Dennis, for whom I was key student for 2+ years. The superb instruction I received at HB has helped me bring characters to life with vibrancy and truth — creating, as Earle Hyman put it, “formed living.” Thank you, HB.
After yesterday’s improv class, I found myself thinking deeply about what it means to be an actor and would like to share a few thoughts I had.
To some degree acting is a profession of the highest calling. Higher then clergy, higher than law, higher in psychology and higher than teaching because to some degree it incorporates all of those professions. The actor uses his body as a tool. His aim is to present elements of the human condition in it’s most authentic, original unadulterated form for the state of learning about what it means to be alive and for healing. The actor uses his body as his instrument, his tool. With courage, he aims to delve into the deepest canyons and the darkest alleyways of what it means to be human under intimate, personal, and turbulent conditions. So the actor must be willing to go there within himself first. The actor must go to places within himself over and over again and play, get familiar with, and present his findings. Healing must be part of the process. The actor must pursue healing in his life. Healing through familiarity. Healing through experience. Healing through presentation. In other words, complete familiarity with all of the darkest alleyways and deepest caverns and scary haunted hallways. Familiarity in deed; with all of these places and bring them to the light. And what that really means is in a quite literal way. Bring these dark deep personal states of being that exist within the mind and the memory and to an extent the imagination, into the manifested world of the five senses through his body and quite literally in front of the spotlight or stage lights for that matter. So please, understand that acting is a noble profession of the highest calling.
I remember my first day, and cognizant of the sign that said, “do not enter while a scene was in progress.” so I didn’t. But when I did there was Geraldine Page receiving her critique after doing a scene (the opening one of course) of Masha’s in “The Three Sisters.” Oh what I had missed!
But most of all, and through those lucky years, I remember Uta…in her little hats and with her little dog…and remember that of all the teachers I studied with and there were more…Uta cared first and foremost and always about beauty. Her love of our art was palpitating…true, sincere and her critiques incisive. I remember such words from her how the word “just” is never to be used. Her insistence on “Action”…and remember, every minute of her teaching, was infused with love…
I studied with Uta Hagen’s protege, Charles Nelson Reilly at the Burt Reynolds Institute. With his recommendation I auditioned for Ms. Hagen’s class, even getting the chance to act with her in class on a scene from FRANNY AND ZOEY. Ten years later I associate directed Ms. Hagen in the premiere of AFTER ALL/Vincent Canby, co-starring Fritz Weaver and directed by Charles Nelson Reilly. It was such an honor to work on, to co-create, a new work of art with the greatest of artists, Ms. Hagen. I now write and direct short films and teach her process at the Broadway Theatre Project, around the world: The Netherlands, Israel, Panama, Venezuela, Canada, and across the USA, with clients starring on Broadway, ABC, CBS, Nickelodeon and telenovelas.
My days at HB were at a very exciting time for the studio. Herbert (although quite aware of the burgeoning theater in Germany with the Berliner Ensemble making a strong move on the international theater scene with works of Bertolt Brecht) was insistent on his great desire to promote only American work. So, I was glad to be in the presence of this great man of the theater who was so excited about finding new American work.
But my experience at HB was actually in the atmosphere of Bill Hickey, whose look at life was so unique that every actor in his class went home with the knowledge that he or she was a special person, a one-and-only actor with the absolute right to express their individual talents and surprise even themselves. My greatest challenge in that class was to make Bill Hickey laugh and if I did, I knew it came from a truly unique place in me, because that’s what he inspired us to do. Yes, it was a very exciting time for me and the true beginning of my career.