Esteemed Stage, Screen Star Betty Buckley Imparts Career Wisdom to UH Actors
by Mike Emery
University of Houston
September 2, 2014
Many University of Houston students were off campus enjoying the first holiday of the fall semester. A group of dedicated student actors from UH's School of Theatre & Dance, however, had no problem spending part of Labor Day learning from an esteemed stage and screen star.
Tony Award winner Betty Buckley contributed her time and wisdom for a special workshop and Q&A session with a small group of theater students.
Buckley has become quite familiar with the campus as she is starring in the Alley Theatre's "The Old Friends," which runs through Sept. 7 in UH's Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre.
Buckley offered students acting advice and recollected memorable experiences from her career. She also discussed some of her teaching methods. Buckley has taught acting at T. Schreiber School & Theatre in New York and other institutions. As a teacher, she requested that students participate in one-minute observation exercises in which they closely watched animals, babies, homeless people and people in pain or experiencing crises (often in emergency rooms).
"You have to be a keen observer of life," she said. "Acting isn't just about talent. It's about witnessing and being fascinated by humanity."
Another key technique taught and practiced by Buckley is meditation. Focus is particularly crucial for actors, she said.
"Beautiful acting … beautiful singing … beautiful communication has to do with pointed focus and understanding your mind," Buckley said. "Meditation offers a beautiful path and practice that assists actors.
"Life exists because of one's potential and one's inner vision. The life of an actor is often filled with rejection and judgment. You have to look inside yourself. The only person who can define who you are … is you … not directors, teachers, casting agents, critics, family members. No one can determine what your abilities are except you."
In addition to discussing her career and offering advice to students, Buckley also critiqued monologues during a short workshop.
"She told us to basically work our tails off," said graduate student Josh Clark. "She also encouraged us as actors to cleanse our mind palette before and at the end of the day, so we're not ravaged by the stories we've been telling in our heads. I thought that was very interesting, and it's something I've started practicing."
"Betty Buckley generously shared three hours of her day off after doing five performances in just 50 hours," added professor Jack Young. "She gave our emerging artists a first-person account of just how rigorous and demanding a career at the highest level can be. After Tony Awards, 'above the title' fame and a long-running TV series, each day still requires her focus and dedication to improve as a performer. The impact of hearing these things from someone of Ms. Buckley’s stature and experience is immediate and invaluable."
Buckley's career includes her iconic and Tony-winning performance as Grizabella in the Broadway production of "Cats" and Nora Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard." Television fans will recall her role as Abby in ABC's "Eight is Enough." She also had a regular role on HBO hit "Oz." In the Alley production of Horton Foote's "The Old Friends," she stars as Gertrude Ratliff, a role she played during a 2013 off-Broadway production.
"She was breathtaking," said graduate student Ken Hopkins. "It was an honor to learn from her, and she even came to campus on Labor Day. It's a reflection of the experiences UH provides its students."
"The Old Friends" is the first Alley play to be performed at UH. For its 2014 -15 performances, the Alley will deliver performances at the University while its downtown performance space is being renovated.
For those willing to do the work, says Broadway star Betty Buckley, a powerful performance is well within focus
by Catherine Mallette
February 14, 2012
James Worley is hard at work getting out of his head.Betty Buckley, poised in the front row of the theater at Fort Worth's Museum of Modern Art, is making the 25-year-old from Euless get up and move."Tennis!" she shouts. Then about 10 seconds later: "Basketball!" Puffing and trying to catch his breath, Worley pantomimes one sport and then another -- "Karate master! Swimmer! Ballet dancer!" -- running, leaping, punching, and all the while singing a song, accompanied by Stephen Dubberly at the grand piano.It's late on a Thursday in January, and Buckley -- who grew up in Fort Worth and went on to become a Broadway sensation as well as a TV and movie star -- is teaching one of her song interpretation and monologue workshops. While most folks know of her work in front of a camera or on stage, she has been teaching, or perhaps more accurately, coaching for more than 30 years. In this particular class are a handful of students, from a college freshman to a university professor. They've finished their half-hour warm-up of meditation. They've sat in a circle and talked with Buckley about how to maintain their focus and about what particular challenges each of them is facing this week. And then the students have gotten up and, one by one, worked with Buckley on a selection of their choice.What happens is that students learn to build a relationship with a song, which Buckley explains is just like building a relationship with a person.Sure, Buckley fusses at her students for slurring and for not standing correctly, but what she's really doing is teaching principles she has learned and embraced through the years. She is teaching focus, something that sounds kind of New Age-y and vague but that she insists is extremely definable, practical and translatable far beyond the realm of music.She asks students to play, to imagine, to stop thinking about "me, me, me."And what happens, somehow, is no less than magic.