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. Show times are as follows:

  • 7:30 p.m. – Tuesday through Thursday, Sunday
  • 8 p.m. – Friday and Saturday
  • 2:30 p.m. – Friday and Saturday

For more details on “The Old Friends” or to purchase tickets, visit the Alley Theatre’s website.