Larson shares worldly theatre enthusiasm with students
Dr. Bethany Larson has always loved being a student.
The assistant theatre professor had the opportunity recently, thanks to the generosity of Buena Vista University's Faculty Development commitment, to be a part of an acting symposium at Academia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy. The "student" came away with a greater enthusiasm for movement, dance, improvisation, mask technique, commedia dell'arte history and performance theory. Back on campus, she has taken on the teacher's role once again, sharing with her theatre students and staff.
"This was a gift," she said of the "I would go back!"
Larson was one of only eight faculty members from the U.S. to have this opportunity. The Academia dell'Arte is located in what was once a Catholic Bishop's summer residence that underwent $3 million in renovation to transform it into a school. The school is open all year and draws students from across the world.
The symposium was "intense" with masters of the arts leading the way; Kevin Crawford of England, a leader in voice; a professor from Ireland Trinity University; Marcello Bartoli of Italy who spoke no English; and Carlos Garcia of Spain.
"I've had good acting teachers but there is nothing like them," Larson said of those she encountered at the symposium.
The area that was most focused on at the academia was the great Italian improvisational theatre form - Commedia dell'Arte. Masks were demonstrated - beautiful masks, made of cow hide by professional mask makers.
Acting with the masks on is the "most physical expression of the mind," the BVU professor said. "The mask conceals what we feel but reveals who we are." In other words, the actors wearing the masks don't speak and sometimes feel safe as the audience cannot see their expressions. Using only body expression, the actors must work hard to bring the audience into the script.
The Italian-made masks she had the opportunity to see are very beautiful - and very costly. At BVU, she has used masks as part of her advanced acting classes. Hiding behind the masks is a good exercise for the student thespians. She hopes to eventually bring masked students on stage to present a story.
Larson pointed out that while the Italian school focused on the commedia-style of acting, many other forms of acting are seen in Italy, including American-methods.
In Italy, Larson also thoroughly enjoyed participating in several exercises - one which shows how to train breathing patterns and another on how to hold concentration - both of which Larson is using in her classes.
"It's very fascinating," she said. "I learned things I never knew and reinforced so much of what I've been doing. I am so inspired and will use as much of what I learned with my students to enable them to understand theatre from the masters. The University saw the value. To be able to bring back new perspectives and a new understanding for the theatre - is so cool."
Larson would love to work out a trip to Italy for students so that they can receive the same kind of inspiration.