Eminent British actor shakes up the stage

Henry Goodman: British actor, graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, winner of the Olivier Award for Best Actor for his role as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice in 2000 and for Best Actor in a Musical for Assassins in 1993 – a list of his famed theatrical productions could go on and on, perhaps taking over this whole article. Yet the man who walked into the ’62 Center’s Directing Studio this past Thursday wearing jeans and comfy sneakers was quite different from what one might expect from an actor of his fame.

Devoid of the slightest bit of arrogance and full of energy, he addressed the theater students gathered there in a sincere and engaging manner. He started by saying that Broadway, working alongside Julia Roberts, West End Stage and fame in general covers only 4 percent of his career. “Trying to change the world as an actor,” Goodman said, “is the other 96-percent.” Goodman cites as one of his most important achievements not his award-winning performances, but going to court in South Africa so that actors of both races could perform together onstage.

A large portion of his talk was devoted to reinforcing this conviction that acting is about making a meaningful impact, training and art more than glitz and headlines. “You train to be actors, not to be famous,” Goodman emphasized. According to Goodman, one should strive to reduce the “peacock” side of theater and the temptation to get carried away by applause and indulgence, finding a balance between fidelity to a play, to a situation, to our colleagues and vanity. Goodman encouraged the audience members to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and channel their weaknesses into strength, employing the analogy of a violinist and an actor. In the case of theater, one must be both the violin and the player – you cannot get rid of a part of your body or your soul; you must learn to exploit it.

The second part of Goodman’s visit consisted in a more interactive session in which three students from this semester’s Acting II class, Hannah Baker ’09, Ed Wichiencharoen ’09 and Tomomi Kikuchi ’11, performed a short scene from The Merchant of Venice, a class project that the trio will perform in November. Goodman provided guidance and thought-provoking questions to help the actors delved deeper into the roles. “For this workshop, we had to feel the character,” Baker said. “A character that’s not your same age, gender or religion – feel what they feel like, on the spot. It was challenging.”

To round up the talk, Goodman led the audience in thought exercises. He had the audience form a small circle, clap three times, perform any wild, crazy, spontaneous motion and clap again. The essence of this dynamic was to avoid thinking about that movement ahead of time and just to do what popped into your head during that instant. “No acting allowed,” Goodman had said earlier, “only being.”

The audience was able to connect to Goodman’s experiences. “It was very reaffirming to hear from someone that has made [acting] a career,” Michelle Rodriguez ’12 said. “It’s not about being famous or these superficial aspects but about being true to yourself.”

Goodman continues to work on his current project, filming for Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s new movie, Taking Woodstock, in New Lebanon, N.Y.