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Sally Burtenshaw on Uta

Tuesday @ 12:30 was my Uta Hagen Class. It was a huge event every week…..you'd better come prepared and you'd better have either an exercise or a scene. Walking down Bank street you'd see students with suitcases and boxes full of props or clothes getting there early to sign up and hoping you'd be seen this week.

 

Once inside class there was Ms. Hagen – with her hat on usually – her cigarette aglow – and sometimes her poodle on her lap. Her big broad laugh was always heard. The "Hagen Wagon" was stocked up with goodies and coffee. Every week 2 students would volunteer to bring food.

 

She instilled in us a sense of being interested in each other's work. It was sometimes easier to learn off of someone else's back. The sense of camaraderie and excitement I will never forget. Once your scene or exercise was done the dreaded question from Ms. H – "how did it go for you" or "What can you tell me" – she taught us to evaluate our work and even if you could not answer that question – she taught us how to.

 

To hear her laugh or make her cry during a scene was heaven! It didn't happen a lot but when it did…… I loved watching her watch a scene too. Her concentration during and her detailed notes after were insightful…..telling you just what you needed to work on at that time. After my father died I wasn't "feeling" like acting…she chose the perfect scene for me to work on. Why don't you have a go at A Phoenix Too Frequent by Christopher Fry.

 

There were so many moments in that class that shaped me as an actress. On a personal note – she was always so giving – offering me her apartment to stay in when she was teaching in Germany and I had returned to NYC after being away for 4 years! She was in a play in NYC and recommended me for a part in it. The audition was the next day. "Come over – we'll go over the scene together! " she said. and the most amazing moment of all was inviting me to come over before the audition and she would do my make up and hair.

I will NEVER forget that moment of her delicately putting make up on my face.

 

Those weekends out in Montauk. A very relaxed Ms. Hagen telling us stories of her time in Streetcar or Virginia Woolf. And seeing her with her hands in the dirt tending to the garden she loved so. There was food and drinks galore. She would cook the most delicious meals!!! There was one with cucumbers – not sure what she put on them – but I have never tasted a dish like that since. Thanksgiving dinner on Washington Square another highlight – there was the best food cooked by Ms. Hagen of course!

 

And then Ms. Hagen, Herbert and Mitch Erickson telling war stories of their time on Broadway and beyond. I sat and listened. I did not have experience or any "stories" as yet. And that was fine. I took it all in. I am forever grateful and lucky that I happened to go to NYC at that time – and have the luck and opportunity to study with Ms. Hagen and her husband Herbert Berghof – work with them – get to know them a little personally – and be mentored by them. The whole experience remains with me and a day does not go by that I do not use something they taught me – think of something they said – and wonder what they would think of the world that I see now. Forever Grateful to Ms. Hagen, Herbert and the HB Studio.

David Sheinkopf Meets Uta

Inquiry: I was fourteen years old when I first met Uta Hagen. I had the privilege of working with her husband Herbert in acting class. It was raining one day and I went to the door to open it for her. She was wearing a scarf and was very elegant. She looked at Herbert and said, "My, someone with manners around here," she passed me her umbrella and I hung it in the corner and she was off. I saw her from time to time at the studio and we always shared a quiet smile because of that day. It made me realize that not only did they make people stand out from a crowd, but it didn't cost anything extra. Only showed that you had class like Uta Hagen.

Discovering Uta — Ted Brunetti

Ted first met Uta Hagen upon arriving in NYC after graduating from University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and a season of summer stock. This was the start of a nearly 20 year professional and personal connection and one of the most profound influences in Ted's life. Ms. Hagen cast Ted in Herbert Berghof's most beloved material, Kafka's one-man piece A Report to the Academy, in the first Tribute to Herbert Berghof, where Ms. Hagen also performed a one-woman selection from Charlotte. This remains the most rewarding experience in Ted's career.

In addition to sitting side by side in class and in Montauk as she revised Respect for Acting, which became A Challenge for the Actor, Uta Hagen invited Ted to join the faculty of HB Studio. Ms Hagen also asked Ted to demonstrate Exercise 9 in her teaching video documentary Uta Hagen's Acting Class.

Ted created the role of "Frankie Coffee Cake" in the Broadway Production of A Bronx Tale (co-directed by Robert De Niro, and Jerry Zaks, book by Chazz Palminteri, music by Alan Menken, choreography by Sergio Trujillo, produced by Tribeca Productions, Dodger Theatricals & Tommy Mattola). In addition to being Uta Hagen's protégé (nearly 20 yrs), he is an invited Guest Member of the renowned Actor's Studio (LA). Ted is creator and executive producer of a half hour comedy pilot for FOX Broadcasting Network and has several other projects currently in development, and is an award winning coach/teacher.

Ted serves as Faculty, Guest Faculty, Coach & Director at the premiere Directing and Acting Programs and Institutions across the U.S. (including adjunct professor at USC School of Cinematic Arts teaching graduate and undergraduate film and television directors, producers, and writers) and an on-going guest artist for The Actors Center of Australia in Sydney: patron Hugh Jackman.

In addition to Uta Hagen, Ted has also studied with: Mike Nichols; Austin Pendleton; Horton Foote; Stiller & Meara; Francis Sternhagen; Elizabeth Wilson; F. Murray Abraham. Ted holds a BFA from The University of North Carolina School of the Arts; and is an Invited Member of The Actor's Studio.

Ted is recipient of National Endowment for the Arts Achievement in the Arts Award. He was finalist in three Backstage Magazine Readers Choice Awards 2016 & 2014 including: Best L.A. Acting School/Coaches, Best L.A. Audition Technique Teacher, Best L.A. On-Camera Teachers as well as runner up Favorite L.A. Acting Coach & L.A. Favorite Teacher 2008 & 2010.

Ted teaches a seminar, "Never Audition Again" (Prepare to WORK, not Audition) and is working on a companion book.

He is Co-Curator of utahagen.com

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Lucien Douglas on Uta

A student came to me a few weeks ago concerning a role she was working on in one of our productions. She was alone on stage in a certain scene and talking to herself. She didn't know quite how to handle it. I discussed that we are often trying to figure out a problem when we are talking to ourselves. I then referred her to Uta Hagen's A CHALLENGE FOR THE ACTOR and the Object Exercise "Talking to Yourself." She read it, followed the advice, and the doors opened for her. There it is . . . then Object Exercises are so useful, invaluable. I start every freshman Acting I class with them, and they continually open up doors for students. It's all right there in the Object Exercises, so practical and so simple a path to understanding circumstances, really doing and doing with purpose, and bringing one's personal self to the work. All the elements that other teachers (Aldler, Meisner, Strasberg) focused on are right there in the Object Exercises. And Historical (Character) Object Exercises continually enlighten students in answering the question, "Who am I?"

 


From Lucien Douglas, Professor of Acting at University of Texas Austin

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Austin Pendleton on Uta

I first met Uta in 1962.  I was in a play called Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Momma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad, by Arthur Kopit.  An exciting play, by Arthur Kopit, directed by Jerome Robbins, and playing opposite Jo Van Fleet and Barbara Harris, two very great and supporting actresses, with a dazzling supporting cast.

I was new in New York and I was one of the leads.  But that was the catch: I was radically inexperienced.  I was fresh from my undergraduate years, during which time I'd learned something about acting, but I'd never been in a play for any more than, say, two weeks.  Oh Dad.. had opened in February and now it was, like, May.  My ability to play the part I was playing was fraying, to the point of near-disintegration on too many nights.  I told the Stage Manager (Tom Stone) that I was going to have to quit.  The next day Tom called me and said I should stop at Jerry Robbins' apartment on the way to the theater that night.  I did.  Jerry said he didn't want me to quit.  He said that if I did, I'd never work again as an actor, and he didn't want that to happen.  This was very moving, of course, and for awhile I regained my confidence, but soon it began to fray again.  I told one of the actors in the play -- Barry Primus, a brilliant actor and a good friend -- that I had no idea what to do now.  Barry gave me subway directions to HB Studio, and said I should audition for Uta's class, which had meant the world to him, as it did to everybody I know who had taken it.  So I went down there and auditioned for her class, and got in, for the Summer Term.

That summer was transformative.  She was at once patient and demanding, which is the great paradox in teaching (or directing), and which not that many teachers and directors, even really good ones, can accomplish, at least not on a regular basis.  Uta came miraculously close to accomplishing it all the time.  A few years later, when Uta's husband, that genius Herbert Berghof, asked me to start teaching at HB, I wondered, "how does one do that?  I have no idea what leads Uta to her unerring, compassionate, and penetrating (sometimes fiercely penetrating) insights."  And then I remembered: the first thing Uta would just about always say, when she was offering a critique of a scene or exercise that had just been presented, was "What can you tell me?"  And then she would develop her insights about how to talk about the work she'd just seen from what she'd gleaned from what the student had told her.  So that's how I began to learn to teach (a process that took some time): I'd just say "What can you tell me?"  This did not, and still does not, lead me unerringly to critiques that have in them anything anywhere near the precision of what Uta would then say.  Still, it was a start.  And, all these years later, it's still a start.

Another thing, more personal: at the time I started studying with Uta, I was frequently troubled by a stuttering problem.  It would crop up occasionally my work in class.  Uta would refer to it, in her critique, as "vocal anxiety."  Nobody had ever called it that before.  Those two words began to knock the stigma right out of the stuttering problem, and (along with work by some stunning vocal teachers) began to alleviate it dramatically.  "Vocal anxiety": two words.  Infinitely precise, infinitely and off-handedly compassionate. And, again, infinitely transformative.  

I studied with herfor the Summer Term.  In the fall I got into a monumental and all-consuming thing called the Lincoln Center Training Program, in which the acting teacher was Robert Lewis, another great teacher.  And I was still in Oh Dad....  This meant I couldn't study with Uta anymore (though I resumed with her a couple years later).  But early in that fall, on a Monday night (a dark night for an off-Broadway show like Oh Dad...).  I went to a preview of a new play that Uta was in.  I'd never seen her act

before.  The play was called, yes, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  To see one's acting teacher act like that, with that richness, that depth, that astounding spontaneity gave me a new lease on my artistic life.  I saw her using all the techniques that she taught.  And I saw them working stunningly.  

I'm still riding on that wave.  Sometimes I fall into the water, but I'm still riding on that wave.

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Edith Meeks Remembering Uta

 

Remembering Uta

My first encounter with Uta Hagen was at a high school drama festival in Connecticut. She was in the middle of an amphitheater in a pool of light, speaking to a huge crowd of students and their teachers. I don't remember a word she said, just the impression she made on us, that she was the real thing, someone deeply practical and powerful and real, an authority, an artist. Her book found its way then into my high school drama class, and through it, long before I met her, she began to teach me to use myself with courage on stage rather than pretend to be somebody else. After college, where I used her Respect for Acting as a manual to act with, I followed that thread to HB Studio.

In Miss Hagen's second floor studio at 120 Bank Street, there were 35 students in class plus auditors. The room was packed, charged with nervous energy. Broadway actors and soap stars were seated alongside aspirants like me who had somehow made it through her audition process. I think I was physically ill before every scene I performed for her. She told us if we weren't nervous, we should probably be worried; our nerves meant we cared about our work, understood what it was about. When I finished the scene, I would be suffused with warmth - miraculously cured. She worked through 10 scenes in 2 hours with astounding efficiency. She had trained herself to look for the one thing--not all the things--the one key thing that could unlock a scene for an actor.

We instinctively understood with her — don't know that she ever even had to say it — that it was our responsibility to do with the scene everything we knew how to do to take it as far as we possibly could. We would not waste her time by doing less than that. And then what she offered us was the thing we hadn't yet been able to grasp, and we would take that observation away and struggle with it. She was teaching us, not just how to act, but how to own our work, to break it down for ourselves and to solve our own problems, to wrestle with the role, using everything we had. If we didn't have work prepared for her, she closed up early and went home to watch tennis. What I remember about her classroom is the marvelous collegial space she created, where each actor, reflecting on her work in the critique at the end of each scene, was vividly revealed and recognized as an individual. The hallmark of a Hagen actor, really, was how individual they were. She gave us that. There was no hiding.

She gave us practical tools to connect with, questions to ask that drew us physically, sensorily, into the world of the play; she helped us stumble upon inexpressible truths about the character; she taught us that acting was not a shell to construct, but a lightning rod.

She brought the whole of life, her appetite for life, into her classroom. The conversation was not so much about theater as it was about life. In between scenes, while actors were setting up, she talked about cooking, she told bawdy jokes. There was a lunch wagon in class and we competed with one another to bring something in that she would she enjoy, that she would exclaim about.  

She inhabited the character along with the actor whose scene she was watching. She spoke to us from inside the work, from her own struggle to free herself on stage. So her comments were a colleague's comments; she taught us to place ourselves in the character's shoes by placing herself in our shoes.  We respected, feared, and loved her. 

 


From

EDITH MEEKS

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UTA ARTICLE IN SPANISH VANITY FAIR

Spanish Vanity Fair Uta article at https://www.revistavanityfair.es/cultura/articulos/uta-hagen-la-mujer-que-puso-a-judy-garland-a-un-paso-de-su-segundo-oscar/43096

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