Actress Visits Campus Classes

By The Elm - Oct 04,2018@12:00 am

By Erica Quinones

Elm Staff Writer

All of Washington College was a stage this week when Shakespearean actress Andrea Harris Smith guest-taught three theatre classes on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Smith is a classically trained actress, receiving her training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in the United Kingdom. She has performed in the United States and United Kingdom on the stage, in movies, and on television.

She has played classic Shakespearean characters like Titania and Cornelia, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the television movie “Hamlet,” respectively, as well as classic American roles like Calpurnia from “To Kill A Mockingbird.” She also appeared as Suzanne in the episode “The Stolen Earth” in the fourth series of “Doctor Who.”

After working in London for nearly a decade, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2008. There she became the first African-American woman to play a lead role for the company.

During her visit to Washington College, Smith guest-taught two of Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Brendon Fox’s courses, Restoration Comedy and Advanced Acting: Shakespeare.

“I loved how present she was with each group and each student … I think it made the students feel like the work they’re putting in is getting noticed,” Fox said.

While she gave students feedback on their performances, Smith also performed scenes. John Leslie, a senior in Fox’s Restoration Comedy course, said the performances were impactful.

“Her performing really helped me understand the text better. Seeing it put up in the three-dimensional, taking it from the page and into the performance space was helpful in seeing what it’s meant to be,” Leslie said.

Smith also taught the English Department Chair, Dr. Kathryn Moncrief’s, Shakespeare I class. During the lesson, Moncrief’s class performed a close-reading of Titania’s monologue from act two of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Smith encouraged students to examine their feelings connected to the imagery.

“You can hold onto those images … I think it adds color and keeps it from feeling like a far-away language to us,” Smith said.

While working through the text with students, Smith discussed the importance of close-reading and how understanding and relating to the text affects a performance.

“You do this so when you do get on your feet and are speaking it, there’s no question about what you’re saying,” Smith said.

Moncrief supported this notion, discussing how the performer’s comprehension affects the audience’s.

“Performance is a kind of close-reading. You have to know what you’re saying to communicate that to an audience,” Moncrief said.

After working through the piece, Smith performed both Titania’s monologue and a scene from “Romeo and Juliet” with Moncrief. In the performances, she channeled the class’s interpretation of the text.

Afterwards, students split into couples to practice the same scene. Smith demonstrated individual focus, visiting each group to help them explore their interpretations deeper. 

Fox said that due to the positive impression that she left, he would like her to come back to guest-teach at WC again in the future.

The Elm

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