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Reflections: Libby Appel Workshop at UHM

Reflections: Libby Appel Workshop at UHM

Troy M. Apostol is a Po‘okela Award-winning actor and director, and managing director for Hitting The Stage.

Last week, the UHM Department of Theatre + Dance hosted the residency of highly-acclaimed Educator, Director and Author Libby Appel, Artistic Director Emeritus of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Appel lead a workshop, Text Work for Actors and Directors, from August 22-26, and also taught three classes: “Shakespeare,” “Topics in European Theatre: Chekhov,” and “Advanced Topics in Theatre Directing.” These are some reflections submitted by those who participated.

“Like her translations, Libby Appel's approach to teaching is immediate, engaging, and delightful! I was struck by Ms. Appel's ability to shepherd our group discussions so that even first timers were able to participate in a meaningful way. The entire week illuminated so many useful things including: the value of script analysis, character choices, and subtext. For me, the highlight of our week was an exercise Libby presented to us during an acting class. This exercise not only highlighted the importance of truth and emotional recall but it also reminded me of the power of listening, and being present.

Brava!” –Jackob Hoffman

“Last week Libby Appel, artistic director Emerita of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Taught a series of master classes for the UH Theater department, including a directing/acting workshop on Chekhov every afternoon (5days) from 3-6 pm.  I attended all of them as well as two morning classes, on Tuesday and Thursday that she also taught.  It was hard work and so much fun.  Libby is 78 years old and has been a directing professionally for over 50 years.  She is still very youthful – passionate about theater, demanding, full of empathy and funny.  She is such a gifted teacher (now I think that directing requires many of the same qualities) and by the end of the week I had an admiring pupil’s crush on her.

In the workshop, each day we did what Libby called “table work.” On the first day she assigned a character from the play three sisters to each of us to read aloud, and we read through the entire play.  She told us some things about Chekhov and the historical setting of the play, but mostly she just let us read and listen to the play. On the next four days we read one Act each day, but now she would constantly interrupt to ask us questions about what was going on in the play, about what we felt about the characters, who they were, what had happened in their lives to make them that way, how they felt about other characters in the play or scene, what was motivating what they said or did.  There was never a right answer to these questions.  She always pushed us to find the answer in our own feelings and experience.  Libby says she always does this table work with actors when she directs a play – even before she does any blocking.  In this way directing becomes a collaborative process where the director works with the actors to discover what is going on in the play.  She said that by the end of the week we would all want to act in a Chekov play and I think she was right.” –Charles Lawrence

“Libby Appel’s Chekhov workshop at Kennedy Theatre was a great experience.  We went through The Three Sisters in virtually line-by-line detail, finding layers within layers of meaning nested like Russian matryoshka dolls.  While I learned a lot about Chekhov, and about his play, for me the process was even more interesting than the substance.  A group of about 25 actors and directors gathered around a table and read the script aloud, stopping after every beat (or almost every beat – sometimes we finished a scene then went back).  Everyone in the room contributed, and sometimes there were a dozen or more different answers to the inevitable question: “What did he/she really mean by that?”   Sometimes the answers were variations on a theme, and sometimes they were completely opposite interpretations of the same words.

While Libby brought her expertise and experience, and did a great job of keeping us all focused, what really made it work was the tremendous collective knowledge, experience and talent of all the people who participated.  I was amazed by how some people could become the character so immediately, in what was almost a cold reading.  Everyone found facets of the character that were unique.  Everyone found layers of meaning based on their own personal life experience.  Everyone had insights – often widely different insights – about how all those pieces fit together.  Everyone suggested new issues to explore.  I sat there thinking:  “When I direct a play, this is what I want the first few days of rehearsal to look like.”  Thank you, Libby.” –Ron Heller

Thanks to Lurana O'Malley and Stacy Ray for all they did in bringing Ms. Appel to UHM!

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