Tough act to follow
Students learn scene control in Betty Buckley's theater courses
A Broadway star lit up the Mainstage Theatre last fall when Tony Award winner Betty Buckley joined the UTA faculty. She returns to the UTA spotlight this semester, teaching a song interpretation workshop.
With more than 30 years of teaching experience at the Terry Schreiber School in New York City, Buckley knows how to run a class. And her UTA students give their instructor rave reviews.
Her fall class, a special topics course in communication skills and scene study, emphasized the role of meditation in actor training. Jennifer Rome, a theater senior, was a little apprehensive when the class began, but that didn’t last long.
“At first I was incredibly intimidated by her,” Rome said. “She’s this Tony Award-winning actress, she’s done everything, knows everything. I was afraid to do anything. But she was incredibly open with us. She never talked down to us; she was there to help. And the meditation training—I’ve never been taught a technique like this. The meditation process is something I will use for the rest of my life.
“When I meditated before acting, I found that after I finished I had an overwhelming feeling of happiness. It was just so exciting. She said that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be—a good experience for the audience and the actors.”
While the students lavish praise, Buckley also has nothing but compliments for them.
“They were terrific [last semester],” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect in terms of ability and commitment, but they really buckled down. They were committed and made great strides in their work.”
The meditation techniques Buckley teaches have greatly affected her own life.
“Meditation is very powerful and can be directly applied to acting and singing,” she said. “I teach meditation as a means of focusing the mind. You are not necessarily blocking out other things but are consciously choosing what specifically to focus on.
An internationally renowned actress who began her career at age 15 with a role in Gypsy, Buckley has appeared both on and off Broadway, as well as in London’s West End. She won a Tony for her performance as Grizabella, the glamour cat, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Her television career began as Abby Bradford in Eight is Enough, and she recently appeared as Suzanne Fitzgerald on the HBO series Oz. In addition, she has released 10 compact discs, showcasing her vocal talents.
The Fort Worth native, who has lived and worked in New York for years, was lured back to her home state by a horse.
“I bought a cutting horse a year ago, and I’m totally addicted to this cutting sport now,” she said. So she sold her New York apartment and bought a small ranch near Weatherford.
And she looked for a teaching position in the Metroplex. Noting that her father studied and taught at UTA, her mother graduated from the University and her brothers attended classes here, Buckley and the Theatre Arts Department were a perfect fit.
As UTA Visiting Assistant Professor Angela Inman explained, “She contacted us, and we were delighted, of course.”
Inman, who handles publicity for the department, began calling upper-level students and quickly filled the fall class.
“Just having the chance to work with someone of her caliber is a great experience for our students,” Inman said.
During Buckley’s first semester at UTA, theater alumna and Adjunct Instructor Natalie Gaupp served as her department liaison, handling administrative duties and other non-teaching details.
“I’m just absorbing all of this,” she said. “I have gained a wealth of knowledge. Everything that comes out of her mouth is amazing. It’s astonishing. We’re gaining such high-level, hard-hitting professionalism, and the students have really stepped up and raised their level of performance.”
Department Chair Kim LaFontaine says that having Buckley on the faculty benefits not only those in her classes, but the entire department.
“We’re looking to develop a master of fine arts degree in theater. Hopefully, having her here is one step toward that goal,” he said. “But it’s not just her talent and her expertise—she’s great with the students. It’s been a wonderful opportunity for the undergraduate students here to work with someone of her caliber.”
— Sherry W. Neaves