The graduation ceremonies at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Professional Actor Training always provide a mix of poignant and hilarious moments–this is a theater school, after all. And Monday’s ceremony, held in the Historic Asolo Theatre was one of the best.
The commencement speaker, retiring faculty member Barbara Redmond, surprised the 10 graduates by telling them in a mock-stern tone that they had one more test to take. After her helpers passed out papers and No. 2 pencils, Redmond read a series of funny multiple-choice questions about theater history.
One concerned actor Jason Robards’ first stage role, in the play Jack and the Beanstalk. (He played the rear end of a cow). Another focused on Junius Brutus Booth, an actor who drank heavily before performing in a Shakespearian tragedy, with disastrous results. (The moral, Remond said, was to drink before Chekhov, but not before Shakespeare, because “there are too many weapons.”)
Retiring after 13 years as an acting teacher at the graduate program, Redmond got serious when she told the students they were part of a noble profession. “Doctors save lives, but actors give life meaning,” she said. Redmond reminded the students that, during their three years at the conservatory, they had learned far more than acting technique. “You’ve learned life lessons, too,” she said. “You’ve learned about dedication, you’ve learned to be generous, you’ve learned about the need for honesty, humility and tolerance.”
Greg Leaming, the conservatory’s director, also spoke to the graduates, warning them that they were going to be missing a lot of “birthdays, holidays, weddings and funerals, unless they happen on Monday nights [the traditional off day in the theater].” But he said that he was struck by the passion and the exuberance of the class of 2011.
“I know that you are going to be successful, become household names, make huge amounts of money and support your alma mater,” he quipped.
Michael Edwards, the Asolo Rep’s producing artistic director, was also at the ceremonies, having just returned from Havana, where he was doing research for next season’s bilingual production of Hamlet, Prince of Cuba.
Edwards, who cast conservatory students in major roles in Asolo productions this season, said they meshed smoothly with the veterans in the Asolo company. “It was impossible to tell any difference in quality between the seasoned professionals and these brilliantly talented young people,” Edwards said. “You have influenced our [play] choices, enriched our community and made our company better.”