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Interview with "The Soul of the American Actor"
Spring Issue May 14th 2005

Janice Orlandi & Nicol Zanzarella in “Romeo and Juliet.”
JANICE ORLANDI A faculty member at the Actors Movement Studio for over a decade, she also teaches at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Ms. Orlandi has also taught and introduced the Williamson Technique at Rutgers University, Williamstown Theatre Festival Theatre Program, The Landenberg Center for Culture in Nijmegen, Fonty’s Drama School in Eindhoven, Lehman College Theatre School and the NY State Summer School for the Arts. She was the Choreographer and Movement Consultant for Princeton Rep Shakespeare Festival & Princeton Repertory Shakespeare in the Square’s “Taming of the Shrew,” “Twelfth Night,” and “As You Like It”; Expanded Arts Shakespeare Festival; and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream at UArts and Mason Gross. Founder of the Echo Repertory Company, she produced and adapted “The Lost Art of Letters,” and “The Triangle Factory Fire Project.” Her directing includes Chekhov’s “The Brute,” “Uncle Vanya’s Dream,” and she has also performed Off-Broadway in “Farther West,” “Fen,” and at The Hangar Theater, Elmwood Playhouse, The Mirror Repertory, Williamstown Theatre Festival, CSC Conservatory, and Circle Rep Directors Lab. Actors Movement Studio, 212-841-0806, actorsmovementstudio.com
  Janice Orlandi

How did you first join Loyd Williamson’s classes?

It was an unusual turn of events at the time I had just begun studying acting. I was working as product designer in the cosmetic industry and was going through an agonizing time in my life helping a family member that was diagnosed with AIDS. In order to cope with my anger and heartbreak through this experience of helping a loved one survive the pain and cruelty of this devastating disease, I was forced to visit deeper, more vulnerable places inside myself, and that was what brought me to acting. I entered this art form through an unexpected doorway, I was given a great gift through this life altering experience when I discovered that I had a deep desire to be an actress. This discovery was like being on a rocketship to a new world and I wanted to learn as much as I could about this amazing and creative new world. At that time a friend told me about Loyd Williamson’s work with actors. I was very curious so I went to watch him teach a class. It was a powerful and cathartic journey. He so inspired me, perhaps due to the emotional place that I was in my life, I cried though the whole class, I felt I had found a piece of my soul that was missing and I left there knowing that I had to teach his work someday. I became absorbed in and devoted to the Williamson Technique; it brought me closer to Loyd Williamson as a mentor and to my current work as a teacher and director of Actors Movement Studio, teaching and preserving the legacy of the Williamson Technique.

What so excites you about the Williamson Technique?

What amazes me about this technique is how it transforms the actor’s total instrument. There is a shift in the body, an awareness and physical consciousness that occurs, this shift awakens in them permission to both receive and express their experience. The actor expands their capacity to receive experience and sensation. This awakens their vulnerability, allowing them to live truthfully in the moment; it’s a place of extreme wakefulness, freedom and vulnerability. The collective or “ensemble” interaction is also very exciting for me as a teacher. It never ceases to amaze me or astonish me when a group of actors are willing to create an imaginary world together. I was a Sculpture major in college and this is living, moving and breathing sculpture. It’s an entire aesthetic experience for me as a teacher. I feel privileged to witness the events as they unfold. When actors are connected in this way a quantum leap occurs, a shift into a place of human contact, experience, and behavior (gesture and sound) that transforms their interaction into an esthetic event. Who wouldn’t want to do this for the rest of their life?

You recently played The Nurse in a production of “Romeo and Juliet” for the Princeton Rep Company’s Shakespeare Festival. What was that experience like?

I actually fought it like the ‘dickens’! I thought “I can’t take this role. “No, I can’t do this!” I hadn’t been on stage for the longest time.) When I began to study the text and look at this role in depth, I realized the Nurse has a huge arc and I was terrified. I didn’t know if I could pull it off in the two and a half weeks rehearsal time. I immediately started a daily vocal regime. I kept plowing the text to find out more about the specifics and wants of this character. I worked to find my personal connection to the nurse her playful and wacky sense of humor and her deep, eternal love for Juliet. The hardest scene for me was crafting the moments that lead up to finding Juliet dead. It was a moment that I had to trust and give over to fully; ultimately I had to trust Shakespeare’s words, my instinct and my heart. Something that I learned while studying with Robert X. Modica, (a passionate acting teacher who had a great impact on my life and process as an actress); “listen and trust your heart,” and that was what helped me to live moments fully. I didn’t stop working on this role until the last performance. This is what I love about acting it never stops the discovery process never ends. At one rehearsal, I discovered that the Nurse needed a ‘hanky,’ because she had ‘hot-flashes,’ and I followed my instinct. It came to me like a gift from my imagination that I accepted and went with. I kept exploring and discovering more clues about who she was and where she lived in me and the union between myself and the nurse continued to evolve.

Can you describe what role ‘relaxation’ plays in the work you do.

We don’t use the word, ‘relaxation;’ it can imply an inactive state. We use the words “release” and “contact.” We work with the five senses and vital systems, muscular, skeletal and respiratory. We explore though a series of progressive exercises how our body can release muscular constrictions and skeletal holding in order to expand sensory contact, experience and expression. An actor can be full of experience and behavior, but it may not be clear behavior, it may be blocked or unexpressed experience. Muscular “release” allows for much greater freedom of breath, more sensation, fuller physical and vocal expression. It’s a matter of “letting go”, not being “relaxed” but being “released” in order to actively receive, connect and respond fully to experience. Unexpressed or unprocessed sensation causes tension and physical or vocal constriction. Mr. Williamson says: ”Experiential life and physical life, acting impulses and physical impulses are all part of this single relationship. Sensory contact, experience, and behavior are all parts of one event occurring in one indivisible place, the actor’s body.”

Another fascinating aspect of The Williamson Technique is the Salon work.

This exercise was brilliantly conceived, it calls upon the magical and inventive side of the actor the students love this exercise and the whole experience of recreating a historical character. The most outstanding value of a Period Style class is that it produces actors that move and live within the style of a period with total truthfulness, vocal freedom, physical grace and ease. Actors learn to create an expansive character free from the limits of their everyday physical and vocal habits. We teach three styles, Elizabethan (1586), Baroque (1670) Edwardian (1894). The actor is immersed in the period through their historical research while learning the physical elements of the style. This exercise takes the student deeply into the world of the play by creating a character from the period in which a playwright sets the play. Students experience both the inner and outer elements of a specific period in which their characters lived. The inner life elements of the character, are developed through the specific crafting of their personal history, point of view, relationships and objectives etc. and the outer life elements of the character, in their social mannerisms, gestures, deportment, the costumes, the dances, the social etiquette, customs, the language, and all that outwardly informs the student’s treatment of environmental elements such as the set and props, etc. This culminates in a fully costumed, improvisational Period “Style Salon” event, A Restoration Ball in the court of Charles II for example. Because the students bring to life, real people that were actually connected to one another historically, their meeting, and the Salon itself could theoretically re-write history.

What makes the upcoming summer intensive so invaluable for acting students?

The Summer Institute for physical theater training was created to bring together a diverse variety of physical techniques under one umbrella, a shot of intensive physical training in a short period of time. Working thirty five hours a week, it’s like a full time job in physical training for actors. This is a concentrated month of learning designed for those who do not have the time for longer periods of study. For those who want an overview of physical technique or a course of independent study for University and College students who want to study outside their own curriculum amidst the cultural life of the city. The program consist of core curriculum in: Williamson Physical Technique and Period Style character, Fitzmaurice Vocal Technique, Michael Chekhov Technique and a number of workshop intensives in: Mask, Mime, Viewpoints, Laban & Character and an overview of Period Styles. All the methods learned are also applied to the student’s process of developing and creating an advanced period style character. Culminating (in the last week of the program) into a period “Style Salon,” an ensemble performance and period style character presentation. The student will take away with them an abundance of tools and methods, for the daily care and growth of their physical instrument. As well as a process for developing both inner and outer elements of a unique, complex and fully realized advanced character.

Actors today need to keep renewing themselves, what with all that’s going on in the world today. How do you do it?

At one time before I got into acting, I was making a six figure salary in the cosmetic and design industry. You could say I had a very easy life, but I realized I wasn’t really doing well as a person. I’ve been in ‘that’ world, and I chose to take this path because of my passion for the theater and learning. It keeps me awake as a human being. “The purpose of life is to live” Henry Miller said, “and to live is to be aware, supremely aware” It’s a matter of having my soul continually awakened. My burning desire to learn makes this world tolerable and enjoyable, it saves me from being swallowed by the pain humanity inflicts upon itself and others. Teaching is a supreme act of generosity and through it I have discovered the beauty of passing on the tradition of knowledge. It is a great gift we can give to ourselves and share with others. I think knowing we have the capacity for endless self-discovery and growth is important for us to remember as artists. •
© actors movement studio, inc. 2000