On Stage with Laura Linney

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    Film, television and theatre actress Laura Linney gives acting tips to Appalachian students Kelly Letner and Will Allen during a master class in Valborg Theatre on campus.

How do you describe nearly 45 minutes of one-on-one acting tips from acclaimed film, television and theatre actress Laura Linney?

Theatre arts major Kelly Letner called it "the opportunity of a lifetime."

"She is incredibly kind and a great teacher. The way she approaches a script and breaks it down will definitely influence my acting," said Letner, an Appalachian State University junior from Winston-Salem.

Linney, who has won three Emmy Awards, two Golden Globes Awards and been nominated for three Academy Awards and three Tony Awards, conducted a master class for theatre students while visiting campus Sept. 21 for an event celebrating her father, the late playwright Romulus Linney.

Romulus Linney wrote more than 30 plays and three novels, several of them set in the North Carolina mountains where he lived as a boy. He maintained ties with Appalachian and its Department of Theatre and Dance, and before his death in 2011 at age 80 he arranged for his papers to become part of the collection of Appalachian's Belk Library and Information Commons.

"This is a big weekend for me and my family as we honor my dad," Linney told the 100-plus students attending the master class in Appalachian's Valborg Theatre. "Whenever I go to a town where there is a school, I call up and say 'I'd love to work with your students if you like.' Because my schedule is so busy, this is my opportunity for volunteer work. This is what I love to do."

Linney currently stars in Showtime's "The Big C."

In the 90-minute master class, she spent nearly half the time coaching Letner and fellow student Will Allen through a scene from Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya."

The students spent three weeks preparing their scene, yet with Linney's words of experience and encouragement, the students upped their understanding of their characters and could deliver more powerful and believable lines by the end of their session.

While teaching she said to Letner, "From the script you know that your character weeps when she plays the piano. Sound means a lot to her. So how do you think she would react when she hears his voice?" Linney said in reference to Allen's character, for whom Letner's character has feelings.

Successful acting requires "mining the script" for as much information as the playwright offers, Linney told the students. "When a great playwright gives you all this material, invest and spend time with it. Then throw it all away and be in the moment, and the homework will bleed through and the performance takes on a life of its own," she said.

Allen, also a junior theater arts major from Winston-Salem, said, "Before the class, we all said to each other 'This is really happening. We're going to work with her.' She met with us about 15 minutes before and talked to us about how to calm nerves. She is so relatable, so giving."

Linney spent another 30 minutes coaching Paige Borden and Tim Reis in a scene from Chekhov's "The Seagull." When time ran out before a third pair of acting students could perform their scene, Linney graciously spent another 30 minutes off stage with Rachel Leishman and Laura Strausbagh before moving to her next appointment across campus. "That tells you a lot about her and how dedicated she was to our students," Professor Derek Gagnier said afterwards.

About the event

The two-day event "Romulus Linney: Back Home in the Mountains" also included master classes with other professionals who knew the playwright and acted in or directed his plays: T. Cat Ford, Scott Sowers, Paul Coffey, Adrienne Thompson, David Van Pelt and James Houghton.

There were also craft talks on writing and entrepreneurship, and a tribute to Romulus Linney's life and works. The event was sponsored by Belk Library and Information Commons, Department of Theatre and Dance, University Bookstore and College of Fine and Applied Arts.

Katie Hickling described her participation in the master class with T. Cat Ford and Scott Sowers as "beyond amazing." The junior theater arts major from Charlotte said, "The fact that Scott actually read with me was so humbling and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity. I really feel like the class helped me learn new things, look at new ways to approach materials while still enforcing things I have been learning in class. It was one of my greatest experiences at college to date."