"Larry Silverberg literally “wrote the book on” the Sanford Meisner technique of acting. This master teacher, award-winning actor and director penned the internationally-acclaimed, four-volume series the “Sanford Meisner Approach,” widely considered the primary source for training actors at studios worldwide.
Now, the man who has devoted his life to empowering actors of all ages and from every part of the world is joining the Shenandoah Conservatory theatre faculty. “I’m thrilled to be coming to Shenandoah,” said Silverberg. “To have this wonderful conservatory of the arts within the greater academic institution is something quite rare. Not only are students getting high-quality training, but there’s also a wonderful collegial atmosphere amongst artists who make up the faculty at Shenandoah.”
Silverberg teaches the Meisner technique, considered the next-generation model for method acting and the preferred technique for film and television. “It trains you to pay attention to the world, and then respond to the world,” said Assistant Professor of Theatre/Acting and Director of the conservatory’s new acting program J.J. Ruscella, M.F.A. “The Meisner technique gives you very particular ways to talk to yourself in order to expand your fantasy world. It allows you to swim deeper into the story.”
In his early days as an actor, Silverberg studied under legendary acting teacher Sanford Meisner at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York City. “Sanford Meisner was a deeply authentic human being, who was incredibly passionate and incredibly direct,” said Silverberg. “He seemed to have the ability to hear into my heart and my soul, and to understand things about me that I didn't even understand myself.” According to Silverberg, Meisner demanded nothing but a complete 100 percent effort, and to survive, students had to go beyond what they themselves thought was possible and work harder than they ever imagined they could. Meisner was a model for his students, and he was willing to do himself what he asked of them. !“Sanford Meisner served as our example,” said Silverberg. “He gave me the greatest gift you can give to someone -- he guided me to be a fully authentic, alive human being.”
That guidance has informed Silverberg every step of the way, perfecting his craft and encouraging others down the path of excellence. Since 1987, he has trained professional actors and directors around the globe through his True Acting Institute, later adding college and teen actor master classes to his repertoire. “As a training technique, the Meisner method is considered a graduate- or professional-level technique,” said Assistant Professor of Theatre William Ingham, M.F.A. “It can be very difficult emotionally. Larry has honed a kinder, gentler approach to this technique that is more accessible to a younger audience.” “Where the specifics of the technique can be driven home repetitively by the teacher, Larry gets out of the way and allows the technique to play out with the student,” said Ruscella. “Instead of it being a stop and start, ‘you didn’t do this right’ situation, the plane gets to take off, fly and self adjust. I think that gives the artist a greater perspective on their own work, and they’re not constantly getting the feeling of their hand being slapped.”
As Shenandoah Conservatory’s new acting program and Division of Theatre implement a curriculum built on the foundation of Meisner, the timing for Silverberg to join the faculty couldn’t be more perfect. “For those who have that kind of unrelenting desire to become a professional actor, this Shenandoah theatre division is turning into one of the most well-equipped centers of learning in the country for students who want to set out to become professionals,” said Silverberg. Silverberg’s role in the program and his international acclaim give an instant legitimacy to this new and exciting direction. “It positions us wonderfully -- not only in the quality of what we can offer the students, but it immediately signals to the industry and to our peer institutions that this is the level of training that can be had here,” said Shenandoah Conservatory Dean Michael Stepniak, Ed.D. But, it took some serendipitous moments to bring Silverberg to the university.
It wasn’t long after Ruscella set foot on campus last year that Dr. Stepniak challenged him to bring in a Meisner master teacher to work with acting students on the development of the technique. Last spring, Ruscella invited Silverberg to teach a masterclass with his sophomore acting students. Silverberg’s experience during his first day with the students was nothing short of inspiring. “What happened in the room that day was quite extraordinary,” said Silverberg. “Here I had a group of students who were doing something quite rare -- expressing joy at leaping into that place called the unknown. The act of creation demands that if you are going to truly create a work of art, you have to go where you don’t know you’re going. When I walked out of the room that day, I turned my wife and said, ‘This is exciting. I like what I’m seeing here.’” That experience spurred Silverberg to place a well-timed call to Ruscella one week later. Giving a full endorsement to the direction Shenandoah’s acting program was moving in, Silverberg expressed the desire to make Shenandoah’s acting program not only the premier Meisner program in the nation, but in the world. And, he wanted to do that as a member of the faculty. “I think that he saw the heart of the campus,” Ruscella. “There’s a real nurturing spirit here that is unique. To build an artist requires rigor, but it also requires nurturing. If it’s too rigorous without the nurturing, it can crush the artist’s spirit. If it’s too nurturing without the rigor, it can leave actors who are unpolished, lazy and have all kinds of bad habits. I think Shenandoah is the perfect melding of those two.”
Silverberg returned to campus this August as the honored guest speaker for Shenandoah Conservatory’s Convocation. “What was so palpable to our students and faculty, across the conservatory areas, was his absolute commitment to excellence in artistry and his absolute commitment to other human beings and those relationships,” said Dr. Stepniak. “Relationships matter,” Stepniak continued. “That’s critical to us because we’re the type of place that holds relationships in high regard. Larry’s orientation towards people around him is genuine, but more than that, his orientation towards excellence in education is also genuine. I’m excited about Larry because he truly is a team player in the best sense of the word.”
While Silverberg will focus his efforts on bringing a foundational support to the Meisner-based program, he will also work with students across conservatory programs, to inspire and influence all who take to the stage. “I think his day-to-day interactions with the students will be wonderful for them, because he creates a very calm, contemplative, thought-provoking atmosphere,” said Ingham. “He listens extremely well. His passion, excitement and dedication to excellence make him a great fit for the conservatory, and he truly wants people to be as good as they possibly can be in this art form.” “We’re looking for partners in this enterprise,” said Stepniak. “Our work isn’t daily or monthly. It’s multi-yearly. Students come in and out and they take a number of years to go through a program. Our success is measured in years. The best partners are those faculty who can invest at that level.” Silverberg has already begun his investment strategies at Shenandoah, delivering three masterclasses in the role of visiting master teacher this academic year. He’ll begin his duties as a full-time faculty member in August 2014. “I see Shenandoah as a place where the particular skills I have worked on my whole life are going to make a difference with students and with the faculty,” said Silverberg.” “I’m excited to have the opportunity to work so closely with other artists -- not only in the Division of Theatre but in other conservatory divisions as well -- and the opportunity to find ways, as colleagues, to nourish each other’s work.” His role to empower and inspire students, however, may just be his crowning achievement. “Every artist has a need to say something to the world -- it is the most intimate, unique and deeply-seated thing in that person,” said Silverberg. “Ultimately, it’s the thing that keeps driving them forward to create. Part of the mission for myself and for all of us in the program is to help these young artists get specifically in contact with what that is in themselves -- to help them find their deepest artistic voice.”
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