The UWT Theatre Director reflects on acting classes and the importance of taking risks as a student.
UWT is different from UW Seattle in that it offers fewer classes on a smaller scale. The Seattle campus has more choices when it comes to math, science, history and art classes. But according to Professor Maria-Tania Bandes Becerra Weingarden, who goes by Dr. B., what Tacoma offers measures on a different scale.
“The Tacoma Campus offers things that particular students want that Seattle can’t offer,” said Dr. B. “It has a more focused attention to specific aspects of storytelling that you wouldn’t find on a bigger campus like Seattle. Maybe you want to learn about set design or lighting? Students who are just starting out and trying to understand the basic fundamentals of theatre or acting get a much more in-depth experience at the Tacoma campus. That’s where I think our campus really shines.”
Dr. B has worked at UWT for the past five years. She is the only full-time theatre professor on campus. She teaches classes on acting, theatre, Shakespeare and more. One of her favorite classes that she teaches is Fundamentals of Acting. It serves as an arts and humanities credit, and she teaches it 2 out of the 3 quarters. Here she has a lot of fun and sees her students really come into their own.
“It’s a class where I see that students really learn that they can do this, even if they have never acted before,” said Dr. B. “You can learn acting. It’s not as difficult as you think it is and all the skills that you acquire from acting you can apply to any job that you get. That’s the key to remember. It’s all transferable.”
People often think that acting classes are purely improv and acting out scenes. However, in Dr. B.’s class, she has students do much more critical thinking about the content they are immersing themselves in.
“I have them do activities like a personal manifesto that really make them reflect on who they are, what they bring into the room and the approach they have to others,” says Dr. B. “They do a character analysis and write a paper at the end of the quarter which helps them build writing skills.
“People often come in thinking it’s just going to be doing theatre games and whatnot. Yes, we have that, but we also have much more that help you grow as a person and succeed after college. I want to get to know who you are and what you expect out of this class. It’s important they develop character and become proud of the work when you look back at the end of the quarter.”
For students who may be shy or nervous about speaking in front of others, acting might seem scary and intimidating. But Dr. B believes these people are the ones who need it most.
“Students are often surprised to learn when I tell them that I have social anxiety,” said Dr. B. “They’re like, ‘What? You? No way!’ But it affects you in more ways than you realize. As an actor, I don’t think that it ever really goes away, and I wouldn’t ever tell someone to just get up there and do it. That is so traumatizing. I think it’s all about taking that feeling that you have and using it to fuel you to get through to that other side.”
Dr. B said that stage freight is a common aspect of theatre that people think only affects people new to acting. The only way students can truly get over it is to use that fear and anxiety they have and put it towards their performance.
Acting is a usually thought of for someone interested in pursuing a career in film or theatre. However, the skills taught in Fundamentals of Acting reflect much needed skills that people often lack today. The improv that you learn teaches you how to be quick on your feet and come up with new ideas in a short amount of time. It teaches you how to carry yourself in front of others and react in the moment. It teaches you to trust in your partners and learn how to take orders. When you have a scene, you have to literally build the world together. The audience depends on you to entertain them. These are all qualities that Dr. B includes in her acting classes.
“When you create a play or musical you are on a strict deadline to keep everything on track and move according to schedule,” said Dr. B. “A lot depends on you, the cast and the crew so you really have to be on time and get things done. It’s not just me, it’s a whole team of wonderful, amazing people.”
Dr. B. hires several other employees for her performances including actors, actresses, choreographers, and vocal teachers. They each have an incredibly important part to play in helping prepare students to perform.
Right now, Dr. B is preparing for the upcoming show “Rent” that she is directing and is also in partnership with Tacoma Little Theatre. It’s expected to premiere on March 8, 2024, and run through March 31, 2024. “Rent” follows the lives of impoverished young artists who are struggling to survive in the East Village during the AIDS epidemic. The musical has won several awards, including a Tony award for Best Drama and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Dr. B plans to audition students next month on December 3rd and begin the process of rehearsing the musical.
UWT is collaborating with The Tacoma Little Theatre to put on this performance, which will be shown at TLT. The actors and crew will begin rehearsing at UWT and then for the final two weeks before the premiere, they will rehearse at TLT. This will be one of the many collaborations they have done together.
For students interested in taking any classes from Dr. B, you can view her on the UWT class schedule catalog when signing up for classes. For more information or questions regarding the UWT theatre program including auditions, please contact Dr. B at firstname.lastname@example.org.