Three wickedly smart things Joe Mantello taught us

On the brink of graduating, fourth-year UNCSA Drama students soaked up sage advice recently from fellow alumnus Joe Mantello (’84), an actor/director who is known for the Broadway productions of “Wicked” and “Take Me Out,” and who was in the original cast of “Angels in America.”

1. Learn your lines before the first rehearsal

While some actors oppose this technique for fear of getting stuck in one way of delivering a line, Dean of the School of Drama Carl Forsman liked this idea and required all the actors in the four spring dramas: “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” “The Women,” “Black Watch” and “Pericles” to study up during the break and to come prepared.

“I can feel the difference,” said Morgan Hahn, who is in “Pericles.” “Normally it is slow the first couple of weeks, but I feel like I have a jump start on the play.”

Savannah-Lee Mumford agrees. She is playing Sylvia in “The Women.” “It has been amazing to work that way, to be off book. You have a better grasp of your character, and Sylvia is quite a firecracker.”

2. Express, not impress

Directors want to see you, not a personality, Mantello explained to the students during a singing workshop. As performers, actors can so easily slip into a character. Characters are not always what a director wants to see. Don’t try to show them how you are, but who you are.

“I was singing for him one of my favorite songs,” Mumford said, “and he asked me to sing something different so I just sat down and just sang instead of performed. He said he appreciated that so much more.”

3. Have stamina and patience

The larger-than-life guest artist told the Drama students that he forged his own work for the first six years. Partnering with fellow UNCSA alumni Mary-Louise Parker and writer Peter Hedges, they started the Edge Theater in New York City. 

He offers two words: stamina and patience. Have the stamina to stay in your acting and/or directing career for the long-haul. You’ll learn a lot through experience. Have the patience to roll with some of the rough days.

“As a fourth-year, learning about how much of his own work he did with his buddies from school for so long was inspiring,” said Emma Geer, who will be playing Marina in “Pericles.” “He struggled in the early years and that was very calming for us to hear, I think. We hold ourselves to incredible standards for when we leave school, but Joe made me feel like life was waiting and it was going to be an incredible and unpredictable adventure.”

by Elizabeth White