By Issa Polstein
When Jason Alexander spoke, George Constanza was nowhere to be found. Instead, the group of students and faculty gathered for a Q-and-A session yesterday were treated to advice from an accomplished and articulate artist. The talk, emceed by Professor of Drama Wendy MacLeod, began with Alexander discussing his work.
“My career was an accident,” said Alexander, “as most good careers are.” Alexander had an interest in magic from a young age, but he took to theater when he discovered that he “would never be able to fully palm a playing card.”
Instead, he found a different sort of magic by acting in school shows. “If I didn’t get into musicals, my second choice was to captain the Enterprise,” Alexander said of his younger self’s ambitions. He cited the “brilliance of [William] Shatner” as one of his many sources of inspiration. Alexander went on to study theater at Boston University, but left after his junior year for New York, where he was cast in Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along.
MacLeod opened the floor to questions from the audience. What followed was not a series of starstruck Seinfeld questions: “What is Jerry like?” “Was it embarrassing to do ﾑshrinkage’?” “Do you remember when you were George? That was awesome.” Rather, the conversation focused on Alexander’s experience as a student and teacher of drama.
In response to a question on how he prepares for an audition, Mr. Alexander outlined the four simple questions he asks himself before playing any part: 1. Who am I talking to? 2. What am I trying to get them to do? 3. What am I doing to get them to do that? 4. What is in the way of what I want? For anyone who has taken Baby Drama at Kenyon, these questions will sound very familiar ﾗ a striking example of how useful drama education can be for aspiring actors.
Alexander brought this technique to his nine years as George Constanza. Alexander said that, as silly as George was, creating the character still required paying these questions serious attention. After all, as Alexander said, “all acting is being a very good liar.”
He then went on to respond to questions about the commercialization of musicals, other performers who have influenced him (these ranged from Larry David to Fran Drescher), the process of improvisation on Curb Your Enthusiasm, how he calms nerves before an audition, and how young people can begin their career in the arts. “The secret to finding success is simple. You simply have to be better than everybody else,” joked Alexander, who went on to encourage aspiring artists, saying that there are as many opportunities to do the work they love as they can make for themselves. He reminded the group of the amazing resource provided by new technology and the Internet. Thanks to technology, he said, artists today have the tools they need to shoot and edit professional-quality films ﾗ and that art can reach a global audience.
Throughout the 50-minute session, Alexander was responsive, charismatic and eager to inform and encourage students. His visit to Kenyon was one of many stops on a tour of colleges with his son. Hopefully, Alexander’s son will squeeze in many adventures before college. May this summer, and indeed all summers, truly be “THE SUMMER OF GEORGE!”