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ISSUE 115 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/19/2002

Werner-Freeman studies the art of acting

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 19, 2002

Petite and energetic, Assistant Professor of Theatre Dona Werner Freeman could easily be mistaken for a student at first glance. Perhaps it's the fact that she used to be a student here, or that she continues to take classes at other institutions. Or it could be her close connection to her students here now, in addition to the youthful sparkle in her green eyes. Dona graduated from St. Olaf in 1980 as Dona Werner, a Speech-Theatre Education major. An actress since her high school years, she performed in Patrick Quade’s “Man of La Mancha,” the very first show in the then-newly renovated Kelsey Theater. From St. Olaf, she wanted to continue to focus on Theatre, and was able to do that at the Guthrie Theatre when awarded a Bush Fellowship. Her Guthrie experiences came after attending graduate school at the University of Minnesota, and receiving her Master’s in Fine Arts and Acting. She was in the Guthrie company for one year, and then began teaching off and on. “I've been in acting classes for over 25 years,” she chuckled. For some of the off, she went to Detroit, helping the Attick Theatre get off the ground. In 1985 she returned to St. Olaf to be a sabbatical replacement, but in 1990 accepted a teaching position at the University of Minnesota. It was in this period that she met and wed Marty Freeman. Married for ten years, the couple has two children: Will, 8, and Lynny, 5. Yet like a salmon of Capistrano, she returned to St. Olaf again in 1998, and has stayed since. “Olaf is definitely home in many ways,” said Dona. “I'm happy to have come back." Teaching acting, she said, “is one of the more interactive teacher-student experiences. The biggest difference [between teaching at St. Olaf and the University of Minnesota] is getting to know the students. Here I can know them more intimately, especially if they take more than one course. At the U [of Minnesota] I had wonderful students as well, but I didn't work with them for more than ten weeks usually,” she continued. “I feel so privileged to be in both classes and extracurricular activities with students, to get to know them so well… I feel very lucky.” Not wanting to lose touch with her acting roots, Freeman continues to take one acting role a year. “It's a balance between being a professional and being a teacher… and a mother; I try to honor them [all]. I want to perform all year, but I also want to read bedtime stories every night. So I work to find a balance without selling either short – especially the kids, because that's what's important right now.” This summer, the four Freemans will go abroad for six weeks while Dona attends an acting class at the British Academy for Dramatic Arts (BADA) in Oxford, England. She'll focus on acting Shakespeare, text analysis, physical acting/movement, voice, and styles. “It's like an actor's studio,” she explained. “It will be really good to put myself on the other side again.” Freeman mentioned having a renewed interest in Shakespeare since directing “Twelfth Night” Interim 2001. “I'd never directed Shakespeare before… it reminded me of what plays can mean.” She's not the only one who is geared up to go. “Will is very into history,” she said. “He also looks very much like Harry Potter, and we'll be right next to where that was filmed, so he's pretty excited.” Dona's most recent directorial product, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” just completed a short run last weekend. She will also direct a yet-to-be-determined play next fall. “The Theatre Department is in the process of choosing the season,” she explained. “This is the time the Department comes together to examine our strengths and create the most possibilities for students as actors, designers, and audience members. “It's easy to get excited about a play when reading it, easy to forget that it's about the audience message. It's important as an artist to keep an eye on who we're talking to, and [ask] how do we make it important to [them].” Dona remembers distinctly being in the audience when in second grade, attending a high school play. “They held the shows in the cafeteria,” she laughed of her Fairbault youth. She recalled the magic of the lights going down: “I'd never seen a light dimmer before!” Michael Hanson, who became her director in high school, “really sold magic… he convinced us we were God's gift to theatre. He encouraged total involvement in theatre, loving theatre first and then finding your niche.” As a director and a teacher, Dona commented on the difficulty of separating the two. “In class I want to be unbiased, and encourage the students as much as possible… it's hard to distinguish between the classroom and casting call. In the end, you have to do what's best for the play… It's about art."

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