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Posted October 18, 2005

Equity Guest Artist Has Positive Influence On College Students

By Elisabeth Meinecke
Collegian Reporter

Talk to some of guest artist Aaron Alpern’s fellow cast members about what they enjoy most in his portrayal of Prospero in Hillsdale’s upcoming production of THE TEMPEST, and their response is immediate.

Aaron Alpern

“His voice,” said Arianna Davis, who plays Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. “He has the perfect Prospero voice. [It just] resonates and takes over the whole scene.”

Sophomore Chris Stewart, who is cast as Sebastian in the production, agreed.

“The first thing that struck me about Aaron Alpern was this amazing, quality vocal control,” he said. “All I could think of [was actor] William Hunt, with the really deep, sonorous voice.”

Alpern retained this magical vocal quality even as he talked about his own collegiate acting experience at the University of Michigan, such as when the school brought in guest artist Nicholas Pennell to perform Prospero in THE TEMPEST. Alpern said that he and other cast members would gather offstage to watch Pennell prepare in the wings and to listen to his speeches onstage when the time came.

“Doing this production, I’m constantly thinking back to the things that he did,” Alpern said.

Alpern completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and then attended the California Institute of the Arts, where he received his masters in acting and fine arts. Eventually, he relocated to Chicago. He has worked in both the film and television industries in addition to theater. He auditioned for Hillsdale’s production of THE TEMPEST on Aug. 18 of this year and, after a frantic 10 days of making travel plans and arrangements for his family, was at rehearsals by Aug. 28.

“That was a big change for both me and my wife,” Alpern said. “It was a full 10 days, not to mention trying to learn lines.”

Alpern said initially it was the possibility of playing Prospero that drew him back to the collegiate theater scene. However, the memory of Pennell’s positive influence on college students lent another attraction to the position for Alpern.

“I remembered back to the impact that Nick had on me,” Alpern said. “If I could be helpful to people the way he was to me, I’d like to pass that on.”

So far, Alpern appears to be doing just that. His professionalism has already made a positive impact on the Hillsdale cast.

That kind of commitment has really challenged us who are thinking about doing this for a career,” Stewart said. “Our focus is so much better when he’s in the room.”

“It’s been a really educational experience,” Davis said. She recalled one rehearsal when Alpern was helping herself and another cast member comprehend the difficult language. Alpern mentioned his practice of looking up every one of his lines in the Oxford Dictionary of English Verse to make sure that he fully understood the Shakespearean definition of the word instead of just the contemporary meaning.

“It’s amazing his dedication and experience,” she said. “He brings such good advice to each rehearsal.”

James Brandon, associate professor of theatre and speech, who is the director for the production, said he was pleased that the students could see the amount of commitment and focus that a professional can have but said he was also excited for his own interaction with Alpern.

“As a director, it’s fun for me to work with a really experienced person,” Brandon said. “You can dig deeper into the text.”

For Alpern, that means hours of research in the library reading books about everything from magic to spirits and fairies, looking up his lines to discover their 16th century meaning, and even just walking around the campus to appreciate the natural setting that Shakespeare draws on in THE TEMPEST.

“I could work on this forever and still find more to do,” Alpern said. “For Shakespeare, the most important thing is making the language clear. I think that is irrevocably tied to making the internal life of the character clear. It’s a merging of the language and the heart.”

Reprinted by permission of the Hillsdale Collegian

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