Drama students, adults get lesson in ‘cultural stimulus’ from actor
By Lisa DeNeal Post-Tribune correspondent March 12, 2013 3:40PM
Actor Ed Asner leads a master class with local theater students and instructors at the West Side Theatre Guild in Gary, Ind., Tuesday, March 12, 2013. Asner, whose film career has spanned more than five decades, gave the master class prior to his acting engagement as Franklin D. Roosevelt at Marquette Park Pavilion. | Guy Rhodes~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 14, 2013 6:30AM
GARY — Hours before he portrayed Franklin Delano Roosevelt at a sold-out performance Tuesday of his one-man show “FDR” at Marquette Pavilion, award-winning actor and activist Ed Asner conducted a humorous and heartfelt master acting class at West Side Leadership Academy.
“This is my fourth year portraying President Roosevelt. He is one of my heroes. I thank God for him; he got us out of the Great Depression and saved us from Hitler. He was a brilliant man,” Asner said.
The class was hosted by MAS Media 7, founded by West Side Theatre Guild artistic director Mark Spencer. Thirty drama students and adults from Lake and Porter counties participated.
“This will be the first of many culturally connected events that will bring students and members of the community together. It is a new cultural stimulus for our communities to come together and learn the behind-the-scenes process of being in the arts,” Spencer said.
Asner’s career spans more than 50 years and he is best known as the grouchy TV editor Lou Grant on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the newspaper spin-off, “Lou Grant.” He has appeared in episodes of the remake of “Hawaii 5-0” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Asner’s signature tough-guy image complete with occasional colorful language and humor brought a comfortable atmosphere throughout the class. “I wonder why in the hell this is called a ‘master class.’ If I were a woman it would be a mistress class ... sorry I am disappointing you,” Asner said sarcastically.
Asner briefly discussed his background, including a brief stint as a mill worker at U.S. Steel Gary Works and as a Ford Plant employee for hourly wages under $2, before devoting himself to a full-time acting career in Chicago and beyond. He also spoke of his activism with the Screen Actors Guild and how his political views caused discomfort over the years and led to the cancellation of “Lou Grant” and him being black-listed.
“I am also one of those crazy people who believes in the conspiracy theory of 9/11,” he said, “those who executed the acts will likely be revealed long after I am dead and gone.”
Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts and High Ability Academy seniors Aniqua Chatman, 18, and Jaelan Collins, 17, were part of a group of students who got the chance to deliver a monologue for Asner, who pulled no punches on criticism and direction. Both admitted they had to Google Asner’s bio and research him to appreciate the opportunity they were given.
Chatman did a monologue from the late playwright August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars.” Asner guided her through her first try, encouraging her to enunciate her words more and to focus on him. “It was amazing to have him listen to me and give me advice. It is very different when a veteran actor is guiding you,” Chatman said.
Collins impressed Asner with his monologue as a man in rage about a dirty environment.
Asner praised all the acting students who did monologues for him. “Gary has a great deal of talent. The level of talent here is explosive and extraordinary,” Asner said.