Actress Faye Butler, a Chicago-based actor, talks with 7th-grader Corey Davis, 13, a drama major, after critiquing his performance during a master class at Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts in Gary, Ind. Thursday March 14, 2013. Butler gave practical tools for technique, as well as, honest advice about life in the performance business. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 1, 2013 1:53PM
The first thing Wirt-Emerson Visual Performing Arts High Ability Academy drama, musical theater and vocal majors noticed and loved about theater actress E. Faye Butler was her infectious laughter, which filled middle school drama teacher Gary Peters’ classroom.
Butler conducted a master class March 14 as a guest of the Friends of Emerson program that invites special guests trained in arts and culture to interact with students.
Friends president Marianetta Porterfield said the group was delighted to have a veteran performer such as Butler share her experiences and advice with the students.
Butler, who resides in Chicago, has been a stage actress for more than 20 years. She recently starred in the Goodman Theater’s tour of “Crowns,” co-starring with Pauletta Washington and Gary native David Jennings.
She is a veteran recipient of the Joseph Jefferson Award for her musical stage roles in “The Wiz,” “Hello, Dolly” and “Dinah Was,” portraying the title role, blues singer Dinah Washington.
“I am truly blessed to be a professional performer, meaning I act, sing, dance and write,” Butler said to the students. “I am one of the 10 percent of performers who do this for a living and only one percent of performers become major Hollywood stars. So if you are going into this to make money, you may as well stop right now.”
Butler told them how she’s been performing since the eighth grade after one of her teachers noticed her gift of gab.
“She said if I performed in a play she was doing where the character was a deaf-mute and I did not speak through the entire show, she’d give me an A in class and I would not have to do any homework in her class again,” Butler said with a laugh.
Butler graduated from Illinois State University with degrees in fine arts and education and later attended the Goodman School of Drama.
She told the students not to limit themselves in the arts.
“If you can act, learn dance. If you can dance, learn how to sing. Play an instrument, write. Whatever you do, do it with a passion,” she said.
Butler also watched some students do monologues, sing and recite poetry. She taught them breathing exercises and enunciation.
Seventh-graders Amber Henderson and Corey Davis, both 13, said they learned a lot from Butler.
“With Miss Butler encouraging me, I felt more confident in my presentation,” Davis said.
Henderson, who is a vocal major, said Butler gave her the tips she needed to sing and breathe better as she performed.
“I am so glad she was here. She was great and it was great that she spent time with us,” she said.
Senior Vincent Banks did a monologue and got advice on presentation as well as information on finding auditions in Chicago.
“I really appreciated her time and effort. This will help me a great deal,” he said.
Peters said he hopes to have Butler return in the near future to conduct an afternoon of workshops.