Faculty in the Spotlight

Terry Glaser, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts


Interviewed and written by Dr. Rebekah Wanic, CEE Adjunct Liaison and Professor of Psychological Sciences - September 24th, 2019

Chaucer, Clown Noses and Commedia dell'arte – A Conversation with Terry Glaser

For this month’s Spotlight, I sat down for a talk with Theatre professor Terry Glaser. Terry has been serving the USD community as a member of the Department of Theatre since 2005, teaching a variety of courses, including Acting 1, The Physical Actor, Commedia dell’arte, and Theatre in Education. Among her list of impressive accomplishments, Terry has directed over 50 professional and university productions of plays and operas across the country, translated operas and plays from French, Italian, and even Ancient Greek, and written many original dramatic works, in combination with teaching university students, educators, and other theatre professionals.

Terry’s original work was honored just this past summer when her one-act play Pardon My Greed! was selected for performance Off-Broadway in New York City at the Red Bull Theater’s 2019 Short New Play Festival. Hers was one of only six plays selected for performance from an international applicant pool of over 300! The festival theme was “evil,” and Terry’s submission was an adaptation of a Canterbury Tale, in a mix of poetry and prose, featuring a Pardoner and Chaucer himself, and even a work-within-a-work: a “Morality Play in Five Really Quick Acts.” Needless to say, there is a plethora of creativity and talent packed into this ten-minute performance piece!

This semester, Terry is teaching both Theatre in Education and Acting 1. I asked her to comment a bit on what led her to teaching, given her accomplishments as a writer, director, and actor, and she explained that teaching theatre to others is something she views as her calling, allowing her to pass on what she knows to help others shine. Specifically, she shared her perspective that the world often does its best to “squash people” – causing us to lose some of who we are and wearing down our self-assurance – and through engagement with theatre, she can help set students free, lifting their spirits as she watches them gain confidence in their own creativity. Terry sees both teaching and theatre as opportunities to encourage others to pursue and cultivate their creative passions, and by combining both in her work, she is ideally situated to support others in meeting this aim. She mentioned that when she sees the creative spark rekindled in others, she feels herself light up as well. 

Along these lines, I asked Terry to tell me a bit more about her experiences with teaching theatre, to share some of the challenges, and if she had any favorite courses. Terry shared that she most enjoys teaching courses where the focus is on physical theatre and that she especially loves teaching students mask work. Physical acting is important to teach, she argues, because in an age where many consume screen performances (TV, movies, etc.) it is important that students understand that live theatre is not primarily a psychological exchange, but one of “exchanging living energy between people who are present in the same space – an exchange of non-verbal communication, with language riding on the surface,” rather than one in which language drives the information transmission.

Terry’s unique practices in teaching physical acting have been featured recently in a chapter she wrote in the volume Physical Dramaturgy: Perspectives from the Field (Routledge 2018), where she shares the techniques she has invented to help actors connect with their characters. In her chapter, Kinetic Analysis and Gesture Mapping in “The Government Inspector,” she outlines her method for using embodiment and music as a source for generating emotion and understanding of a role at a production’s first rehearsal, rather than the traditional method of table work: reading lines and using language to connect psychologically with a character. Thus, she encourages an action-based “outside-in” approach, in contrast to the more linguistically and psychologically based inside-out method traditionally utilized at initial rehearsals. 

I found the chapter to be fascinating and learned that in addition to implementing Michael Chekhov-based techniques like “radiating” and “imaginary body” with students here at USD, Terry further developed an innovative pedagogical tool to facilitate the actor’s connection with a script, where she writes and performs a solo show in the persona of the playwright whose work is being produced. In the solo show, the playwright shares autobiographical information, along with relevant contextual variables (such as political or historical events) from the time that the work was written. For example, when directing plays by Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov at USD, Terry wrote and performed the original works The Mysterious Dwarf and Chekhov, Live!, the latter of which she also performed locally at the Cygnet Theater in Old Town.

Image of a red clown nose next to an index card with text "User Manual: 1. Put it on. 2. See what happens!

This connection between Terry’s art and her teaching is highly inspirational and evidence of a great passion for and skill in both her creative and educational enterprises. As an additional element of her teaching, Terry said that mask work, which she incorporates as part of physical acting, can serve as the ultimate pathway to self-discovery, in that wearing masks can permit us to bring out the parts of us that we can’t or don’t show to the world. For her, masks can open a door to let out the “child in everyone, with a wild, creative spirit” and offer the opportunity for adventure and breakthrough. Along this vein, Terry mentioned that she loves teaching Red-Nose Clown (see image right), where students don a red clown nose and “see where it takes them.” According to Terry, this smallest of masks is all it takes to release a person’s truest self. 

Finally, I asked Terry to share a bit of what she is currently working on and found that she is involved in many projects in addition to teaching. Excitingly for the USD community, she is preparing for next fall, when the Theatre Department will put on a production of one of Terry’s own original Commedia dell'arte scripts. The construction and renovation of Camino and Founder’s Halls will displace the department, and as the genre of Commedia dell'arte is ideally suited for performance in unusual spaces, even outdoors, it is the perfect time for such a production. Additionally, Terry is writing a new play about the Trojan War, a project she described as a “revisionist version” focusing on the role of women in the war, rather than on a storyline dominated by men. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Terry is also writing an expanded version of original adaptations from the Canterbury Tales, building on the success of Pardon My Greed!.

I must say that I ended our conversation wondering if Terry is really at least three people disguised as one – something that seemed even more plausible after she showed me images of her in character as Gogol and Chekhov. In parting, Terry mentioned that also on her agenda is a desire to help students and patrons of the arts to increase their respect for comedic works, as comedy provides a vehicle to explore human universals with a depth and built-in source of release not present in other genres. She also said she would love to teach Red-Nose Clown to the entire school, for what could be more satisfying than sharing with the campus community what she believes is “the most life-enhancing, joyous, delightful enterprise that someone can engage in!”