Theater director Terry Berliner visits Hickman drama students

Thursday, January 31, 2013 | 6:12 p.m. CST; updated 11:52 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 31, 2013
Terry Berliner, a New York-based theater director, speaks to an acting class Thursday at Hickman High School about how she chooses costumes and stage designs. Berliner is working with Stephens College students for the upcoming performance of "The Tempest" that opens Feb. 15 at the Macklanburg Playhouse.

COLUMBIA — Speaking to Hickman High School drama students on Thursday, New York theater director Terry Berliner didn't bother with a podium. She stood next to one — hands in constant motion like she was underlining everything she said.

"I've been living in New York longer than you've been on this planet," she told the 19 students in Sarah Gerling's advanced acting class. They laughed.


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Berliner is in Columbia to direct Stephens College's production of "The Tempest," Feb. 8 to 16 at the Macklanburg Playhouse. She has directed theater in New York on and off Broadway for the past two decades.

The desks in Gerling's classroom are on tiers, so the front of the classroom was like Berliner's stage. The wall behind her was covered with posters from Broadway productions including "Les Miserables" and "Wicked."

Berliner started the class by describing her background, which included dancing and going to school in London, Los Angeles and Colorado. Then, she led students through the audition process, which is relevant to what the class is doing now. Six of the students will direct one-act plays in March and will hear auditions next week.

Berliner used her experiences to explain her points, invoking her family, actors and other theater professionals.

At the end of her presentation, she upped the energy by directing arm-wrestling contests between students. It was her way of explaining alliances in the theater world. She even took on Gerling as the students cheered.

Gerling said after class that Berliner's visit brought more diversity to her students’ education about acting.

"I think any time in the arts there’s never one person who has all the answers," Gerling said.

She said she was glad Berliner was candid about her experience directing in a competitive field.

"It was candid without being at all discouraging," Gerling said.

Student Jacque Arnold, who wants to teach theater, said it was good to speak with someone who's out working in the business.

"We have all these questions, and it’s nice to talk to a professional," Arnold said. "It’s an inspiration to people who want to do this."

In New York, Berliner works as an artistic director for LeAp OnStage, a program for students interested in writing and producing plays.

"Part of our job as artists is to give back to the community, hopefully in a way that elevates the arts," Berliner said before class. She will visit Rock Bridge High School students next week.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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