Among theatre-goers and theatre scholars, “John Gabriel Borkman” is seen as one of Henrik Ibsen’s greatest commentaries on life, morality and the human experience. One that provides insights and perspective. Performed this spring by HWS student-actors, “Borkman” has given three senior performers – Thomas Frohlich, Hallie Martenson and Deana Stuart — a unique new point of view as actors and graduating seniors.
So what is it about this play filled with scandal, bankruptcy, and high-impact characters that has made such an impression on these burgeoning performers? First: a unique and early rehearsal schedule. Unlike previous years, the cast returned from break a week early to begin rehearsal and the whole cast lived in the same house. “As a result, we’ve formed tight bonds with each other,” said Frohlich. “I’ve formed friendships with people I otherwise wouldn’t know.”
The close-knit cast got to know each other as actors as well during their 20-hours of rehearsal each week. “The commitment displayed by the cast reflects in the show,” said Stuart. “Everybody took their role very seriously and as a result developed strong characters.”
In their dedication, came an engagement with the material, a tie to the script and their roles. “It’s a learning experience grounded in reflection — like all acting ought to be,” said Frohlich. “I had a chance to become another person- all perspective shifts yield wisdom.”
For one of Frohlich’s castmates, acting in “Borkman” had more of a ruminating effect. “It taught me to be aware of how I’m presenting myself constantly and has really improved my interactions with others,” said Martensen.
Martensen added that a lot of what she’s learned about herself and acting has come from Robert Gross, director and professor of theatre. “He has been a big mentor of mine. I have been able to get a great deal of personal attention and focused criticism.”
Noting the important role of seniors in his productions, Gross explained that, “I think very often it is the seniors — those who have experience that help younger actors to shape their acting.”
Gross added that, “Each student brings something unique to a production. Working with HWS students and seeing their growth and the growth of a production is very gratifying.”
Frohlich, who played Erhart Borkman and had no prior acting experience before HWS, is a philosophy major and a classical studies minor. He participates in Ultimate Frisbee, the HWS Debate Team and the Kappa Alpha Society.
A third generation actress, Martensen is an English major with a concentration in dramatic literature and a minor in Asian studies. She is the house manager of the performing arts house, vice president and past-president of the Phoenix Players and went abroad to India in the Fall of 2007.
Stuart, who played the role of Fannie Wilton, is an anthropology major and a theatre and aesthetics minor. Outside of the classroom, she has served as the president, vice president and secretary of the Phoenix Players. Currently, Stuart is the house manager of the Performing Arts theme house and is a member of America Reads.
The photo above is from the Borkman performance. Deana Stuart is standing. Thomas Frohlich and Hallie Martenson are seated.