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Class act: Mary Louise Wilson at Russell Sage College.

Photo: B.A. Nilsson

Shared Wisdom

Mary Louise Wilson pursued an acting career because she wanted to be funny. “In high school, I was always being told to leave the room because I was too loud, and I didn’t know what I’d done,” she says. “On stage, I’d get such powerful reactions to being funny that I wanted more of it. I’m still a little scared of doing serious things. I’m afraid they’ll laugh at me.”

Wilson won a Tony Award last year for her portrayal of eccentric doyenne Edith Bouvier Beale in the musical Grey Gardens, and has enjoyed a distinguished career that includes the TV show One Day at a Time and a string of Broadway credits, including Flora the Red Menace, two revivals of The Women and the recent revival of Cabaret. She also developed, coauthored and starred in a one-woman show about Diana Vreeland titled Full Gallop, which enjoyed off-Broadway success.

Twenty students from the Acting III: Performance Styles class at Russell Sage College in Troy enjoyed an afternoon last Thursday (Jan. 22) with Wilson, which began with an hour-long Q&A period and then turned into a master class.

Charming, insightful and, not surprisingly, very funny, Wilson shared anecdotes about her career even as she encouraged the roomful of actors-in-training to pursue their passion. And the first question showed a shrewd insight into the business of acting: Were there times when Wilson had no work and questioned her choice of career?

“Absolutely,” she said. “I got hot and was on my way up, and learned that you never arrive.” Typecasting is an ever-present danger, she later noted, adding that, since her Tony Award, she’s gotten only calls for “wheelchair-bound women with Alz heimer’s.”

“Be in love with the characters you want to play,” she said, explaining that it’s a much more fulfilling aspiration than the pursuit of fame. What’s the most challenging aspect of creating a role? “It’s all challenging. It’s very scary.”

Fifteen students presented a monologue apiece, all of them already at an impressive level of accomplishment. Wilson offered re finements in characterization, encouraging the actors to push into more extreme emotional realms, and guided the participants through a process of breaking each speech into component thoughts. “Take more time,” she frequently said. “Let us see the thought as it occurs to you.”

“Those kids were terrific,” she told David Baecker, assistant professor of theater at the college, who prepared the students for the event. “I haven’t had a lot of hope for theater lately, but who knows? In economic times like these, theater can thrive.”

—B.A. Nilsson

New Orleans is still waiting: Frisbee Houde’s In the Pink.

Art Beat

BEARING WITNESS Connie Frisbee Houde, photographer and longtime friend of Metroland—we have featured her work in these pages on multiple occasions—has a new exhibit up at the Chapel + Cultural Center (2125 Burdett Ave., Troy). Known for her wrenching photographs of Afghanistan, Frisbee Houde’s The Forgotten: New Orleans and Afghanistan pairs images from the Katrina- ravaged city with the war-ravaged country in poignant and revealing ways. As she wrote me in an e-mail, regarding our selective amnesia about still-wounded New Orleans, “I continue to be shocked to see in my own country the same short-term memory that allows us to distance ourselves from the fact that war continues to devastate families in Afghanistan. Many Americans continue with business as usual while the war is waged and levies remain questionably secure.” The exhibit runs through Feb. 25. For more info, call 274-7793.

CHOWDAH We all have cabin fever. Admit it. On Saturday (Jan. 31), why not brave the cold and venture into Saratoga Springs for Chowderfest at the Feast Gallery (142 Grand Ave., 2nd Floor). From 11 AM to 4 PM you can warm up with some hearty chowder and check out the soon-to-end exhibit of recent paintings by Chuck Brouillette, Four Color Crime: The Streets of Gorilla City. Or you can stop by from 5 to 8 PM for the “artist farewell reception.” For more info about these events, call 321-8473.

BALLADS OF A SOLDIER Also happening Saturday (Jan. 31) in the city we pay too much attention to in the summer (and not enough in the winter), poet W.D. Clarke will read from and sign copies of his book Soldier Ballads and Other Tales at the New York State Military History Museum (69 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs) from 1:30 to 2:30 PM. The Vietnam vet writes experienced-based “narrative rhymes done in a style reminiscent of Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.” For more info, call 581-5100.

AND THE BAND PLAYS ON More than 300 musicians! Eight hours of live music! Where, you are wondering, can you experience this—whatever “this” is? “This” is the Empire State Youth Orchestra and their Playathon 2009. The annual event takes place near Burlington Coat Factory’s inside-the-mall entrance at Crossgates Mall in Guilderland on Feb. 7 from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM. The 300 kids—er, young people—don’t all perform at once; there are continuous performances by the ESYO’s various combos, from the full Youth Orchestra to the Wind, Jazz and Percussion Ensembles. There will also be an interesting educational oddity (set up near the Gap) they’re calling the Musical Petting Zoo. Assorted musical instruments will be the “animals,” and kids will get to try them out. For more info, visit

A ROSE IS A ROSE IS A . . . One of our favorite northern venues is looking for a new name (and the economic benefits it is hoped will come with the new moniker). The City of Glens Falls has selected Front Row Marketing Services to “oversee the naming and commercial rights” for the Glens Falls Civic Center. Make an offer!

—Shawn Stone

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