John Astin is returning to the Homewood campus. The Hopkins graduate and actor, who is perhaps best known for his role as Gomez on The Addams Family television series, has agreed to teach a workshop called Acting and Directing next semester, to coincide with the opening of the new student arts center.
"When Astin attended Hopkins," said John Irwin, the Decker Professor in the Humanities, "it was called the Department of Writing, Speech and Drama. This course is taking the department back to its roots."
With the student arts center, a building that will feature a black box theater with a professional sound and lighting booth, scheduled to open in late January, it seemed appropriate to offer again a course in dramatic arts and stagecraft, said Irwin.
"It just seemed that the time was right to get back into this," he said.
A week ago, Astin was on the Homewood campus working at perhaps his most difficult task as a visiting professor: deciding who gets into the workshop. The course has a limit of 15 to 20 students, and Irwin said they stopped accepting registrations at 36.
So Astin spent part of Friday and all day Saturday, from 10 a.m. until past 6 p.m., interviewing prospective students for his course. Each hopeful read or recited a short passage and then talked for about five minutes with Astin, who also took everyone's picture so he could remember faces.
"There seems to me to be a great thirst amongst the student body for this kind of class," Astin said. The applicants he saw ranged from freshmen to upperclassmen and came from a wide variety of majors, including biology, public health, English, computer science and biomedical engineering, as well as The Writing Seminars.
Faced with such an abundance of eager talent, Astin has decided to add a second section, to accommodate all the students. "Each student offered something unique and worthy," he said.
While he has taught workshops on acting and directing before, Astin said he's never taught one over the course of a semester and he's looking forward to the challenge. "This is going to be very exciting for me," he said.
By design, this workshop is open to all students, whether they're engineering or English majors, and whether they have lots of acting experience or none at all. "We'll be working with people who might not necessarily become actors," he said.
Meeting twice a week, the students will learn some "rudiments of acting" and then go into scene work, Astin said. They will be required to read a number of plays and will work on performing scenes from them.
"I think understanding something about this activity can be beneficial to almost everyone," Astin said.
Ultimately, there is hope the students from this workshop will perform a one-act play in the new black box theater, said Eric Beatty, director of the Homewood Arts Program. A one-act playwriting contest is being developed through The Writing Seminars to provide material, he said.
Astin said he is looking forward to returning to Baltimore and will live here during the semester. In addition, Astin has agreed to perform his one-man play, Edgar Allan Poe: Once Upon A Midnight, on Friday, April 20, as part of the dedication ceremonies of the student arts center, Beatty said. Proceeds from the performance will go to the Graduate Fellowship Fund in The Writing Seminars.
A workshop on acting and directing may become part of the regular Writing Seminars course offerings, Irwin said, but it will depend on student interest and "whether the university wants to have an ongoing presence in playwriting and all of the things that support it."