Course Catalog: Contemporary Theatre and Film: An
In his recurring role as a
visiting professor, actor/director John Astin teaches both
in the classroom (here, in the Bloomberg Center) and on
stage in the Merrick Barn.
PHOTO BY HIPS/WILL KIRK
By Amy Lunday
Editor's note: This is part of an occasional series in
which reporters drop in on interesting classes throughout
the university's eight academic divisions. Suggestions are
The course: Offered by the Theatre Arts and Studies
Program in the Krieger School. 3 credits.
Meeting time: Fridays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.,
spring 2006. (Also scheduled for the same day and time for
The instructor: Beloved for his portrayal of a
variety characters, from the zany Addams Family patriarch
Gomez Addams to the renowned poet of the macabre Edgar
Allan Poe, Hopkins alumnus John Astin has spent much of the
past five years in a recurring role as a visiting professor
on the Homewood campus. During that time, Astin has
expanded the university's academic theater offerings into a
full complement of courses in acting, directing,
playwriting and production through the Theatre Arts and
Studies Program, which he directs. Students can now earn a
minor in Theatre Arts, with courses cross-listed by the Humanities Center and the
Seminars, where the Astin-led theater revival is housed
and where Astin earned his undergraduate degree decades ago
when it was known as the Department of Writing, Speech and
Drama. Astin spends many hours each week working closely
with students, both in the classroom and on the Merrick
Barn stage, where his Johns Hopkins University Theatre
troupe performs to sold-out crowds.
Syllabus and coursework: As junior Anthony Blaha,
Astin's work-study assistant, puts it, "This class offers a
detailed and often humorous look at the foundations of
modern theater, exploring the history of acting and
dramatic form up through present day techniques and
practices. The course also emphasizes the idea of 'value'
when watching and experiencing performance art." The
course's subtitle, An Insider's View, hints at the rich
subtext found in every lecture. As Hopkins' in-house
insider, the journeyman actor peppers his lectures with his
unique behind-the-scenes view, stories of his life on the
stage and screen, and his personal experience with the
works the class is studying. While leading a recent class
discussion of Samuel Beckett's absurdist play Waiting for
Godot, which the students were required to read and write a
short paper about, Astin recalled first performing the role
of Vladimir years ago while working in the Actors' Colony
in Baltimore. "Four or five pages into reading it, I
literally threw it across the room. I didn't like it at the
time. I thought it was phony. But what I didn't know then
is that it's a play that can have an impact and move the
Astin says: "Life is unpredictable, which is why
theater is perhaps the greatest medium of all. If it's done
right, theater is a living presence in front of us. Are you
a little bored sometimes when you go to the theater? Are
you going just so you can say that you go to the theater?
Why is it boring? Because they aren't doing it right. If
you do it right, it can be a real kick in the butt. If you
do it right, it's better than Six Flags. But if it isn't
done right, it's what we call 'deadly theater.' "
Students say: "I think the class is great. It's a
fun performance to watch in itself, behind which lies a
really cogent philosophy. John is a great advocate for art
in its various forms and speaks with great authority on
film and theater. The assignments are also good. The close
reading of Waiting for Godot was an object lesson in
Aristotelian value creation — which makes me sound
like a philosophy kid, but really I just mean it showed us
what makes a good play good."
— Mitchell Frank, sophomore, Writing Seminars
major, Shaker Heights, Ohio.
"John Astin has a genuine investment and commitment to his
students. He will take any available, or necessary,
approach to make sure that his points are clear and
thoroughly understood. Professor Astin has been involved in
virtually every capacity of professional theater and film,
and his insight is both personal and inspirational. As a
theater student, it has been important for me to look at
the methods that paved the way for modern acting practices.
At the same time, it has been helpful to me as an audience
member to have a basis with which to look at performances.
The professor's real-life experience and insight are
informative and very enjoyable to listen to. We've also
viewed a number of films that have been no less than
— Anthony Blaha, junior, Writing Seminars major
and theater minor, Atglen, Pa.
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