It may be of surprise to some to know just how vibrant and internationally acclaimed is the Acting program in the Department of Theatre and Dance here at UC Davis. Dr. Bella Merlin (a professional actor and scholar of acting processes) has radically overhauled the Acting classes since her arrival from the UK in 2008.
Highlighting the key transferable and transformative skills inherent in acting, Merlin has adapted her experience teaching in the UK’s leading drama schools to accommodate college students of all levels, needs, and expectations. From the most pragmatic skills of communication, presentation, and public speaking, as well as physical presence and voice production, to the more humanitarian skills of empathy, compassion, and “dynamic listening,” Merlin foregrounds the human as the central “technology” in the classroom.
Given the immense amount of time we each spend communicating through computers, phones, and other mediated means, the nuances of direct human contact are reconsidered in Merlin’s classes. The subtle changes in facial expression, vocal intonation, body language, and silence, are the fundamental tools available to the actor.
The interpretation of stories – from the ancient Greeks to the most contemporary post-dramatic texts – enables students to reconfigure their own worldviews, their own expectations of human intercourse, and their own needs in an ever-changing and uncertain society. The only non-human technology used by Merlin in the studio is an iPod (music plays a key role in her actor-training), and the occasional use of a chalkboard.
Personal development, cultural diversity, and emotional intelligence remain key focuses in Acting, from the immensely popular lower division non-major course (DRA010) to the graduate courses for mid-career professionals.