“How can we truthfully live under imaginary circumstances on stage?” asks Lisa Brescia, assistant professor in the department of theatre and dance.
It’s the essential question for a professional actor, she says. “Honestly living in the world of the play as someone else, seemingly effortlessly, is the job.”
And she says, “How I prepare may be different from other people; I’ve found what works best for me.”
“Dear Evan Hansen”
Brescia is currently practicing her process at the highest level possible — on the Broadway stage.
In August 2018, Brescia joined the Tony Award-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” She is appearing in the role Heidi Hansen.
“Dear Evan Hansen” is Brescia’s seventh Broadway production.
This experience has allowed her to fulfill a long-standing goal: working with legendary Broadway director Michael Greif.
“I love working with him,” she says. “He’s a consistent and steady presence at the theater, checking in with the production, and very involved in rehearsals with people who are coming in to the show. He’s invested in the actors — not just to maintain the integrity of the production, but also to develop collaborative relationships.”
The entire company greeted her with warmth, and she says she felt “a great amount of freedom” in the roles she played.
Working under pressure in such a high-profile setting also provides a workout for Brescia’s process, which she’s been teaching advanced acting students since joining Missouri State in 2016.
“I get the chance to practice what I teach,” she says.
“I have a very specific assignment that I give my Acting 4 students, creating long autobiographies for their characters, getting very specific about the given circumstances that are in the show, their characters, other characters, the world of the play. It gets very specific and thorough.”
Such specificity, she says, leads to the truthful behavior that’s central to good acting.
“So for instance, if I have a line about having a childhood pet, say a dog named ‘Fox,’ I create a whole history for that. Then when I’m on stage and I mention Fox, it’s not just a word. I’m actually experiencing a fully-realized memory, which enlivens the work.”
Research and directing
Brescia also called on her experience when she took on “Twelfth Night,” her first directing project at Missouri State.
“Working with Michael Greif,” she says, “is a master class on how to be an effective director and how to talk to actors.”
As she worked with the “Twelfth Night” cast, she says, “I was constantly looking for clear verbs to direct them. I may not have had that right at my fingertips if I hadn’t worked with a director (like Greif) who reminded me of the value of this.”
For Brescia, this merging of experiences — acting in “Dear Evan Hansen” and then drawing on that perspective to direct “Twelfth Night” — has been an unexpected benefit of her new life as a faculty member.
“Teaching has been affirming,” she says. “I know as much about my process and how to prepare for a role as I ever have before.”
Having a foundation like her position at Missouri State allows her to take creative risks, such as short-term contracts. “I can accept professional contracts and then have more experiences, which I then bring back into the classroom.”