Jason Alexander Says ‘The Character’s the Thing’

‘Seinfeld’ star speaks at Ten Chimneys Fellowship Program

Jun. 24, 2016
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Jason Alexander has a very clear understanding of George Costanza, the character he played on the hit television show Seinfeld. "I always said that George thought that he was absolutely worthless, and he wondered by the world didn’t value him more,” Alexander said.

Alexander, who has won multiple industry awards for his comedic performances on stage, screen and television, is in Genesee Depot this week in his new role as Master Teacher at the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship Program.

The 56-year-old actor and teacher, who is disarmingly charming and takes a very intelligent approach to his craft, admitted at a press conference Wednesday that he has learned a lot from George and other characters he has played during his 35 years in the business.

The annual weeklong acting school at Ten Chimneys, the former summer residence of Broadway luminaries Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, each year attracts up to 10 veteran actors from regional companies around the country. This year’s fellows, as the students are called, include the Milwaukee Rep’s Chike’ Johnson and nine other veteran performers, each of whom has at least 20 years of professional acting experience.

Alexander, who was born Jay Scott Greenspan in Newark, N.J., has been teaching acting as a craft for the past 20 years. The insights he explained make it clear how well he understands the depth and breadth required to successfully bring a character like Costanza to life.

“If I were teaching you how to build a house and I taught you how to use a hammer, a saw, a plain and a level, you would still have no idea how to build a house. That’s how a lot of acting is taught,” Alexander explained.

What is lacking in that basic approach is the context and methodology that enable actors knows how to use the tools available, said Alexander, who credited well-known acting coach Larry Moss for his success both as an actor and teacher.

“When an actor does a line, he or she is actually executing an action. The actor is being a verb, so to speak,” Alexander noted. “Teaching an actor to communicate in that way can result in a performance that’s very effective.”

Good performances, whether on stage or screen, are the result of good material, Alexander added. But a good actor brings more than many audience members realize to the execution of that material.

“The writer creates the text and the text informs everything. The actor creates the subtext that even the writer may not even know is there,” Alexander said. “When your acting technique is solid, it should see you through any kind material thrown at you. Seinfeld was an application of that technique.”

Ten Chimneys will host two programs open to the public that will explore the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship and its work.

On Friday, June 24th,  “A Conversation with Jason Alexander,” will be an intimate evening in which the actor will discuss his life and career. On Saturday, June 25th, the 2016 Fellows will join Alexander on stage to explore the work they had done the previous week.

Both programs begin at 8 p.m. with tickets prices ranging from $40 to $150. For more details, visit www.tenchimneys.org.

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