October 23rd, 2011 | Culture

Theater legend swings by Calhoun

Patti LuPone, pictured above in a YouTube clip performing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina,"  stopped by Calhoun dining hall Friday to talk to students. Check back for video from her talk.
Patti LuPone, pictured above in a YouTube clip performing "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," stopped by Calhoun dining hall Friday to talk to students. Check back for video from her talk. Photo by Jane Darby Menton.

Theater fans across Yale packed the Calhoun dining hall on Friday to scramble for a better view of the one, the only, Patti LuPone.

LuPone has been dominating the Broadway stage for over 30 years in roles ranging from Eva Peron in Evita to Fantine in Les Miserables to Rose in Gypsy and to Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes. LuPone has won three Drama Desk Awards, one Olivier award and two Tony Awards for best actress in a musical.

When she walked into the Calhoun dining hall, the room instantly erupted into raucous cheers. She went on to discuss her career, her growth as an actress and her advice for aspiring actors. Some highlights, with context:

When asked why she got into acting, Ms. LuPone responded that she believed it was destiny. Since the age of four, after her first tap-dancing recital, she said that she knew she would end up on stage.

“It [acting] chose me, and I never looked back,” LuPone said.

LuPone said that her time at Julliard was difficult, and that she cried at night. Her rebellious personality alienated many in charge, and as a result, she did not receive major roles. But she said the adversity made her a versatile actor, and that, as a result, she ultimately enjoyed more success.

“I think you grow more by failure because you have to really stop and examine what went wrong,” LuPone said.

Discussing her methods for getting into character, Ms. LuPone said that she does not base her interpretation on anything but the words and the feelings that they gave her. Instead, her gut reactions determine the direction she takes a character, LuPone said.

“I am an organic actress, not an intellectual one; I am led by my emotions,” LuPone said.

To Ms. LuPone, the actor’s relationship with the audience determines the success of the play. She called the actor a vessel for the message of the author, and said that the actor must command the stage, and therein carry the audience along; the task of the actor is to make the audience feel incorporated in the play.

“If you cry and the audience cries, that is good. If you don’t cry and the audience cries, that is also good. If you cry and the audience doesn’t cry… that is not good,” LuPone said.

Instead of citing a specific actor as the source of her inspiration, LuPone said that she draws inspiration from diverse sources.

“Anything that is new, that is arresting, that is thought provoking, that is my inspiration,” LuPone said.

LuPone told the audience that the closing is always the saddest part of a production, but that it’s difficult to pinpoint most rewarding part. She said that what makes acting rewarding and incredible is watching everything finally comes together, becoming a living, breathing, organic thing.

“It’s when the play comes to life- that’s ecstatic, you come of stage going ‘wow.” Those are the moments when you go ‘I’m safe, I could fly.’ And when the actor flies, the audience flies,” LuPone said.

As far as advice for aspiring actors: “It’s not easy. You do have to have balls of steel… and you have to want it,” LuPone said.