Luda and Ron Popenhagen
Actors, Directors, Writers, Teachers

Luda and Ron Popenhagen in Ionesco's 'Jacques ou la soumission'
Interview with Ron Popenhagen PhD and Luda Apinytë Popenhagen PhD by Isolde Ira Davis AM, November 2003

Isolde: Ron, I have heard that your biography as an Actor and Director has been selected for inclusion in Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World 2004. Could you comment?
Ron: Well, yes. I recently learned that my biography as an Actor and Director has been selected for Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World 2004. This recognition is the result of successes with mises en scène including texts by Artaud, Cocteau, Ionesco, Molière, Shakespeare, Tardieu and original creations. My production work in 2003 has focused upon the preparation of texts by French playwright Marguerite Duras and Australian playwright Michael Gow - small cast shows which I am rehearsing with Luda Popenhagen. I am also beginning a writing project which will create an adaptation of Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. Earlier this year I was invited to lecture at the Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong about my innovative pedagogical work with actors and singers.

Isolde: Where have you been lecturing and teaching?
Ron: I have been teaching courses in Audition Technique and Performance Technique at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Access Centre. This is my sixth year teaching courses in Vocal Studies and/or Opera Studies at the Conservatorium. I have also taught performance workshops at the Macquarie Conservatorium, Dubbo as part of the Sydney Conservatorium Outreach Program, and have also served as Guest Critic and Workshop Leader for the Australian National Association of the Teachers of Singing. I continue to lecture on Opera Performance for the Northside Opera Study Group in Lindfield, and lead seminars on Performance Training for high school teachers in greater Sydney.
I frequently coach actors, music theatre performers and opera singers for performances in major commercial venues and institutions.

Isolde: You seem to have a very tight working schedule. Are you able to do any research?
Ron: My research on Masks and Mask Performance is on-going. Each year I present lecture/demonstrations and teach mask workshops at the Enmore TAFE Design Centre, Sydney Institute of Technology. I have provided similar workshops for the Australian Theatre for Young People and the Actors College of Theatre and Television over the past few years.

Isolde: If I may now ask you Luda. You are a very busy lady with two teenagers. What activities do you pursue?
Luda: Since returning to Australia in 1997, I have been teaching Acting and Drama courses at the University of Western Sydney - Macarthur, the Conservatorium of Music, the Australian Catholic University, NIDA, the Actors College of Theatre and Television, the Sydney Institute of Technology, the Cecchetti Summer School of Ballet, and Valerie Jenkins Academy of Ballet Woollahra. My lecture/demonstrations on the theatre include presentations at the Australasian Drama Studies Association Conference at the University of NSW, the Department of Theatre Studies at the Australian National University, and at the Baltic Studies conference at Deakin University in Geelong. Performances in English and French include plays by Ionesco at the Alliance Française de Sydney and at the Sydney Town Hall, as well as original texts based on the life of French artist Lucien Henry at the Australian Museum of Technology. Currently I am working with Ron Popenhagen on shows by Australian and French playwrights. I have directed children’s theatre at the Sutherland Arts Centre.

Isolde: Being an accomplished linguist in at least three languages: English, French and Lithuanian and perhaps even more, did you have an opportunity to teach languages and perhaps doing translation work?
Luda: Yes, indeed. I have been engaged in language teaching in Sydney in recent years, as well: French at the Conservatorium of Music, French at the St George and Sutherland Community College and Lithuanian for the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Saturday School of Communities Languages. At the University of Sydney I worked in the Department of Italian researching the influence of Italian Culture on contemporary Australian society. In 2003 I acquired official certification for language teaching from the Institute of Languages University of NSW. As a translator, I have been certified by the National Australian Association of Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) in Canberra, and I am listed with SBS Television as an official translator for Lithuanian.

Isolde: You have written a book on the Lithuanian director Nekroðius widely recognised as an outstanding director in Europe. Do you intend to write on any other famous theatre personality?
Luda: My book, Nekroðius and Lithuanian Theatre published in December 1999, is the first book on this renowned Lithuanian director. The study has achieved recognition in international academic circles for its commentary on dramatic literature and mise en scène. I hope to further develop my writing on Baltic performance issues in years to come. I am particularly interested in comparative research that incorporates my specialization on French and American Acting traditions.

Isolde: Ron, I understand that you and Luda have visited your family in the USA. What were your objectives other than seeing family and friends?
Ron: During the October school holidays we visited family and renewed professional ties in the Upper Midwest (USA). Luda and I have worked extensively in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin prior to our move to Sydney. We reestablished contact with many old friends while travelling to Iowa via Chicago and Denver. Highlights of the trip included attendance at an American Football game and the colours of the autumn leaves along the Mississippi River. One of our objectives in revisiting the States was to observe current methodologies of American Actor Training. Having taught extensively both in New York and California, as well as the Midwest, we were most curious to see what new trends were developing. It became apparent that major changes do not occur that quickly. And differences between American and Australian approaches are probably less noticeable than a decade ago. Perhaps the constant flow of exchange between Sydney and Los Angeles is having some long-term impact. Young Australian Actors are always curious about American conservatories and Actor Training universities. We will be able to share our discoveries with these students when teaching workshops and classes in institutions here.

Isolde: And you Luda? What were your activities during your stay in the USA?
Luda: In the States we taught workshops for undergraduate university students in professional Actor Training Programs. Over there, drama students are required to study dramatic literature, theory and history extensively, as well as participate in practical performance classes and stage productions. Young actors are also required to study other subjects in the Humanities, including languages, maths, world literature, etc. Ron and I trained such students all across the U.S. prior to moving to Australia six years ago. I particularly remember one workshop in the Midwest at a private Norwegian-American university in Iowa, called Luther College (Ron’s alma mater). There were about 20 students in the class; most of them were of Norwegian or Swedish origins. The focus here was on Mask Performance: the Neutral Mask as a training tool, expressive masks in the style of carnival masks from Basel/Switzerland and character masks that resembled the masks from Roman comedy. Students were requested to investigate the different performance styles and practise acting techniques which enhance mask characterization. As part of the workshop Ron and I demonstrated our mask performance skills with a few choice masks that Ron had designed and constructed.

Isolde: Did you also lecture at universities?
Luda: Yes. At the University of California, at Santa Barbara (Ron and I both completed our doctoral studies in Dramatic Art there), we taught second year undergraduates in the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program - Department of Dramatic Art and Dance. This group of young actors was considerably more multicultural in composition; Californian classrooms always contain a mix of Europeans, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian ethnicity. The teaching staff is equally diverse as the student body. Our workshop addressed Classical Acting Styles - specifically Renaissance tragedy and neoclassical comedy. We used texts from Shakespeare’s King Lear and Molière’s The Miser. The texts were spoken in English with additional phrases performed in French for the Molière. Emphasis was put on believable characterization within the very detailed given circumstances of each drama. Ron and I encouraged the students to maximize their use of visual imagination and all their sensory skills. We drew extensively from our theatre training in Paris for this unique approach to performance texts.

Isolde: Did you and Ron have time to renew professional associations with former colleagues, theatre scholars and your former students?
Luda: Yes and no. We renewed professional associations with theatre scholars and former colleagues within the University of California. We were able to casually (California style) compare current trends and developments in theatre academia in the States and Australia. Sadly, one of our mentors, the internationally renowned theatre phenomenologist Bert O. States, had just passed away before our arrival in Santa Barbara. We, therefore, missed the opportunity to once again enjoy his laconic insights into literature, theory and performance. We were also unable to contact the many former students that we remain in contact with, who are working in the TV and Film industry in LA. Despite these unexpected occurrences, university lectures, seminars and productions carried on as planned. We also participated in an improvisation performance by one of our former colleagues, and toured the new facilities on campus.

Isolde: Thank you very much for the in depth interview.

Isolde Ira Davis AM