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Backstage Pass: Eliza Ladd helps students perform moving work

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 23, 2013
"Words are one of the layers — there are a lot of other layers," Eliza Ladd says. Here she works with students to free their instruments.
"Words are one of the layers — there are a lot of other layers," Eliza Ladd says. Here she works with students to free their instruments.
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Weird sounds are coming from the Ruby Allen Studio. It’s 9 p.m. on a Wednesday. Every room in FSU Center for the Performing Arts is dark, except for one. Abnormal, deep-voiced moaning, angered yelping, high-pitched whirring, flirtatious wooing, and operatic caws are haunting the fluorescent-lit studio on the third floor. But, these sounds are par for students of FSU/Asolo Conservatory — it’s just another rehearsal with movement-and-dancer professor Eliza Ladd.

Ladd is one of the rare New York City natives who has evolved from one art form to another in her diverse career: percussion to solo acting work; singing to writing; dancing to spiritual practice training; teaching to visual art making; and any combination of the above. The Harvard-educated 47-year-old has settled on teaching and creating multidisciplinary performances that involve all of those things.

This particular evening, the interim professor is working with nine of the 12 second-year students to help them characterize their roles for upcoming “The School for Lies” production. It’s early in the rehearsal process.

Ladd works from a school of acting that involves “freeing the instrument,” which means allowing actors to tap into an authentic, emotional and organic place, by freeing them from habit. It’s experimental.

For instance, the graduate students act “narrow,” “wide,” “backward” and “forward.” They take on id-like creatures. For “forward,” one student is bent over at the waist, arms extended from the head and feet pointed inward, moving in quick small steps while saying “mew, mew, mew” in the upper range of his voice. It’s his expression of forward.

“I am cultivating a sense that they can express big and experience big by exploding their bodies, their feelings and their literal physical expressions out,” she says.

Ladd calls it “harvesting seeds.” The actors then select pieces or details of these big movements and narrow them down to smaller traits that he or she will embody when playing his or her character.

“‘The School for Lies’ has some big feelings,” Ladd says. “There are big characters in it, and to house big characters, you have to have actors who can let themselves be big.”

Brian Owen, in acting “narrow,” twists the trunk of his body and steps his feet across each other on angles. From this, he hones the bigness down to an ants-in-his-pants-esque trait for his character, Philinte, in “The School for Lies.”

Ladd explains that characters have a particular way they want to influence what happens in a story, and it can be communicated through the choices an actor makes, not just the script.

“I’m helping them be conscious with their choices,” she says.

‘The School for Lies’
Adapted from Molière’s “The Misanthrope” by David Ives, directed by Greg Leaming.
When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, and runs various times through Sunday, Nov. 17
Where: FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Cook Theatre, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Tickets $28 to $29
Info: Call 251-8000 or visit
To learn more about Eliza Ladd, visit her website at


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