By Colleen Kearney Rich
In George Mason University theater professor Kaiulani Lee’s Advanced Performance Studio class, students not only get applause after a performance, they get hugs and encouraging words before they leave class.
“I have known most of these students since they were freshmen,” said Lee, who has been teaching acting as an adjunct at Mason since 1997.
The Obie Award-winning actress has an individualized approach to working with each student that forges a lasting bond.
“It is a matter of figuring out what their particular talent is and helping them shape and grow that gift.”
You might recognize Lee. She has more than 35 years of experience in theater, film and television and has studied with some of the biggest names in the business, including Lee Strasberg and Sandy Meisner. Her resume includes such films as “Cujo” and “A Civil Action” and television shows such as “Law and Order.”
Lee teaches only one semester an academic year so she can continue to work professionally.
“I am a good teacher because I get to go out there and work,” she said. “I am able to bring those experiences back to the classroom.”
But it is not just theater students who get the benefits of Lee’s expertise. Acting I is a School of Theater course that Lee regularly teaches, and it also one of a long list of university courses that fulfill the arts core requirement for bachelor’s degrees. As a result, Lee’s classes are often filled with students who are not aspiring to be actors, but looking for an easy A.
“They think it is going to be easy, but I have a rule about not missing class. Actors have to be present,” she said. “I teach them relaxation techniques and help them sharpen their senses so they are present. They learn to look for meaning beyond what is literally expressed. These are all valuable life lessons, as well as tools an actor needs.”
For years Lee met with senior theater majors to talk about how to prepare for life outside of the classroom. School of Theater administrators convinced her to turn it into a course: THR 490 Being an Artist in the Real World.
“It is not about the resumes and headshots. Sure, we cover that, but [this class] is about having skills that will keep you strong and confident because people are going to knock them down again and again,” she said. “I love teaching this class. It is so important.”