Last week, the Department of Theater and School of the Fine Arts welcomed Avner Eisenberg for three days of workshops, class visits and a public show.
Known as Avner the Eccentric, Eisenberg is a movement specialist who has studied and performed worldwide in television, film and on stage. He’s best known for playing the Jewel in The Jewel of the Night. Eisenberg’s work is done through wordless expression and manipulation of the body, including facial expressions and subtle hand and foot movements.
Russ Blain, an assistant professor in the Department of Theater, worked with Eisenberg briefly a number of years ago.
“He’s an actor, a magician or an illusionist, and he is a clown … to put it all together: he’s a master of physical comedy,” Blain said.
According to Blain, Eisenberg visited classes of both theater majors and non-majors.
“I asked him to speak briefly about his career and do a presentation about characterization and movement choices,” Blain said.
Abbey Bussy, a sophomore journalism major said, “He did half-lecture and half-demonstration and showed us some videos of his other performances. It was pretty amazing what he could do.”
In a two-hour workshop, Eisenberg taught theater students how to apply movement to their work.
About 25 theater students were able to work with Eisenberg on action, posture and movement techniques, first watching his demonstration and then practicing with a partner.
“We started with breathing and posture, and how to own the space in relation to acting. It was all about how to use breathing to connect with the audience,” Steph Niro, a second-year theater major, said. “As people we’re all really defensive. If you walk up really close to someone, they twitch … we have this self-preservation bubble, and we learned that you need to break it down to connect with the audience. And it all stems from breathing.”
According to Niro, the workshop was a great experience that helped her discover what she needs to work on as an actor.
Friday night’s show, Avner the Eccentric: Exceptions to Gravity was enjoyed by all ages, ranging from theatre students and staff to local Oxford families. Eisenberg used props and his clothing as characters in the show.
Eisenberg moved objects around the stage, focused on rhythm and tempo with a short soundtrack and expressed the ability to use everything around him to create the show, including the audience itself.
Eisenberg came into the house to interact with the specific members of the audience. He made the entire audience into a choir, which he conducted towards the end of the show.
For theater students, the show was a way to explore options in theatre.
Erin Mizer, a theater major, discussed her interest in the word-less show: “It’s amazing what you can do without words. He did the whole thing without speaking, and I was okay with that.”
Robert Stimmel, another theater major, expressed his interest as an actor.
“It really opened my eyes to classic physical comedy. I used to watch The Three Stooges when I was younger, and [the show] reminded me of it. It’s something I want to explore.”
According to Blain, Eisenberg’s visit was a great opportunity for students.
“[Eisenberg]’s very effective in what he knows, a great teacher. It’s a rare opportunity for students to learn these skills from someone who knows what they’re doing,” Blain said.
Eisenberg’s visit to Miami was made possible by the Cromer-Flory Artist-in-Residence Fund, an endowment given in honor of two alumni who studied the arts while at Miami. The fund brings in artists every year alternating between the music and theatre departments.