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Pullman Shares Advice, Experience with Theater Festival Participants

Bill Pullman holds up a likeness of actor and Indiana native Jimmy Stewart.

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

Bill Pullman referenced the quote by playwright Edward Albee to describe his own experience over more than three decades of acting. It was a lesson he shared Thursday in Fisher Auditorium with hundreds of theater students who may encounter something similar.

Pullman came to IUP as keynote presenter for the Region II Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, hosted by the Department of Theater and Dance.(Find more photos in a theater festival photo gallery.)

More than a thousand participants from colleges and universities spanning eight states are attending this week’s festival, which includes performances, competitions, and workshops on topics from directing and theater making to playwriting and criticism.

For Pullman, the “long distance out of the way” started with his audition for Lion in Winter at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Eighteen at the time, he was vying for the part of King Henry II—a role he didn’t get.

“Coming back a short distance correctly,” he said, was his return to the stage after focusing for nearly twenty years on film. His audition for Albee’s The Goat on Broadway took him back to his days as a freshman, avoiding eye contact with other theater students as he approached the call-back list at Oneonta. His role in The Goat earned Pullman a 2002 Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Play.

Bill Pullman dons a boa he received from one of the festival participants.

Pullman’s experiences in between Lion and Goat were many and varied.

From Oneonta, Pullman went on to earn an M.F.A. in directing from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. After teaching drama at Montana State University and working in theater, he made his film debut in the comedy Ruthless People in 1986. He may be best known for lead roles in While You Were Sleeping (1995), opposite Sandra Bullock, and Independence Day (1996), in which he played the president. His directing credits include television series Night Visions (2001) and movie The Virginian (2000).

Having worked with acclaimed writers and directors including Albee, Mel Brooks, David Lynch, and Sam Shepard, Pullman closed his talk with a quote by Shepard describing theater life:

“I consider theater and writing to be a home, where I bring the adventures of my life and sort them out. … Language is a veil hiding demons and angels which the characters are always out of touch with. Their quest in the play is the same as ours in life—to find those forces, to meet them face to face and end the mystery.”

More Festival

The five-day theater festival ends Saturday. Remaining public performances are as follows:

  • Friday, January 15, 2010, 12:30 p.m.: Increased Difficulty of Concentration, by Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pa.
  • Friday, January 15, 8:30 p.m.: Shot! by Temple University, Philadelphia
  • Saturday, January 16, 12:30 p.m.: Rent, by Robert Morris University, Moon Township, Pa.

Tickets, $10 each, are available in the IUP Performing Arts Center lobby starting two hours before curtain.

Earthquake Relief Efforts

Theater festival participants are taking a collection for relief efforts in Haiti following the recent earthquake. Donations will be sent to Partners in Health, a Haitian health and human services organization. During the festival, donations may be left in the IUP Performing Arts Center lobby. Checks made payable to “Partners in Health” may also be sent to the Department of Theater and Dance, Waller Hall, Room 104, Indiana, PA 15705.