It’s a typical night at La Comédie Française New York. Actresses Jodie Lynn McClintock (Long Day’s Journey into Night) and Daniell Skraastad (Law & Order and 27 dresses) are performing a scene in French from « Hilda » by Marie NDiaye (recent winner of the Prix Goncourt) as teacher Manisha Snoyer (Creative Writing/Theater ’99) looks on. Snoyer occasionally stops them to correct pronunciation or ask students to identify which verb tense is being used (based on the grammar lesson given during the first part of class) . Before rehearsing the scene a second time, they stop to discuss the principal motivations of the characters and how the play reflects power dynamics in French society.
Following this, Roger Kingsepp (writer and director of institutional giving at Manhattan Theatre Club) and Barbara Kratus (sales executive at a company that frequently does business with Montreal) jump into a lively scene from Michel Vinaver’s « Par-dessus bord » – a hilarious satire that turns around competing interests in the toilet paper industry. All these students are learning the French language for the first time.
Later that night, Snoyer works with the advanced class on contemporary French monologues that they’ve prepared for the holiday party. The class is a very international group composed of primarily bilingual actors (from France, Cuba, Lebanon and Louisiana), so the emphasis of the class is more heavily focused on acting technique and especially and discovering the freedom and specificity that is found in working in a foreign language. Tomorrow, Manisha will teach an acting in French class to French bankers and businessman who are learning how to act for the first time.
La Comédie Française New York sprang out of Manisha’s life long dream to study acting in France. As a child actress in Ithaca, NY and later as a theatre major at Interlochen Arts Academy – Manisha was an avid follower of French cinema. There, she saw a simplicity and presence that she found more rare in American acting. Her heroines were bilingual actors such as Juliette Binoche, Leslie Caron, Jodie Foster, Charlotte Rampling, Kristin Scott-Davis and the great Sarah Bernhardt. While other actors at Interlochen were applying to acting conservatories, Manisha deliberately choose a strong liberal arts school that would allow her to learn about French and American culture and study acting in France. Brandeis must have caught on quickly to Manisha’s tendency in this direction when they decided to award her one of the only scholarships in the school that covers travel abroad (Rabb scholarship). The only programs that allowed Manisha to study abroad at acting schools were Sweet Briar and Sarah Lawrence. Manisha chose Sweet Briar because they were affiliated with Florent – a school that emphasized both film and theatre.
Manisha finally got to realize her dream of studying acting in French as a junior at Brandeis when she was accepted into Cours Florent in Paris (Isabelle Adjani, Francis Huster, Daniel Auteuil) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cours_Florent. Manisha loved French film and was an avid reader of plays by Sartre, Ionesco, Camus and other playwrights who had their hey day in the 1940’s and 50’s. However, she was surprised and delighted to discover a whole new word of French theatre virtually unheard of in America – with the notable exception of Yasmina Reza – essentially everything written after 1970!
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