Former “Saturday Night Live” actress and comedian Gilda Radner is an inspiration to Art of Acting professor Leah Walton, who has had the opportunity to step into Radner’s shoes in her most recent professional acting work.
The current graduate student and professor recently landed the leading role of Radner in the 1812 Productions play “Bunny Bunny.” The show will run through Oct. 27. at Independence Studio on 3 at the Walnut Street Theater, located at 825 Walnut St.
“I have always admired Gilda Radner [since I was a] kid watching her on TV,” Walton said. “ I love her boldness, her dynamic character and variety of personality. My favorite skit of hers was ‘Roseanne Roseannadanna.’”
Walton said she was able to connect with her childhood idol’s persona during rehearsals and channel her throughout the duration of the play to learn more about the character so that she could truly become Gilda Radner on the stage. One of Walton’s students, freshman psychology major Rachel Saybolt, had the opportunity to watch her professor perform in the play.
“[Walton’s] mannerisms and delivery truly paid homage to every beautiful facet of Gilda Radner’s personality,” Saybolt said. She said she was blown away by Walton’s performance.
As is proclaimed in its subtitle, “Bunny Bunny” is a “sort of romantic comedy” play written by Alan Zweibel, a close friend of Radner. It depicts the story of their strong friendship, which began in 1975 and takes the audience through the changes in their lives during all 15 years that they maintained that bond of friendship. The story begins with the start of their careers on SNL, which was where they first met.
In its entirety, “Bunny Bunny” touches on the different relationships and lifestyles the two friends encountered. The production also intertwines some of Radner’s history prior to her friendship with Zweibel.
Away from the stage, Walton manages to balance time in graduate school for her master of fine arts in acting at Temple with teaching and taking acting jobs whenever possible, such as her current lead role in “Bunny Bunny.”
Though Walton maintains a busy schedule, she said she has developed particular strategies that allow her to prioritize her time.
“It is tricky to balance professional acting, being a student and teaching, but I just take it seriously,” Walton said. “I try to bring my best self to every experience I’m having.”
She said she believes that all three of these tasks boost her skills on all of the platforms from which she operates – as an actor, student and teacher.
“Being an actor helps out,” Walton said. “It goes hand in hand. Work in the class helps as an actor, working as an actor helps in class as a teacher.”
Her colleague and fellow Art of Acting instructor Joseph Guzman worked with Walton on various productions before she started teaching. He also maintained that acting in productions can benefit the classroom environment.
“[Walton] is good at articulating ideas and creates a very warm environment,” Guzman said. “She has a lot of experience acting. Acting is about process, it’s not about passing a bunch of information to students, but actively engaging them in this process, which is also what happens working on a production.”
Walton said she enjoys every aspect of her acting career, as she can use her experience to enhance her teaching efforts.
“I love teaching the Art of Acting,” she said. “I am always encouraged and inspired by my enthusiastic students.”
Walton teaches the fundamental aspects of acting in her class, but she also encourages students to step outside of their comfort zone in order to connect with their acting ability.
“She forces us to challenge reality and exercises our imagination, which I believe can be very therapeutic and exhilarating,” Saybolt said. “She coaches in a way that does not belittle or embarrass. In fact, I leave each class with newfound confidence. [Walton] is very empathetic to everyone’s varying abilities and comfort zones. However, she always manages to inspire us to take risks and redact our objectives as live characters.”
Karlina Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.