Fresh from her reception Wednesday, during which she received an honorary doctoral degree, the Academy Award-winning actress critiqued student performances and fielded questions from both an interviewer and the audience.
“It was hard to listen for the fact that Meryl was speaking to me as a person, not just through a screen,” student actor Sasha Neufeld said.
Streep began the class by addressing the art of acting itself, the difficulties that come with beginning a project and her creative process.
“My husband goes to the studio every morning and confronts nothing but his imagination,” she said, referring to her spouse of 36 years, the sculptor Don Gummer. “He taught me a great thing: start by starting.”
Streep started her own career in the early 1970s with several New York Shakespeare Festival productions before she appeared in her first feature film, “Julia,” a film about Nazi conflicts that came out in 1977. Streep’s small role in “Julia” preceded her first Academy Award nomination in the critically acclaimed Vietnam drama “The Deer Hunter.”
During Thursday’s class, however, it wasn’t Streep who took the stage but several masters of fine arts students who performed dialogues from Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” and Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.”
Streep praised the actors and provided gentle criticism on the varying performances.
“In this world, you have to decide what your world is,” she said of the two female performers in “Julius Caesar.” “Are you going to play by girls’ rules?”
The class concluded with an extended interview moderated by Jonathan Michaelsen, chair of the Department of Theatre, Drama and Dance. The questions centered on Streep’s personal life as an actor and on her own conceptions of art and artists.
“The feeling world is our world,” she said of actors. “We understand the compassion that is needed in the world to help people.”
Although Streep addressed many questions, the actress’ conviviality, wit and humility had the audience laughing and applauding.
“I’ve entered some venerable state I don’t understand,” she said. “I don’t think I’m so great.”
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