By David Lake and Michael Richardson
After numerous attempts at explaining a performance tip to a UVU student, Jason Alexander stepped on stage and performed the musical number to perfection without any preparation or practice.
“I’m just that good,” Alexander joked.
He made a three-day visit to UVU’s School of the Arts to work students this week. While Alexander is best known for his role as George Costanza in the popular sitcom “Seinfeld,” Alexander demonstrated an expertise in all forms of theater as he worked one-on-one with students as others looked on. Prior to roles on television, he won a Tony Award for performances in Broadway theater. During his three days at the university, Alexander gave instruction in monologues, scene work and music theater.
Alexander, once a balding, portly figure, is slimmed down and has a full head of hair. That wasn’t the only surprise to those who walked into the small theater. Visitors found Alexander teaching serious drama techniques and singing Broadway tunes with perfect pitch. Generally Costanza’s character was kept in check, though Alexander occasionally transitioned into his famous character to demonstrate a point.
“The jerk store called, and they’re all out of you,” Alexander said, using a line from a “Seinfeld” episode while answering a question from the audience between acts.
Alexander brought his nationally recognized talent and applied it directly to Utah students. He expressed a concern about many of the aspiring actors and actresses in the area. He said Mormons are often too nice and struggle to explore darker roles. Alexander even told a student to not “be so Mormon” as he struggled to express negative emotion.
“I’ve never heard anyone say Mormons are [expletives],” Alexander joked.
Alexander picked apart students’ emotions in order to help them focus their actions and emotions towards a goal of portraying roles effectively. While he was generally nice to students, he wasn’t afraid to be straightforward with his criticism. Despite the sharpness of his critiques, the advice was well received by students.
“I actually wished he would not cushion me as much as he was trying to,” said Jacob Porter, a musical theater student at UVU.
Sidney Fisher, majoring in theater arts at UVU, was unable to attend workshops from the first two days, but was impressed by what he learned from Alexander in just a few short hours. Fisher praised Alexander’s ability to communicate skills and techniques to students.
“From what I’ve seen today I already have five pages of notes,” Fisher said.
One surprise for many fans about Alexander is his musical talent. Most people are unaware of his Broadway accomplishments, including a Tony Award for being the best actor in a musical in 1989. Costanza took a break from stage performance for his television career, but returned in 2003.
When a member of the audience asked Alexander about the secret to his success in life and show business, his answer was simple.
“Clarity and determination,” Alexander said.