Tuesday @ 12:30 was my Uta Hagen Class

It was a huge event every week…..you better come prepared and you better have either an exercise or a scene.  Walking down Bank street you’d see students with suitcases and boxes full of props or clothes.

Getting there early to sign up and hoping you’d be seen this week.  Once inside class there was Ms. Hagen – with her hat on usually – her cigarette aglow – and sometimes her poodle on her lap.

Her big broad laugh was always heard.  The “Hagen Wagon” was stocked up with goodies and coffee. Every week 2 students would volunteer to bring food.  

She instilled in us a sense of being interested in each others work.  It was sometimes easier to learn off of someone else’s back.  The sense of camaraderie and excitement I will never forget.

Once your scene or exercise was done the dreaded question from Ms. H – “how did it go for you” – she taught us to evaluate our work and even if you could not answer that question – she taught us how to.

To hear her laugh or make her cry during a scene was heaven!  It didn’t happen a lot but when it did……

I loved watching her watch a scene too.  Her concentration during and her detailed notes after were insightful…..telling you just what you needed to work on at that time.

After my father died I wasn’t “feeling” like acting…she chose the perfect scene for me to work on.  Why don’t you have a go at  “A Phoenix Too Frequent” by Christopher Fry.  There were so many moments in that class that shaped me as an actress.  

On a personal note – she was always so giving – offering me her apartment to stay in when she was teaching in Germany and I had returned to NYC after being away for 4 years!

She was in a play in NYC and recommended me for a part in it.  The audition was the next day.

“Come over – we’ll go over the scene together! “ she said.  and the most amazing moment of all was inviting me to come over before the audition and she would do my make up and hair.  I will NEVER forget that moment of her delicately putting make up on my face.

Those weekends out in Montauk.  A very relaxed Ms. Hagen telling us stories of her time in “Streetcar” or “Virginia Woolf”.  And seeing her with her hands in the dirt tending to the garden she loved so.

There was food and drinks galore.  She would cook the most delicious meals!!!  There was one with cucumbers – not sure what she put on them – but I have never tasted a dish like that since.

Thanksgiving dinner on Washington Square another highlight – there was the best food cooked by Ms. Hagen of course! And then Ms. Hagen, Herbert and Mitch Erickson telling war stories of their time on Broadway and beyond.  I sat and listened.  I did not have experience or any “stories” as yet.  And that was fine.  I took it all in.

I am forever grateful and lucky that I happened to go to NYC at that time – and have the luck and opportunity to study with Ms. Hagen and her husband Herbert Berghof –  work with them – get to know them a little personally – and be mentored by them.   The whole experience remains with me and a day does not go by that I do not use something they taught me – think of something they said – and wonder what they would think of the world that I see now.

Forever Grateful to Ms. Hagen, Herbert and the HB Studio.

Sally Burtenshaw

Born in Germany, Uta Hagen moved to Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of six. With the exception of several interruptions for study in Europe, Ms. Hagen received most of her schooling in Madison, her home until age sixteen. After training briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, she made her professional debut in 1937 in Dennis, Massachusetts, as “Ophelia” in Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Hamlet.

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