In his more than fifty-year career, Emmy-winning actor Anthony Zerbe has worked with some of the biggest names of stage and screen. He shared scenes with such luminaries as Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen, Charlton Heston, Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne.
But when he came to Ohio Northern University this fall for a Freed Center performance and series of master classes, the only names he wanted to talk about were those of the young actors he met here.
“I like young people. I like their energy,” he said. “Kids are not preconceived. They are ready to be open to whatever there is.”
Teaching young actors is Zerbe’s passion. He has developed a unique program that allows him to work with young people all over the county called “3 days of theatre.” The program includes a performance of “It’s All Done With Mirrors” a one-man show featuring the poetry of e. e. Cummings, a series of lectures and individual one-hour master classes with theatre students.
“When I came in here, I thought I was going to say my monologue, get critiqued and go home,” said junior Alex McGregor. “And that’s not what it was at all.”
Zerbe takes his time with the students very seriously and he is gifted at seeing the potential of each student. Students are asked to bring a piece of material they have been working on and then he works with them to enhance their performance and deepen their connection with the piece.
“He saw something in me. And it wasn’t just ‘You’ll be a good actor. Blah, blah, blah.’ It was, ‘This is what you’ll do great at.’ Specifics. Go find these parts. Read these plays. Go be in these productions. Do it this way,” said McGregor.
In “It’s All Done With Mirrors” Zerbe showed ONU why his resume reads as it does. His performance of what he calls an “avalanche of language and images and beautifully ground words” shows a master at work. Zerbe’s love of poetry brings Cummings to life.
“I don’t think you can digest poetry when you are hearing it. I think you have to consume it. If you want to know what’s happening you’ll get hung up. You’ll get beat to death. So you just ride with it. Just take off and ride. You can think about it later,” he said.
For ten fortunate ONU theatre students, their time with Zerbe was a lot like Cummings’ poetry. And indeed, the ones that “just rode with it” will have entire careers to think about it all.