A tale of two thespians

Rambo photo

Jane Wallace Scholars Ianoale (left) and Fair in front of the Annenberg Center

Photo by Daniel R. Burke

This is a tale of two thespians.

One is a major in theater arts and English. The other started out in pre-med and quickly switched to anthropology.

One knew she wanted to explore acting from the age of 9. The other joined a Penn student-theater company because it sounded like something interesting to do.

Now, both of them — actress Gabriela Ianoale (C’02) and technician Alison Fair (C’02) — are on their way to professional careers in the theater after spending this summer gaining new skills on Jane Wallace Memorial Theatre Internship Scholarships.

The scholarships, established by George Wallace (W’39) in memory of his wife Jane (CW’40), allow Penn undergraduates considering professional theater careers to pursue their interest without having to worry about summer work.

Fair’s internship at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival in Center Valley, near Allentown, convinced her that, yes, she can do theatrical work for a living.

“I wasn’t really sure if I really wanted to do this for the rest of my life,” she said. “After this summer, I definitely want to. And to get paid for it? That was great. Usually, I just get bad grades for doing this.”

Fair put in six-day weeks as the festival’s staff carpenter — “I thought I was just going to be an intern, but [the festival staff] said I knew enough to be hired as a carpenter” — building sets for five different productions as part of a nine-person crew.

Ianoale spent the last week of June and all of July in the summer conservatory program at New York’s Michael Howard Studio, which has trained some of the country’s leading professional actors for over half a century. There, she studied Shakespearean acting, mask and clown technique, movement, voice and improvisation under a team of nine instructors, all of whom had studied under Howard.

Both were struck by the intensity of their experiences. “Emotionally, it was draining,” Ianoale said of her program. “We were working so hard every day and people were being exposed to different techniques, different emotions every day that they didn’t feel before. There were a lot of — well, not emotional breakdowns, but a lot of tears shed. Everyone had one of these emotionally intense moments.

“It was a very tiring experience, but it was worth it.”

Fair found out that professional set builders put in much longer hours than she did as a student technician. “The first three weeks, we worked 14 hours a day,” she said. “The most I’d done in a shop at Penn was four hours.” Her crew put together the festival’s main stage, a replica of a Shakespearean stage still in use in England, plus a smaller stage used for the festival’s three non-Shakespeare presentations.

Iaonale said that her classes allowed her to grow as an actress. “I felt more vulnerable as a person and open more to the emotions of everybody else,” she said. “I felt my body was stronger, thanks to the movement classes, and I felt more confident, [with] a stronger sense of myself and of my belief in creating theater and how important it is.”

Both of them plan to share the skills they gained as Jane Wallace Scholars with their fellow students and to pursue full-time work in professional theater after graduation. Ianoale hopes to move to New York; Fair wants to apply for an apprenticeship at the Wilma, Arden or Walnut Street theaters.

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Originally published on August 30, 2001