No Clowning Around Over Russian Visit

January 14, 1992|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

The phrase, "Jester to His Majesty -- The People," would make for aninteresting entry on any performer's resume.

Millersville-based professional clown Amanda Dalton Fernandez, also known as "Mandy," says that term traditionally describes the role of the clown in Russian culture, especially in the former Soviet Union.

"The clown was sort of the fool to the entire country," she said."He said the things that they couldn't. But I wonder, now that things are changing, will he still be the sounding board for the country, or will he be the distraction?"

Fernandez, 25, a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis and the Ringling Bros. and Barum and Bailey Clown College in Florida, has been invited to attend a special 14-week comprehensive theater course at the famed Moscow Art Theater School. During her stay, she gets a chance to stay with a host family from the faculty and study Russian.

The total tuition is about $9,000. Fernandez needs about $3,050 to match the money put up by the program's U.S. sponsors, the National Theater Institute's Eugene O'Neill Theater Center and Connecticut College of New London, Conn. She has put up almost $1,000 of her own money for the trip.

The official deadline for Fernandez to raise the money she needs is tomorrow, but program director Jane H. Percy said, "Her initiative really impressed me, and I'm determined to help her."

NTI is willing to accept pledges of support on the performer's behalf, she said, or even extend the deadline for collecting financial support.

"As long as people are willing to help her," Pearcy said, "we are willing to help."

The Moscow Art Theater was the acting school where Konstantin Stanislavskyfirst developed his famous method of acting, which emphasizes considerable physical and mental preparationby actors in order to give their roles more substance and depth.

"I'm interested in the application of the Stanislavskian technique to clown character creation," Fernandez said. "That's really a fundamental reason why I want to attend the school. It's a chance to learn from (Stanislavsky's intellectual)descendants. The teachers I will have will be the students of his students."

Fernandez had applied for a short-term exchange program with the Leningrad Institute for Theater, Movies and Television some 18 months ago.

She missed that program, but so impressed the NTI leadership that last November she received a card from Percy announcingthe Moscow trip.

"Basically, it was an invitation to apply as soon as I received the card," Fernandez said, who expressed some surprise that the director remembered her.

"But she made a point of sending this card to me with the information. So I applied for it, and I was lucky to get in. She told me the selection committee was really impressed with my unusual background -- being in clowning as well as intheater. And that's really important culturally to the Russians, where the circus is very important."

An avid performer since the age of 12 in community theater and at area charities and benefits, Fernandez finds a certain irony in hercurrent position.

"I feel uncomfortable asking for money from people, I really do. I've always been on the other end of it, doing free performances and helping people raisemoney for other things. Now I get this opportunity, but it's a bizarre feeling to suddenly have the tables turned."

Upon her return, Fernandez said, she has an idea how she would like to repay the community for its support.

"I'd write a show to put in terms that children can understand the recent events in the (former) Soviet Union. An entire generation is going to grow up never having known the threat of superpower competition. The threat of nuclear war is significantly reduced, although not eliminated. And children, I'm sure, will not know how to process all this unless they have some means by which they can understand it in terms of their own lives."

Anyone who would like to help Amanda Dalton Fernandez go to the Moscow Art Theater can write to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Attn.: Jane H. Percy, Director of College Relations, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, Conn. 06385. On the memo part of the check, contributors should write, "for Amanda Fernandez -- MATS."

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