In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen many expressing their love for Barta Heiner, who is retiring from the BYU Theater Department this year. I want to add my voice to theirs.
Last week I saw her perform the lead role in Mother Courage and Her Children. Her performance was excellent, full of power, grace, and––most of all––that Barta connectedness. I was proud to be one of her children.
Barta taught us about acting in the traditional ways, yes, but she also taught us about acting simply by talking about acting. She taught us to be connected by really connecting while talking to us about connecting. She taught us about accessing emotional truth by accessing emotional truth while talking about emotional truth.
After one class with Barta you knew you were working with not just a great teacher, but a real artist.
Barta was an example of graciousness and tolerance, without ever wavering in her personal convictions. She was always kind, and yet she could swiftly and firmly cut through the bs that is common to young actors. In one rehearsal she told me my technique was exactly as it was supposed to be, and to stop it. “It’s only the soul that matters now,” she said. This remains one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.
Barta is also great fun. When I was a senior at BYU, I was playing Lopakhin in a production of The Cherry Orchard, directed by Barta. Barta and Chekhov: I thought I had arrived. I so wanted to do well and impress her. (I still want to do well and impress her.) As we were working one day, I was having trouble connecting my blocking with my acting. She listened to my concern and then asked, “Do you feel like you want to move?”
Now, in case you aren’t familiar with The Cherry Orchard, near the beginning of the play Lopakhin walks in on a conversation between Varya and Anya, and, feeling awkward, lets out a moo and then exits. So when Barta asked if I wanted to move, what I heard was “Do you feel like you want to moo?”
I was surprised by the question. But I thought, well, he does moo earlier on: maybe that’s just his thing. Again, I really wanted to do a good job for Barta, so I took her question about mooing very seriously. Sweat began to form on my forehead as I tried to figure out how mooing would solve the problem I had posed. Barta, meanwhile, was looking at me as if to ask, “Was it really that difficult a question?”
Finally I said, with more than a little desperation, “You want me to moo?” Barta burst out laughing. “MOVE! I said does it make you want to MOVE!” We have laughed at this memory many times since.
But I would have done it. I would have mooed for her. I still would. Anytime. I am so blessed and fortunate to have been taught by a master. I love her so much. I look forward to witnessing her next performance.