Faculty Spotlight: Adrianne Krstansky
Each month, we interview an A&S faculty member for our undergraduate newsletter. In September 2023, we spoke to Adrianne Krstansky, Louis, Frances, and Jeffrey Sachar Professor of Creative Arts. Adrianne was the 2023 co-recipient of the newly created Professor Mark A. Ratner Distinguished Teaching Awards. The Professor Mark A. Ratner Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize tenured faculty in the Divisions of Creative Arts and Humanities who demonstrate innovative teaching and extraordinary records of engaging, motivating, and inspiring students and making a difference in their students’ educations, lives, and careers.
Meet Adrianne Krstansky
Departments/Programs: Theater Arts, Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, & Interdepartmental Program in Film, Television and Interactive Media
Title: Louis, Frances, and Jeffrey Sachar Professor of Creative Arts
Expertise: Acting, Dramatic or Theatre Arts, and Improvisation
Tell us a bit about your academic journey and how you ended up at Brandeis.
I attended a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin, Beloit College: mentorship, small class sizes and every opportunity to try something new. I quickly realized the discipline for ‘practice’ I developed growing up in a family of musicians lent itself to theater and acting quite well. And rather than being alone with a piano, I was creating with others. I spent a time after college acting professionally, doing various apprenticeships and watching actors who were older and better than I was, and learned. After playing the lead in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night I wanted more training and went to the University of California, San Diego to get my MFA. Then, I traveled for a couple years doing plays and living out of a suitcase. I took a teaching job for two years after that to give myself some roots, and that eventually led me to Brandeis and to Boston, where I am able to both teach and continue to work as an actor.
Was there a particular moment in your life when you had the realization that you wanted to be an actor?
I think the "seminal moment" for me wasn’t when I felt that I wanted to do it but more so when I realized I couldn’t not do it, that I had to do it. I am not naturally gifted. I have to work very hard and there are always people so much better than me who make it look easy. If I had to pinpoint a moment, it was during my college study abroad program in London. A couple of us auditioned for a series of "American one-act plays" through the Young Vic Theater (I think through someone we probably met in a pub ?!) and were cast. And I was doing this play called "Laundry and Bourbon" with a Texas dialect, in the basement of a pub in London, for about five people in the audience. I poured my heart into and agonized over every moment and didn’t care when hardly anyone came — I still loved doing it and loved the few who showed up. That’s when I thought, "I think this is for me."
What do you see as the most notable differences in the world of theater arts today compared to when you first embarked on your acting career?
All the progress around Consent and Intimacy work as well as more awareness of equity and inclusion is an extremely overdue and a welcomed change. We still have miles to go but structures are now in place. Now when I do a film or play, I engage in mandatory Title IX and DEI training. If there is intimacy involved in a scene, a professional is brought in to choreograph it and you can now be part of the conversation. Nothing like that existed when I began as a young woman. There is more awareness about who gets to play what role and identity, and a call for authenticity in casting. Theaters are being run by more BIPOC and female-identified artists which means the [theater] seasons share a wider range of imaginative and lived experiences. With the emergence of A.I. and the SAG/AFTRA writers and actors strikes, there are fascinating - if not bleak — questions about the future of acting, writing, and human creativity. I have faith in the next generation of artists. I think we will see a shift towards more community-based work and a broadening and deeper understanding of what is considered ‘excellence’ in the field.
Who would you say was your most impactful professor during your undergraduate years, and what did you learn from them?
Professor Dan Eastman was a Theater Arts professor at Beloit College in Theatrical Design and Sculpture. He had done two terms of duty in Vietnam. Those were the days when your professors would join you at the "coffee house" which was our campus bar. He was open about his experiences in the war and the impact they had on him. He was intensely human, wise, and channeled everything he went through into his art-making. He was not only teaching us a subject, he was teaching students as individuals. He inspired us to thrive with broken hearts in a broken world, with generosity, kindness, humor, grace and complete honesty. He taught us why art was a necessary outgrowth of human suffering.
Perfection was not his core value. He valued listening and creativity and courage and imagination and failure and forgiveness. He understood that we came to college with our own experiences and that there was no need to hide or leave our experience out of the classroom. Everything was material to create beauty with great acceptance. He made us brave, he made the space brave because he made the structures clear and safe and humane. He showed up with whatever he had that day and engaged to the best of his ability.
What advice would you offer to undergraduate students aspiring to build a career in acting?
I once asked a famous actor who I admired this question. They said, in no uncertain terms, "There is no excuse for not getting the part." It seemed such an unsympathetic thing to say. Of course, there is! The competition is fierce and you are not always right for the role. But what that advice shifted in me… it got me out of victim mode and made me take responsibility for my work. And I think from that moment on, I worked harder on my acting and took responsibility for my education in a way I had never done before. I read every play I could get my hand on, I took up running and biking and got to know my body, I cleaned out my attic and started a weekly audition group up there where we spent one night a week working on monologues and scenes. I started writing pieces for myself. I studied the work of actors I admired and whose careers I wanted to have. I went to plays and volunteered at theaters and joined theater companies. I took classes when I could afford it and when I couldn’t I asked friends to work with me. And, you know…it suddenly got insanely fascinating and fun. And I stopped worrying about my future because the present became just too interesting. And then I was finding myself in rooms with people I genuinely connected with and in a community that changed my life and got my career off the ground. I think, essentially, that advice got me PRESENT and in my own life.
Spend a good amount of time each day physically away from your phone and computer and being in the world and seeing what is in front of you, without judgement or agenda or the need to analyze it. Soak it in. Read literature. Keep a journal. Talk to someone you do not agree with and perhaps do not even like and try to see their point of view. Cultivate empathy. Develop your ability to speak with energy and presence and be heard. Land your thoughts in other people. Cultivate your health in all ways. Being an actor is like being an athlete. You have to be physically and mentally able to be in the game and be there for your team.
What is your favorite thing about teaching at Brandeis?
I have been teaching at Brandeis for 23 years and in that time I feel as if I have had about ten different jobs. Things change at Brandeis. My positions morph with new courses, new students, and roles. I stay on my toes and am open to learning. I stay in a beginner’s mind. And the students, always the students! The students I work with have both deep respect for learning and a certain irreverence that takes ‘what has come before’, understands it, then shreds it apart and makes something new.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
Thank you so much for this opportunity!