While currently playing the character of a Russian spy in WGN America’s “Manhattan,” director of the Theater Studies program at Mills, Victor Talmadge, fulfills his love of performing while passing on decades of knowledge and a passion for theater to his students.
Like the chance to be on a WGN network show, Talmadge has had a life filled with experiences many actors could only dream of.
Talmadge has performed in over 100 professional classical and contemporary plays all over the country; he was “The King” in the Tony Award winning production of the Broadway National tour of “The King and I.” He has worked with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Ed Harris, Francis Ford Coppola and his play, “The Gate Of Heaven,” was awarded The Nakashima Peace Prize.
“I have had amazing experiences[…] I am very lucky,” Talmadge said.
However, after a 25 year career as an actor, director and playwright, Talmadge now is completely engrossed teaching with a cast of students who find that his passion, professional career and rigorous teaching have taught them more than they imagined.
“His enthusiasm for the stage is infectious, and pushes me to want to take hold of every opportunity presented to me. When I go to class I know I have to be on my feet, ready to immerse myself in whatever is the task at hand,” sophomore and theater studies minor Jazmyne Bisquera said in an email.
The essence of acting has propelled Talmadge away from a career as a doctor and onto the stage because, for him, acting is a blueprint for real life. The disciplines that he teaches are all the things each human should be doing every day: being present in the moment, actively listening to people, learning and being curious about life, being giving and having a huge heart and intellectual understanding of things.
“To me, acting and theater is the embodiment of life. In order to be a successful actor, you have to embrace all the things that make you a realized human being,” Talmadge said. “What constantly attracts me to acting is that it parallels what you should be doing in real life. We all should be present and in the moment, we all need to be living moment to moment and day to day and really listening to those around us.”
Theater studies major Lucia Liss has experienced how her theater studies have helped to support every area of her life.
“Victor’s teaching, and the teaching of theatre in general, offer so many lessons that apply to life far beyond the theatre. We learn how to work in groups, to speak in front of people, how to lead, to be uninhibited, to be open to new — and strange — ideas, and much more,” junior theater studies major Liss said in an email.
Beyond that, the idea of multiple identities is what he finds incredibly compelling. The idea that he gets to experience many different lives and the ups and downs of many of those many different lives in his one lifetime.
“How many people get to experience 100 different lives [in their lifetime]?” Talmadge said.
But, Talmadge says that isn’t all. In live theater you are communicating with an audience and having an audience communicate with you. Somewhere between the stage and the audience this magical energy is being created, which is unique to the performing arts. It separates what the performing arts does, to what painting does, because there may be something going on in the painting, but the painting does not feel it.
Talmage’s teaching career began at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, roughly nine years before coming to Mills. He says, he realized he didn’t have any children of his own to mentor and yet had an urge to give back — to work more closely with people than he had been for his career on the stage.
“When you perform you are dealing with hundreds if not thousands of people at a time, and I wanted something much closer,” Talmadge said.
In 2012, Amy Potozkin, associate director of the Berkeley Repertory Theater, who had taught acting classes at Mills, put him in touch with Sonya Delwaide, director of the dance department, who was working to bring back theater at Mills.
After working closely for several years with Delwaide, Talmadge was officially hired when American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco partnered with Mills, allowing students to take half of their required classes at ACT.
In its second year, the theater studies program has grown immensely since the Fall of 2014.
“Coming to campus I didn’t know how a new theater program would be viewed. It has been tremendous. We had 3 majors the first year and we have 12-13 now,” Talmadge said.
More than students flocking to his classes, Talmadge has been constantly impressed by how supportive Mills students are with each other, which senior theater studies minor Larrolyn Patterson Parms Ford says makes the theater studies program feel like family.
As the program grows, Talmadge is excited to continue developing ideas for his classes and projects with students.
Currently Talmadge is working to create a communication class that satisfies a general education requirement.
Every two years, the program will offer an original documentary class that spans two semesters spent documenting something on and off campus and turning the interviews into a play in the spring semester. Currently, students are working on writing the play for this semester about transgender experiences. Talmadge says the goal is for this project to be very interdisciplinary where students in the art department are making the sets, and students in the music department will be writing the score.
This year, the play with run April 28-30.