Published: Friday, February 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 11:43 p.m.
In a casual question-and-answer session Thursday, about 70 University of Florida theater students and members of the public got tangible advice from a Tony Award-winning actress.
Katie Finneran, 2001 Tony Award winner for Best Feature Actress in a play, told the audience at the Nadine McGuire Theatre black box that the one thing to learn is how to shut your eyes and listen to yourself.
"Everybody knows what the right answer is for them," she said.
Many theater students asked questions about Finneran's career in acting and especially about her beginnings as a young actress with little formal training.
Finneran said she moved to New York in 1990 at the age of 19 with $300 to her name.
"It was very difficult financially," she said. "I didn't even know how to write a check when I moved to New York."
She took many jobs as a waitress, a nanny, a smoothie maker and even mopping floors to make some cash in New York. Sometimes she had two or three jobs at once, she said.
"I loved it so much that I truly would have done anything to stay in the game," she said.
One of her many jobs was at the restaurant Tavern on the Green. Her career there abruptly ended, she said, the day she spilled eight Bloody Marys on a group of customers. "It looked like I shot them," she said.
Finneran said she never really had a big break. Her jobs just kept getting incrementally better.
Her Tony Award came in 2001 for the comedy "Noises Off." The show was full of surprises for her.
At first she didn't even want to do the show, she said. It made her laugh as she was talking about it.
"That's the greatest thing," she said. "Anything can happen."
The second day of rehearsal for "Noises Off," in New York City, was Sept. 11, 2001. All New York's trains were shut down. Finneran walked over six miles to work.
"Noises Off" was a funny show and it came when the whole world needed to take a break and be allowed to laugh, she said.
Finneran encouraged everyone in the audience to keep an open mind.
"It's more than where you go to college, who your agent is or how you look," she said. "Endurance is the true test."
Finneran gave specific advice to theater students about union affiliations, audition skills and even life in Los Angeles.
"If you are going to L.A., make sure you have a good purse and some high heels," she joked, as the crowd burst out in laughter.
After answering questions, Finneran critiqued some students' work.
George E. Salazar, publicist for the Florida Players and a UF musical theater major, was excited that Finneran wanted to speak to UF students.
"I think it's always important to bring professionals from the real world," he said.
The professors are knowledgeable about what happened 20 or 30 years ago, but Finneran knows what it's like now, he said.
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