Generations of moviegoers know his work in classic films like American Graffiti, Jaws, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But three professors from the University of Hartford’s The Hartt School know Best Actor Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss as a dedicated performer they helped prepare for his role as Albert Einstein in the play Relativity, now playing at TheaterWorks in Hartford.
Because Einstein learned English in the U.S. and had a very thick German accent, Relativity’s Director Rob Ruggeiro went directly to Hartt School Theatre Professor Robert Davis to ask him to be Dreyfuss’s dialect coach. Davis, who teaches voice and speech, says the challenge when learning a dialect is to be true to the character and understandable to the audience. “I’ve worked with actors who’ve struggled with dialects,“ he says. “But Richard has great sense of it. It was a privilege to work with him.”
Watch a snippet of a dialect coaching session with Dreyfuss and Davis.
Because Einstein was a passionate violinist, Ruggiero also asked Davis to find a violin coach for Dreyfuss from The Hartt School. Soon Professor Anton Miller, and his wife Associate Professor Rita Porfiris, both faculty in the Instrumental Studies Division, were working one-on-one with Dreyfuss to make sure he looked comfortable and natural when holding the violin. “We showed Richard how to pick up the violin and carry it,” says Miller. “We were really struck by the laser-beam focus he had when he was watching us—and then he would mimic the exact same movement we showed him.”
Miller says Dreyfuss not only wanted to look like Einstein, he wanted to play the instrument. “Although it takes years to learn how to play a good note with a violin, Richard pulled the bow across the string and was able to make one good sound. In a very short time, he was able to grasp how to relate to the instrument.”
Both Davis and Miller had only praise for Dreyfuss and commented how much they enjoyed working with him. “He is the nicest most welcoming kind of person you can imagine,” says Miller. “He’s a very down to earth guy who cares about his profession and the arts.” Davis agrees and says, “He’s a gifted storyteller who can talk spontaneously about many things. And his trademark laugh is always there.”
There is some limited seating available for Relativity, which is scheduled at TheaterWorks through November 20.