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‘The World of Suzie Wong’ actress debuts as a faculty on campus

MFA students get ‘reel’ Hollywood training from Nancy Kwan

Photo of actress Nancy Kwan.
Actress Nancy Kwan, a recipient of the 1961 Golden Globe Award for Promising Newcomer, 2001 History Maker for Excellence in the Performing Arts, and the Hawaii International Film Festival’s 2010 Maverick Award.

Photo of MFA in TVFT students and Professor Hatfield.
Pictured: (front, l-r) CSULA’s MFA students Shirin Behrouzfard, Nicole Gerth, Natasha Ellis, (back, l-r) Alicia Tycer, Rocky Lane, and Chris Goodson; actress Nancy Kwan; and Theatre Arts and Dance Department Chair James Hatfield.

A veteran actress, whose film career spanned five decades, recently landed the role of adjunct faculty for the “Acting for Film” (TVFT 519) class offered to Cal State L.A. graduate students.

Nancy Ka Shen Kwan, who has starred in major Hollywood film roles, is recognized as “one of the first Asian actresses to appear in a leading role on the silver screen.” Since her acting debut in the 1960 movie The World of Suzie Wong, Kwan has become an iconic figure and has garnered considerable attention in the U.S. and Asia. In addition to her other film credits, she received critical acclaim for her performance in the 1961 film adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway hit musical Flower Drum Song.

For a period of 10 weeks this spring, Kwan shared her talents and years of experience with CSULA graduate students as part of the University’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Television, Film and Theatre (TVFT) program. Imparting the skills she has learned as a seasoned actress, Kwan taught the students to hone their performance skills and helped them to compile a video collection of scenes as their reel samples.

Kwan indicated that she enjoys teaching and nurturing the youth because she also learns a lot from them. She remarked, “As for my students in the ‘Acting for Film’ class, I feel I have tons of experience to impart on them that they can’t learn from a textbook.”

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“It’s been really exciting having Nancy come to our class,” said Rochelle (Rocky) Lane, a first-year MFA student in the acting cohort. “I was fortunate to get to go to the Monterey Park [screening of a documentary about Nancy Kwan] where she was celebrating her life in theatre and film. … It’s just an honor to have her come work with us on a daily basis with our scene work.”

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Shirin June Behrouzfard, a second-year MFA student in the acting cohort, shared the same sentiment in taking the class with Kwan and was impressed by the longevity of her career. She said, “I was very excited take this class because this is first time we were given the opportunity to interact with somebody who is currently in the business. …[Nancy Kwan] had a very sweet way of helping us break open ourselves and I fully believe I’ve grown tremendously in this class.”

Launched in fall 2008, the MFA in TVFT program at CSULA seeks to define and promote a new generation of artists who are capable of working across the traditional boundaries of television, film and theatre to combine innovative art practice with leading edge, technical knowledge. This June, CSULA celebrated its first graduating class from the MFA in TVFT program.

“It has been and honor and a privilege to assist Professor Nancy Kwan and to facilitate her teaching of the MFA ‘Acting for Film’ performance course,” said James Hatfield, chair of the Theatre Arts and Dance department at CSULA. “She has both instructed and mentored our students, and their association with her will serve them well in their future endeavors. Her depth of experience across the film, television, theatre, and producing segments of the industry is significant and represents a career model I would wish all our students to emulate. Beyond her industry work, her lifelong commitment for social causes matches the social awareness and relevance for which the arts at CSULA is well known.”

“On a personal level,” Hatfield added, “she was gracious in accepting my offer to teach and has truly been a joy for all of us to work with. She is without pretention and was accessible to the graduate students in the class. It is my hope she will continue to teach for she has much to offer. For our students to thrive in the entertainment industry, our new MFA program seeks to continually offer our students significant opportunities to interact with working professionals in television, film and theatre. Nancy Kwan remains one of the true professionals.”

A docu-drama portraying the life of Nancy Kwan, entitled To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey, was released last year and screened at Kwan’s 50th Anniversary in Show Business event last May. To view the trailer, go here:

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Last Update: 01/12/2016