It is 8:30 a.m. on Monday in studio G15. Young actors yawn and stretch to wake themselves up. Tiza Garland walks through the door with a bright smile and a wake of palpable energy. She tells them to start running. She sprints about the room alongside her students, and class begins.
Tiza Garland’s infectious energy and passion shines through her teaching and her students’ work in fight choreography and movement. Garland is an associate professor of acting and movement for the UF School of Theatre and Dance, teaching Movement 1 and 2 for the undergraduate and master’s acting students. She also acts as the resident fight director for all of the productions at the School of Theatre and Dance.
Garland is recognized for her notable work in movement and stage combat. She has had an extensive career in theater, including acting in over seventeen Shakespeare plays, working with the Dah Theatre in Belgrade, Serbia on devised movement pieces, working with the Society of American Fight Directors and teaching actors all over the country how to properly fight in theater.
“I always want actors to know that stage combat is acting, the idea of objective physicalized,” Garland said. “One of the things acting allows us to do is physically listen to one another.”
Garland began acting in the third grade in a production of “The Mother Goose Olympics” in which she portrayed the role of water. She continued theater in middle and high school and went on to study theater at Western Michigan University. There, she discovered her passion for movement and fight choreography while taking an upper-level stage combat class.
Garland earned a scholarship to the National Stage Combat Workshop and was able to go on to earn an MFA in Theatre Pedagogy and Stage Combat in the first recruiting class at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I was cast in many fighting roles, and I loved it,” Garland said.
Garland gives her students the tools to communicate ideas from a script through movement. She said movement is how characters are revealed onstage, and it provides a unique medium for actors to communicate ideas without text.
“The movement choices influence thought patterns in a character and how the actor delivers the text,” Garland said.
Garland has also helped cultivate a community of artists that are determined to make some sort of positive change through their art. She believes art is a career people can do, and that artists provide meaning.
“I’ve influenced people who know how to listen and take pride in their work,” Garland said. “What I want actors and non-actors to know is that acting is a viable and respectable profession. Actors don’t need a backup plan.”
As a woman, Garland feels that her gender has never affected the way people treat her in her profession. She refers to herself as an “artist” rather than a “female artist” because she feels that women do not need that description; they’ve earned the title. “Being a woman has been an asset in my life in everything that I’ve done,” Garland said.
There have been times, according to Garland, when big guys she teaches have made a snide comment here and there. She reminds them that at the end of the day, they are there to create a fight piece that will serve the art as a whole and not to live up to any idea of what “tough” is.
Garland has broken gender barriers throughout her career by choreographing and staging many fights and has even portrayed the title role of Othello at “Unrehearsed Shakespeare” in Chicago. She said it was challenging, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime to play an iconic role. Of all the leading characters in that show, she was the only one cast against gender.
Garland believes that she has made her mark through her teaching. She primarily wants to see her students change perspective in the way they feel about what it means to be a theater artist.