Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Are the Best Acting Schools?

Since it is the actor who makes the school and not the other way around, such things as Best Acting Schools are a simple matter of opinion. I did run across some lists that people had made and I will share them with you. These are not my work and I only endorse a few of these schools.

1. SUNY - Purchase
The Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film at Purchase College is a highly competitive and intensive program. The campus also contains a great liberal arts and design program and is only 40 minutes from New York City.

But you won't have much time to explore Manhattan: Classes generally start at 8am and you'll be busy with rehearsals until 11 at night. Your first two years are considered a "trial" period. If you don't have the required skills and professionalism, you won't be asked back. This is a tough school - but it also has one of the finest acting programs in the country.

2. Juilliard
Juilliard is one of the world-class acting schools in New York City (the other is at NYU). Its Drama Division was founded in 1968 by the American director and producer John Houseman and the French director, teacher, and actor Michel Saint-Denis.

Over 1,000 candidates apply each year for just 20 freshman spots. Like SUNY-Purchase, Rutgers and NYU, Julliard employs a "conservatory training" approach. This means that you will work closely over four years with the same students and professors, deeply immersed within a rigorously prepared program.

3. Rutgers
Many of my coaches recommended the BFA at Rutger's Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey. This program, according to its brochure, "offers a BFA designed for those students who are seeking to integrate both a rigorous professional training program in a liberal arts setting. The curricula of the school gives such students a thorough and rigorous education as artists and, through the required liberal arts courses, humanistic perspectives on both their art and themselves. Junior students in Acting spend a year abroad at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare's Globe in London. This is the only BFA program which offers sequential conservatory training in London."

A chance to study at the Globe alone makes this a program to celebrate.

4. Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh offers a four-year undergraduate acting program as well as the possibility of double-majoring in musical theater. Both programs train actors by immersing them in "sophisticated, verbally complex material with a focus on the works of Chekhov and Shakespeare." Sounds fascinating.

In the junior year, the focus switches to Greek and Restoration drama. In the senior year, students participate in public performances on the school's main stage. Finally, for those students "in good standing," showcase performances in New York City and Los Angeles are arranged.

5. New York University - The Tisch School of Drama
NYU's Tisch School has given birth to scores of great theater professionals. The undergraduate program in acting includes standard conservatory training and theater study, and is complemented with other liberal arts classes from New York University.

According to Arthur Bartow, the Artistic Director of the Department of Drama, "The extraordinary synergism created by placing committed students with our professional conservatory faculty propels students forward, formulating their own unique way of working.... We are preparing people for a lifetime of creative output."

6. North Carolina School of the Arts
The School of Drama at the North Carolina School of the Arts boasts such alumni as Mary-Louise Parker (Proof), Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix), and Terrence Mann (Beauty and the Beast). The school emphasizes "classical values in its training process to meet a well-recognized demand for actors to be technically skilled and, at the same time, creatively inspired."

7. Northwestern
Northwestern offers a versatile drama program that is good for students who want flexibility in constructing their own curriculum. It is an interdepartmental program, and students take courses in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Speech. "The goal of the curriculum is to provide both historical breadth and particular insight into the relationship between dramatic texts and the performative dimensions and skills that have brought them to life."

8. California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts)
The Los Angeles based CalArts School of Theater's mission is to "expose students to theater traditions from a global cultural perspective nurture non-mainstream voices and promote a cultural and aesthetic diversity of viewpoint, experience and expression."

A few things set the school apart (besides its great location for people wanting to work in film or television). That includes a requirement to take up to 40% of your classes in the School of Critical Studies. These courses (some of which may be theater related) are intended to provide "broad knowledge and cultural sophistication needed for successful arts careers in today's world."

CalArts also has a great center for the study of puppetry and a new theater (the REDCAT) in downtown Los Angeles. Alumni include Bill Irwin, David Hasselhoff, and Ed Harris.

9. Yale
Yale is one of the world's great institutions of learning. It offers an undergraduate Theater Studies major within the department of humanities. This program differs from others in that it focuses less on performance than on theory and the history of theater and in immersing the student in liberal arts curricula.

Or, as their website puts it: "Students who major in Theater Studies are encouraged to use the theater with a more fully developed sense of context and purpose than is usual in a purely technical course of study. Courses are distributed to help ensure that students understand the theater as part of the intellectual life of the culture it interprets and reflects." A degree from Yale definitely opens doors in the theater world.

10. UC San Diego
The UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance offers both a major and minor. You do not need to apply specifically to the Department of Theatre and Dance or audition for the program - any student accepted to UCSD can claim a theater major.

While it is mainly known for its graduate program (with ties to La Jolla Playhouse), the UCSD undergraduate program provides a broad base of knowledge in the fine arts, supplemented with practical experience on the stage. Another advantage of studying at UCSD is that it also has a noteworthy film studies center.

Honorable Mentions:
The following schools have strong acting programs: University of Miami (FL), University of Indiana at Evansville, University of Minnesota (with ties to the Guthrie Theater), UT - Austin, Hofstra University, UC Irvine, Boston University, DePaul University, and Emerson College. I also know several excellent actors who attended the theater arts program at UC-Santa Cruz.

And here's another list. Note that it is a couple years old. Schools' reputations ebb and flow as time goes by.

10 Best Acting Schools In America

By: Zach Feral

Break Studios Contributing Writer

If you have been bit by the acting bug, you can foster your career at one of these, the 10 best acting schools in America.

  1. Yale School of Drama. The best acting school in America, with a roster of graduates that includes Mark Linn-Baker, Kate Burton and Frances McDormand. Students act in productions of the Yale Repertory Theatre, and often go on to appear on Broadway and in Hollywood films. Yale School of Drama, 149 York Street, New Haven, CT 06511.

  2. The Juilliard School. This ultra-competitive New York City conservatory is one of the best acting schools in America. Val Kilmer, Kevin Kline, and William Hurt are all graduates. The Juilliard School, 60 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023-6588.

  3. New York University. The university’s Tisch School of the Arts has launched the careers of many prominent actors, including Christopher Guest and Barry Bostwick. NYU Tisch School of the Arts, 721 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

  4. American Conservatory Theatre. This Bay Area institution is one of the best acting schools in America, offering an M.F.A. program. Denzel Washington and Winona Ryder are just two of its notable graduates. American Conservatory Theatre, 415 Geary Street San Francisco, CA 94102.

  5. American Repertory Theatre. A.R.T. is affiliated with Harvard University, and is one of the best acting schools in America you’ll find. Here, you will get a chance to personally work with such famous theatre directors and playwrights as David Mamet and Richard Foreman. Students also get to spend three months studying in Moscow at the famous Moscow Art Theatre School. American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

  6. Rutgers. Rutgers allows its acting students to spend their junior year studying at Shakespeare’s Globe on London. Matt Mulhern, James Gandolfini (of Sopranos fame), and Roger Bart all studied here. Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, 33 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1959.

  7. Denver Center for the Performing Arts. This is one of the best acting schools in America for theater. It is a three-year program for graduate students in the craft. Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th Street, Denver, CO 80204.

  8. Trinity Repertory Company. Brown University is affiliated with this Tony Award-winning institution, which is one of the best acting schools in America for ambitious young performers. Famous theatre directors such as Anne Bogart have worked at the Trinity. Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St, Providence, RI 02903.

  9. Columbia University. The theatre program at Columbia is in a class all its own. Its ultra-competitive MFA-granting division only accepts about 6% of all applicants each year. School of the Arts, Columbia University, 305 Dodge Hall, Mail Code 1808, 2960 Broadway, New York, NY 10027.

  10. University of San Diego. Students at this acting school get to work at the prestigious Old Globe Theater. It is a two-year, intensive program resulting in an MFA in Acting. The Old Globe/USD Graduate Theatre, Post Office Box 122171, San Diego, CA 92112-217.

Posted on: Apr. 09, 2010

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Breaking Character/Forgetting Lines

I have had a lot of questions lately about how to stay in character or how to keep from forgetting my lines. These topics are closely related as they are caused by the same thing: a lapse in concentration by the actor.

I find that the biggest cause of breaks in concentration is self-awareness (being self-conscious). When the actor switches from being the character (concentrating on the stimuli of the scene and reacting moment by moment--what the famous acting teachers Meisner and Adler called "staying in the moment") to thinking about what he or she looks like and/or is doing, the actor has lost it; and it is visible to all observing him-- just as though the character is a pasted-on image that has been ripped off of the actor. Thus our challenge as actors is to forget ourselves for in doing so we are then open to be the character.

Playing the moment means that the actor does not think about what has already happened in his or her performance. Nor does he or she thing about what is to come later in the play. It means that the actor is fully concentrating on the moment of the scene that is present. Without the concentration to do that, the actor cannot respond successfully and will give a poor performance.

The actors concentration begins with the actor being fully confident of having the lines learned perfectly.

Then the actor focuses his or her eyes on the other actors. Watch Marlon Brando, James Dean, Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or other famous actors. Watch how they focus on the other actors. Their eyes steady and burning into their scene partners demonstrates stong concentration and leads to effecive performances.

Being self-conscious is always detrimental to the actor. It is essential to having good emotional responses to the stimuli in the scene that the actor is free from inhibitions that cause him or her to be worried about what people will think about what they are doing in their performance. Such an impediment to acting effectively must be avoided. And it will be avoided by those actors who work to rid themselves of being self-conscious. Being in many plays and studying in the proper acting classes will bring the actor a sense of security and effectiveness in their acting.