University of Minnesota and Guthrie Theatre master acting teacher Scott Freeman spoke with Playbill On-Line on Aug. 25 to outline his new BFA program for theatre training at Guthrie.
The B.F.A. actor training program run by Freeman accepts 19 students this fall. An award-winning actor and artistic director, Freeman has served on the faculty of The Actor's Center in New York since 1996 and was the assistant professor of acting at the State University of New York (SUNY, Purchase) prior to that. Freeman was a resident director of the accredited M.F.A. arts training program at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. At the Guthrie, Freeman has served as a guest acting teacher for the "Guthrie Experience for Actors In Training" program.
"What we're trying to do is establish a national program with a strong identity, something that can continue to grow... a place where young actors get training for careers in theatre," Freeman told Playbill On-Line.
Freeman said he had broken his strategy into something like "talking points, which politicians use." "For starters," Freeman explained, "we're going nationwide, defining the program and looking for people who are looking for this kind of program.
Next, we are giving our students the opportunity to discover themselves through their work. It's not a pedagogy, and I don't think any good acting school would try to do that. We want people who already have talent and potential and promise. People who are going to go out and create careers for themselves as actors anyway. Then, we give them an aesthetic and spirit that has to do with long-term traditions in theatre. "The we give them classical training and school them in contemporary work as well as prepare them for whatever the works of the future will be. So, we focus on the past, present and the future in every way."
Freeman said that the classical aspect to the program was made easier by virtue of the fact that Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling comes from an educational background and that the nonprofit often does classical work and famous plays.
"Acting requires skills," Freeman said. "If you can't get past the études, you can't expect to do classical work. You can fake it sometimes with production, and direction can help you hit the mark once in a while, but to have a long, consistent career, that you're in charge of, it requires more."
Freeman describes the best career route for an actor as a "personal journey." Preparing for that journey, Freeman says, requires having a sense of every project or play, and knowing "why are we doing this, and what do we hope to accomplish." The Guthrie teacher says that a key element of the BFA program is "establishing that work has a goal and a meaning behind it for our lives, as well as those of others.
"We live in an increasingly visual culture," Freeman explained. "Our students need to develop strong skills in language, with their mouths, as well as their bodies and minds. I tell students that people should be able to look away from the performance, and leave one ear cocked to the stage and still get the story."
Freeman added that performing arts educators are in something of a battle because of the lure of television and commercials and because young people are "moving so fast."
"Things happen fast," Freeman said, "and that's antithetical and counter productive to creating art. One of my jobs is giving students permission to slow down. For instance, we use yoga, which helps to teach mind discipline. Yoga helps you to center yourself, to breathe and to be able to harness your energy."
Acknowledging that it's easy for actors to be lured away from theatre by film and television work, Freeman says that the Guthrie program will be comprehensive, but not driven by expectations of commercial success.
"We're not gearing the program to be about making sure they get work," Freeman said. "it's not about 'grads who are working.' In the final year, we will have career development, but the truth is, that won't be driving the program. We're really training their souls."
-- By Murdoch McBride