A year ago, actress Martha Plimpton spoke to a group of students in the American Theatre Wing's SpringboardNYC program, offering a moving account of her experience performing in an all-day marathon of The Coast of Utopia.
"She basically left the room in tears," says Randy Ellen Lutterman, director of SpringboardNYC. "It was the most generous, revelatory story, about hard work, stamina, being good to your body, all of the things we had talked about."
Such incidents are common at SpringboardNYC, the two-week program that occurs annually in June, in which recent college grads and rising seniors get a crash course in making the transition from college to the intimidating world of New York theatre acting.
The program includes monologue workshops, dance calls, tickets to shows, and even a lesson on how to pay your taxes as an independent contractor, before culminating in a mock audition for a director, casting director and musical director. This year's session was scheduled to end just hours before the Tony Awards dress rehearsal, which the participants attended. The by-application-only program costs $1750, but three quarters of the students have some form of scholarship. SpringboardNYC began in 2002 as a project of Musical Theatre Works, the not-for-profit company devoted to new musicals, where Lutterman was executive director. After Musical Theatre Works closed, the American Theatre Wing took over SpringboardNYC in 2005. Howard Sherman, executive director of the Wing, says, "We are not attempting to teach people how to act, how to sing, how to dance — that is what they've gotten in their university training. What we're trying to do is give them very practical career tools."
And if you decide you don't like acting after all? No problem. Kristin Svenningsen, who attended the program in 2005, used the contacts she made at SpringboardNYC to break into casting, and is now a casting assistant at Manhattan Theatre Club. The program, she says, "opened my eyes to what else is out there in theatre."
(Zachary Pincus-Roth is a freelance writer and writes the Ask Playbill column for Playbill.com. This article appears in the Playbill of the 2008 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall.)