Education, as the Vicomte de Valmont says in Christopher Hampton's play Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is never a waste. And for people who want a career in the theatre, it is never too late to start learning the necessary skills to make that dream come true.
"Everyone has their own trajectory," Corey Mitchell, Theater Arts Teacher at the Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, N.C. told Playbill.com. And he'd know: In June, Mitchell became the first recipient of the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award. "No one can predict the path and what your pathway is to success," Mitchell said. "If it is within your spirit and your passion to follow, you should do it."
Colleges are an obvious place to learn, but nearly every high school, library or senior center offers courses in dance, theatre appreciation, writing, singing or acting on a community level. The more you know about theatre, the more you can enjoy it--even if your greatest aspiration in the world of theatre is to be a great audience member.
When his own students are looking to continue their education, Mitchell advises them to research their options carefully. Study a school or studio's website carefully and learn exactly what they can offer. "Ask to sit and audit a class," he suggested. "If someone says you can't watch this for a night or that you have to pay, I'm usually a bit reticent. I would like to get a sense of what happens in class and what is going on before I make a commitment to study." He also recommends avoiding any school that insists on providing their own photographers for headshots and won't let students hire anyone outside the classroom. "They tend to be scam artists," he warned. So what should prospective students look for in continuing education classes? Whatever suits their particular needs, Mitchell said. "Accept your strengths and weaknesses. Grow upon the strengths, and address the weaknesses. Be realistic." From there, he said, learn whatever you need to for whatever you want to do. " If you know that your real love is Shakespeare, learn about voice and diction. Do stage combat and look at the acting classes."
Ultimately, he said, everything comes down to being a strong actor. "Fight choreography, mime, voice lessons, dance lessons — all of those things are just extra icing and cherries and whipped cream on top of strong foundation. First and foremost, get into an acting class that will look at your core and create truth. Then look at where your interests are, at your strengths and weaknesses, and figure out where to grow and capitalize on things you're good at."
Choosing the Right Program
"When you find an acting coach that resonates with you, those are the people that you need to look at and train with," Mitchell noted. If would-be students can't or don't wish to study theatre full-time in a traditional college setting, there are a range of alternative educational programs in independent studios throughout the city. Herbert Berghof founded the HB Studio in 1945, and his partner Uta Hagen's books have kept its lessons going. The Stella Adler Studio of Acting goes back just about as far, and offers both a BFA program and day or night classes at the conservatory. Moises Kaufman's Tectonic Theater Project, meanwhile, offers classes in "Moment Work."
Students can also find a solid theatre education beyond Manhattan. Brooklyn College offers a graduate program in acting that, Mitchell said, is very competitive, and where students can learn "phenomenal things" on the nontraditional route as they develop the skills it takes to be an actor.
Studio and Independent Study
Beyond the Stella Adler and HB Studios, aspiring performers have a broad range of educational options that can accommodate busy schedules.
The Actors Studio is not a school in its own right, but it has established the Actors Studio Drama School, a three-year MFA program at Pace University. (Bonus: Bravo's TV series "Inside the Actors Studio" is a "craft seminar" for the MFA program.)
The Peoples Improv Theater has five levels of improv classes as well as courses in storytelling, public speaking, acting and clowning. The school also includes sketch writing and professional writing programs.
In a similar vein, the Upright Citizens Brigade Improvisational and Sketch Comedy Training Center is reportedly the only accredited improv and sketch comedy school in the country. Classes are available seven days per week in the morning, afternoon and evening.
Voice, Dance and Movement
At 31 years old, the Broadway Dance Center is an evergreen choice for individual classes or for ongoing programs. The Center is now offering a more comprehensive course of continuing education with the Professional Semester, running August-December and including multi-disciplinary technique classes, practical seminars to educate you on the industry, mock auditions to provide real-world experience, and numerous networking opportunities
Steps on Broadway, meanwhile, offers a Conservatory Program in Theater Dance & Jazz. Good to know: Students must take a minimum of 15 classes per week, so this course of study is not for dabblers.
Accredited College Programs
If you'd rather aim for an MFA or a diploma, plenty of colleges throughout the area offer classes for non-traditionally aged students.
NYU's Tisch School of the Arts offers graduate programs in acting and dance, as well as master's and doctorate programs in performance studies. The Steinhardt school has a course of study in vocal performance with a specialization in musical theatre that combines training in voice, acting, and dance. BMCC's Department of Speech, Communications, and Theatre Arts offers graduate classes in Acting, Voice and Movement for the Actor, Acting for the Camera, Elements of Production and Latin American Theatre and Performance.
The New York Film Academy offers both a one-year Musical Theatre Program and a two-year Musical Theatre & Film Conservatory. The Academy also offers classes in acting for film, and students can also earn an AFA, BFA or MFA degree.
The New School's School of Drama has a three-year Acting MFA program that focuses on the Stanislavsky method. The school also offers an MFA in Directing.
Check out PlaybillEDU, the best tool on the web for researching, choosing and applying to more than 2,000 theatre, music and dance programs across North America.
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