Mark Wing-Davey, Chair
The primary focus of Toolbox I, II and III is observation and physical transformation. So in these classes, you'll be going out into the community (you've got all that New York City and the boroughs have to offer) then coming back to class to present a physical imitation of your subjects, attempting to create fully lived characters. This engages your sense of transformational ability and creates a heightened awareness of the world around you.
Laurence Maslon, Associate Chair
John Gielgud once defined style as "knowing which play you're in." My courses in "The Now of Then" are intended to give students both a historical and cultural perspective to a variety of different theatrical styles as well as a practical methodology for researching a role. We spread our classes over all three years, beginning with the world of New York City in the 1930s, moving to Chekhov and Ibsen, then Shaw, Wilde, and Coward; Brecht, and a variety of styles related to other scenes in class and in production. All of this work is meant to supplement and complement your work on stage and in class. In addition to screening films and interviewing guests, we do at least one class trip per semester: to Harlem, to the Metropolitan Museum, to high tea at some elegant hotel (essentially for Shaw and Wilde!). No other school offers such an intensive training in cultural backgrounds.
Our former chair, Zelda Fichandler was fond of saying that here at Grad Acting we train artists, not just actors. I love to explore the world of the play in class and bring all these different times and places to the classroom. Being an actor is a little like being a time traveler--who else gets to go back to a different land, a different time, a different culture--and live in it? It's great to bring in facts and perceptions from other worlds to class, but the part I enjoy most of all is getting to learn the world of my students--where they come from, what they're thinking. It's not only exciting, it keeps me young--and almost hip, sometimes!
Janet Zarish, Head of Acting
Acting begins with passion; the passion to express, the passion to explore, the passion to discover new and deeper ways to reveal essential truths of the human condition. Actors in my class are encouraged to use their personal sense of truth, and then to develop the tools that will help them to subtly transform, merging their own voice with the written voice of the character.
My class focuses on revealing the world of the play, with special emphasis on language. Students learn that language is specific to that particular world and not only reveals character but culture, place and time. They learn to skillfully execute the action of ideas and to locate and embody each playwright's evocative and musical essence; to speak in powerful, elevated ways, different than themselves, and yet attached to themselves; to inhabit the specific, idiosyncratic way each character uses his words, thereby illuminating the telling details of that character's individual, and unique life.
The actor learns to focus on the balance between craft, feeling, and imagination, and, thus, to find a place of freedom within themselves, and within the form of the play.
Jim Calder, Head of Movement
I teach "Movement & Mask," a series of classes that cover a wide variety of styles such as commedia del ‘arte, clown, and mask, but it is the underlying concepts of play, imagination, and collaboration that are constantly at work. The third year ends in a class called the Kinetics of Literature where we transform literature, fine art and film into a stage presence that searches for the underlying themes inherent in each author, artist or filmmaker. I really teach two things: play, and risk. They are complementary. You will play deeper, more creatively, if you are willing to risk more and you can allow yourself to risk more if imagination in the given situation is greater.
At NYU Grad Acting I have the opportunity to offer experiences that expand the kinetic circuitry of expression. There is magic in a mask, over time it will bring out in you the smallest moment of personal reality and then demand that it be extrapolated, twisted, stretched, and exposed to such a limit that you believe you are going to burst. And then you do burst and all kinds of stuff spills out, and when it is done, you are still you, but more you than you thought possible. Winston Churchill, when facing insurmountable odds in the battle for Britain, once said, "Play for more than you can afford to lose and you will learn the game." I create provocations of unbearable playfulness to train an actor to embrace the paradoxes of human character.
Deb Lapidus, Head of Voice and Speech
The road to successful song performance is the path we travel in class. A core principal of this class is the connection between singing and acting.
You need everything to sing, everything the actor needs and more. You need an open relaxed voice. You need flexibility in the breath coupled with firm support. You need an aligned open body, full of energy but not tense. You need a consistent line of tone with which to communicate. These technical demands are all addressed in class.
But to be a truly expressive singing actor, one has to transcend vocal technique. Part of my job is to show the actor how to make use of the specific structure of a song and live within it. To this end I address phrasing, imagery, character, relationship and place. As in spoken text, characters must address each other and the audience, undergo changes of mind or intention, win or lose objectives, and keep the stakes high.
The work in singing class becomes a way of reminding actors that the skills they need to sing mirror those they need to act.
At New York University the wedding of theatre training and circus techniques is a marriage that is as old as the Tisch School of the Arts itself. At a wedding, the bride traditionally wears something old, borrowed, blue, and new. (1.) Something Old. That could be me. I have taught circus techniques every year since the program began in 1966. I took off one semester in 1973, when I taught at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and I took off one semester in 1980, when I was circus choreographer for the motion picture POPEYE, starring Robin Williams in the title role. I am so old that some other faculty members were once students of mine: Giovanna Sardelli, Beverly Wideman, and Janet Zarish. (2.) Something Borrowed. That could be any of the multicultural circus skills that I teach: ball juggling borrowed from 11th dynasty ancient Egypt; plate spinning borrowed from ancient China; trapeze borrowed from 19th century France; or rola-bola borrowed from 20th century Brazil. (3.) Something Blue. That could only be what Zelda Fichandler, our former chair, called my ribald sense of humor. If you laugh, or smile, you will probably be less tense / more relaxed, and the work will go better. (4.) Something New. That could be you. Every year we are looking for a few talented new people to train for the professional theatre.
There are no ready formulas for acting; it is an art, not a science. The actors' talent and creativity and how and when it blossoms and flourishes is ultimately mysterious. Acting, however, is a craft as well as an art. The actor can acquire tools and practice techniques that can strengthen or deepen their instincts, imagination and creativity; technique serves the imagination using exercises and improvisation and then scene study; we are working towards the following goals:
-to develop a sense of process
-to live in the moment on stage
-to enhance the range of imagination and expression
-to identify and overcome bad habits
-to reduce self consciousness of the need to "perform"
-to provide for each other an atmosphere of risk-taking and relating
-to help the actor discover their blocks and barriers
-to explore different aspects of personality which are normally subdued
-to develop the NEED to speak
-to combat anticipation
-to find release of impulse and temperament
-to discover what stirs the imagination
-to develop the ability to make informed and imaginative choices
-to allow the work to be personal, exploratory, reaching for truth revealing everything.
The purpose of Speech training is to develop the actor's physical tools of verbal expression. Incorporating vocal development, exercises for muscular stamina, precision and strength of vowel and consonant sounds, and tuning the ear to a wider range of sounds, rhythm, and inflections, the actor expands the range and power of spoken English so that it can be more specifically active both on stage and in film. This training culminates in a series of classes in dialects wherein one moves fully into non-native sounds, rhythms, and vocal expression.
As we move into a more visual and digital culture, the naked human voice and speech hold the possibility of more shockingly powerful and seductive action. The human voice, with its exchange of breath and music, connects us most primally to ourselves and to each other.
Moshe Feldenkrais said "If you know what you're doing you can do what you want. If you can do what you want, then you can do anything." He developed a method of experimentation and discovery with the body that illuminates how habitual patterns of behavior get formed and how we might discover new and more useful ones for our lives and work. Our focus (through the prism of his method) is on strengthening the muscles of observation and awareness. Through a variety of exercises you will observe people in the world around you as well as yourself within that world.
Everyone has habits – grooves in the brain that turn into well-worn grooves of behavior. Using your growing awareness, we’ll experiment with habits and behaviors that lead to creating character and clear physical action. (What is the body of a woman who pulls a lever all day like? What is it like to feel that all you do in life is pull at the world?)
I teach individual tutorials in the Alexander Technique to students in their first and second years, and also work with all three years during rehearsals for productions. In our tutorials, actors gain tools to redirect their energy, to become more grounded in themselves. The goal is for them to internalize this process as a way of taking care of themselves for the duration of their careers. Working first with everyday movement, we then apply the process to ways of warming up, to more complex movements and situations, and ultimately to building a character and being on stage. During a rehearsal process, I often have students talk about their character while I work on them on the table, or say lines while being moved in and out of a chair. In this way, freeing up of the body becomes associated with that character, and new discoveries are made that can clarify and deepen the character¹s physicality and presence.
F.M. Alexander was an actor, and I find actors particularly receptive to this work, which makes it fun and energizing to teach them. I especially like working one on one, so that I can hone in on the individual needs of each person in the moment. I find it moving and rewarding that students share with me their habits, feelings about themselves, struggles and discoveries. It is truly gratifying when actors tell me how much of a support the Technique is for them, and to see them integrating and applying the work on stage.
Fernanda Mello Dos Santos
The Orixas Movement dance is based on movements of Orixas, goddesses from the Candomble religion that represents different energies in nature. Each Orixa has its specific rhythm, dance, chant and energy. They are associated with energies like wind, water, fire, hunters, and worriers, and this energy is incorporated by the dancer and transmitted through the dance. The student explore different emotions and techniques through the dance.
I feel privileged to be one of three living students of Michael Chekhov who continues to teach his technique. I teach an eight day intensive workshop in the Michael Chekhov technique to the second year students, connecting body, mind and imagination, and focusing on Psychological Gesture.
I work with the students in the third year, before and during rehearsal of a production, incorporating the Michael Chekhov technique in creating character and finding relationships through gesture.
I teach the Career Class to the third year students, which is geared to sending them out in the professional world equipped with all the tools they need to navigate the business.
In the fall semester, we work exclusively on auditioning for the camera, using film and television material. The auditioning technique is based on my book, "Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide".
In the spring semester, our guests include panels of agents and casting directors; an audition workshop in theater and TV with professional casting directors; a commercial auditioning workshop; and a financial planning session.
We have recently added six workshop sessions with professional film and television directors and casting directors. Previous guests include Arthur Penn, Bob Balaban, Jerry Zaks, Michael Mayer, and Kevin Bacon.
The third year students also act in film projects directed by students from the NYU film school.
Since we are together for the last half of their voice training, in their second and third year, we integrate voice with movement, emotional life, will and character. We work from the premise that behavior and sound is an extension of the character's experience. That sound, when not manipulated by pre-conceived ideas or the actor's habitual tendencies, will carry on it the character's inner expression. Simply put, the voice will carry the work - both work done and clues to the work yet to be done. At first, we continue the work begun in the first half of training, to free the voice. Next we explore, through text in heightened circumstances, any tendencies towards manipulations and holding. Finally, through improvisation, we encourage the voice of the character to be revealed and nurtured. Oh ! yes, at the end, after you've shown me the warm-up you will take into your professional career - we all go out to lunch. Perspective is a beautiful thing.
I teach to learn. The spirit of play and curiosity that accompany the students here as they walk into class keep the practice and me evolving, just like a role. I've found that there is a desire to communicate here, doors are open, questions are asked and challenges are aired. I walk into each class terrified and hopeful and paying attention to what will next be revealed. I can't ever quite put my finger on it, and perhaps these things are not discernable, but I've yet to walk out of a class here not feeling like we've been through something. For that I'm thankful and inspired to come back for more.
Over the years, Theatre Games has become a kind of tradition at NYU and is fundamental to the TSOA Grad Acting program. During the first year of classes, a sense of playfulness is fostered through techniques developed by Paul Walker and others. A foundation of curiosity and boldness is built and students learn to listen to their creative instincts as an aid to dissolving self-judgment. The course culminates in a performance piece known as the January Project. Created in a bare room and out of nothing, it is entirely conceived and performed by the first year class.
As both teacher and student of this technique, I have returned to the guiding principles of this class again and again throughout my career.
In tutorials I am working one-on-one with the basic Alexander Technique Principles. I usually do both table work, chair work, and other activities that relate to the individuals needs, either in a class situation or in rehearsal. Of course the main idea here is to help the students to understand exactly what Alexander discovered as it relates to ease and awareness in the body. This new awareness wants to allow the students to be able to experience constructive thinking in a way the frees them to have more choices in their perceptions of themselves as well as how they relate to activities in daily life or performance. Ultimately, they might be able to own the ideas completely so that they become integrated into their way of being.
The primary goal of the Audition Technique Class, given in the 3rd year of training, is to demystify the audition process. We begin work with a "mock" casting session where the students are the auditors: the directors, producers or casting directors who make the decisions. The students experience first hand what "they" are looking for and it serves as a context for the work which follows. Each student is given a new side (scene or monologue) to prepare for each class. They garner experience with a wide variety of playwriting styles and develop skills on how to prepare for and approach cold readings and auditions. They learn to bring the formidable acting skills and techniques they have acquired and re think and re focus them for the audition process. Work is also done in helping students choose and develop classical and contemporary monologues for general auditions.
This class also prepares the graduating actors for the actor presentations: The showcase event held in New York City and Los Angeles in May which is attended by all the casting directors and agents in theatre, film and television.
Rarely does one get the opportunity to relax, discover and utilize one's real voice, with its three and one half to four octave range. That discovery happens in my Voice Class. It is not a singing class or a speech class. It is a vocal freeing process based on the Linklater Voice Technique Training, which incorporates the Feldenkrais Movement awareness, yoga stretching techniques and Zen thinking applications. For one year and six weeks you will be learning and practicing exercises to help you relax, align your spine, release deeply for breath and speak on your real, true, natural voice. Your natural voice will become the basis from which all of your character voices will be built and all of the nuances and subtleties of your character's intentions and emotions will be released. It will also release vocal stress for your singing class and increase flexibility and agility for your speech class.
Stage Combat teaches the simulation of verbs which are considered violent or dangerous in nature, such as "to punch, to kick, to choke, etc." The course attempts to give the actor the technical know-how to execute these verbs in a realistic and hopefully safe fashion. The Second Semester of Year one, the students begin to work on fisticuffs. In Year Two, swordplay is introduced. In Year Three, scene work is presented to the school as our emphasis is on the action coming out of character and situation.
I began my teaching career at ACT in San Francisco in 1972. In 32 years of working for ACT, the National Theatre Conservatory in Denver, and many other institutions, NYU Grad represents the program which develops an actor who is willing to go where the character needs to go. This is so important in Stage Combat as 100% of the actors I work with are non-violent people and yet they have to portray someone in a play who commits a violent act(s). My job is easier because of the well-rounded and adventurous training the actors receive at NYUG. And subsequently, I learn from them. That may be an old cliché - the teacher learns from the student, but it is true. What I get from my NYUG students, I take out into the professional world and it improves my work as a Fight Choreographer.
Shane Ann Younts
In the Techniques of Voice and Text classes, my goal is to develop the actors' voices so that they are flexible, versatile and strong. The techniques that are taught include exercises to clarify ideas, to sustain thoughts, to build speeches, to express contrasting or parenthetical ideas, and to convey a point of view. In Year Three, all of the technical exercises are connected to their acting training when each student works on monologues from Shakespeare's plays. After the students graduate, they tell me that the techniques they learned have helped them not only with their work in theatres, but also with their work on film and television scripts, shooting commercials, recording books on tape, and every kind of audition including cold readings.
I believe that the more technique an actor has the stronger will be her/his ability to create a living, complex, fascinating character. The students in the graduate acting program agree because they are always interested in finding ways to bring a life off of the printed page so that it can live in the audience's minds and hearts. To do this is, indeed, an exciting and noble way to spend one's life.