MFA helps student actors perfect craft
Every fall semester, a select group of 11 students are accepted into the USC School of Theatre‚Äôs Masters in Fine Arts in Acting Program beginning a three-year journey toward professional acting. Currently in its fourth year, this relatively new program gives its graduating classes the opportunity to create yet another USC tradition ‚ÄĒ a rotating three-play repertory.
Unlike last year‚Äôs MFA class ‚ÄĒ the first to graduate from the program ‚ÄĒ which performed two plays in the fall and one in the spring, the 2010 class has planned for all three plays to run simultaneously during a one-month period.
Although the change might seem minor, dirctor Andrew J. Robinson made an effort to constantly push and develop his actors and refine the cirriculum.
‚ÄúNo other MFA training program in the country does [a rotating repertory],‚ÄĚ Robinson said. ‚ÄúThis is a major deal.‚ÄĚ
First, Robinson and his professional team choose plays that were right for the group, as each graduating class varies in gender and racial diversity. Second, they wanted plays that provided the 11-member cast with an equal amount of work. For instance, Thomas Chavira II has a minor role in Orestes 2.0 but has a much greater role in Pericles and Fisher King. And third, in contrast to last year‚Äôs more traditional repertory, Robinson and his team chose lesser-known works.
Performing less common plays requires the actors to thoroughly understand their characters and forces them to bring their own sentiments into the story. As lesser-known works, there are fewer expectations of how the play should be performed and the result is a presentation that comes alive with originality.
‚ÄúThis is the equivalent of a master‚Äôs thesis for these students,‚ÄĚ Robinson said. ‚ÄúThis is the application and culmination of all their skills classes and the work that they have done in the previous two and a half years.‚ÄĚ
By bringing together these three vastly different plays, the program offers another level of training intensity for these MFA students. Under Robinson‚Äôs leadership, the third-year actors learn to take on different characters and then summon them when rotating from play to play. In essence, they are learning to use their bodies as instruments for character exploration.
‚ÄúThe great excitement for me is walking into a room and sitting down with the audience and watching live people,‚ÄĚ Robinson said. ‚ÄúWhere the excitement pays off is when those people I‚Äôm watching on stage have a story to tell, that they are trained and they are able to express deep truths that a playwright is exploring.‚ÄĚ
For example, Pericles ‚ÄĒ the Shakespeare play being performed this month ‚ÄĒ opened at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday earlier this month but was quickly followed by Orestes 2.0 at 8 p.m. The actors only had a three-hour window to take a mental break and then prepare for their roles in the next play.
‚Äú[By doing this,] they are now professional actors as far as I‚Äôm concerned,‚ÄĚ Robinson said.
Though the student actors make it look easy, this is one rigorous program. Like at the rest of USC, the ¬†MFA in Acting Program selects a diverse body of students; hopefuls are recruited from all over the country to audition. But the program isn‚Äôt looking for the next James Dean or Brad Pitt. Unlike the inbred environment of the old Hollywood legacy system, the program‚Äôs directors seek out actors who stand out in their own right, making for a much richer and varied set of actors to reflect today‚Äôs more global society.
In addition to selection and rigorous training, the School of Theatre‚Äôs MFA in Acting Program strikes a delicate balance between theater acting and commercialization, since the latter is still important. Upon completion of the three-plays, the program brings in casting directors, agents, managers and other specialists so that the rest of the semester is devoted to helping the students transition into the commercial side of acting.
These students are fortunate to be a part of this program. Robinson has such a strong commitment and genuine interest in making this top-notch actor-training program even better. It‚Äôs his passion for his team, students and the art of acting that drives the program, and that passion motivates everyone. Robinson believes that the best actors start in theater.
‚ÄúMost of the actors that we love, come out of theater,‚ÄĚ Robinson said. ‚ÄúThat was our training. That is where we learned how to do it.‚ÄĚ