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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | In a five-week repertory season, the graduating M.F.A. class of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University is once again showing what this school teaches and what the graduates have learned after three years of study. Anyone with affection for theater would likely find the Actors Studio Drama School productions interesting. Some of the acting is memorable. Sets and costuming are professional. The plays and scenes range from the familiar to the offbeat, giving each of the acting students an opportunity to show their stuff. And it’s all free, though reservations are required.
This year’s graduating class consists of 31 actors, four directors and one playwright. They range in age from their early 20s to their late 40s. Their backgrounds are diverse. Among the actors are a U.S. Navy veteran, the daughter of a Japanese martial arts master, a Junior Olympic gymnast who is also a screenwriter and novelist, a Fulbright scholar, an opera singer who has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Some have significant acting credits.
The Actors Studio Drama School program dates from 1994 when James Lipton, now Dean Emeritus, developed the curriculum with the assistance of some of the famed actors in the Actors Studio itself. Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino are still mentors to the school and appear in the repertory season program.
Lipton resigned in 2005 and Andreas Manolikakis became the chairman of the school. “This is not training for a specific style. It’s training of the instrument so that the actor will be able to do whatever he’s asked to do,” Manolikakis said.
Everyone in the program takes acting classes. Directors and playwrights have additional instruction.
“You get a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be on stage so when you ask an actor to do something, you know exactly what they’re going through,” said Chris Triebel, one of the directors in this year’s graduating class.
The annual tuition for the program is $35,320. In addition, there are living expenses. “I figure it costs about $57,000 a year to go through the program,” said Michael Crowe, who turned to acting after having spent five years in the Navy, where he worked as a chef, followed by a couple of years in business school. But, he said, “I don’t view this as an expense. I view it as an investment…I feel a better man, artist, human, from being here,” he said. “In order to be an actor, you have to be so vulnerable. It’s a really sacred, safe place here.”
One of the interesting things about the repertory season is the opportunity to watch the actors and directors work on several plays and scenes. This week brings scenes from “Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks, “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson and “Raised in Captivity” by Nicky Silver.
Next week includes “The Voice of the Turtle” by John Van Druten, scenes from “Orange Flower Water” by Craig Wright and a scene from “Red Light Winter” by Adam Rapp.
The repertory season concludes the following week with a scene from “Fallen Angels” by Noël Coward, a new play, “All An Act” by Sean Michael Welch, the sole playwright in this year’s graduating class and already the recipient of several important awards, and scenes from “The Producers,” with a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Mel Brooks.
The performances take place in the theater at Dance New Amsterdam, 53 Chambers St., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. through April 28. The full schedule and information about plays, actors, directors and playwrights is online at www.Pace.edu/ASDSRep. Admission is free, but reservations must be made in advance by phone or email as seating is limited. The 24-hour reservation line is: (212) 501-2099 and email is ASDSRep@pace.edu.