Volume 20, Number 49 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | April 20 - 26, 2011

Photo courtesy of Scott Wynn

The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University is in the second week of its five-week MFA repertory season during which this year’s graduating class performs plays and excerpts from plays in order to earn their degrees.

Pace’s Actors Studio stages repertory season

BY Terese Loeb Kreuzer

The scripts are interesting, the acting is compelling, the theater is well equipped and intimate, the sets, lighting and costumes are professional, and the cost is free. This describes the annual spring repertory season of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University during which the actors, directors and playwrights of the Master of Fine Arts graduating class show what they have learned. Each week through May 14 brings a new set of three plays, which are staged in Dance New Amsterdam’s theater at 53 Chambers St.

The famed Actors Studio founded in 1947, whose members have included many of America’s finest actors and directors, created the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University. The Actors Studio itself was established as a place where professional actors could continue to hone their skills. The Drama School, founded in 1994, was created in order to bring the Actors Studio methods, which are based on the work of Konstantin Stanislavksi, his disciple, Eugene Vakhtangov and the Group Theatre, to actors, directors and playwrights in fledgling stages of their careers.

In 2006, the Actors Studio Drama School affiliated with Pace University to offer a three-year Master of Fine Arts program.

“This degree gives a very deep theater education,” said Andreas Manolikakis, chair of the Actors Studio Drama School and a board member of the Actors Studio. All of the students train as actors, he said, “and after they leave here, can do all kinds of different things.” They go on to work in theater, film and television with credits that include Broadway and off-Broadway, regional theater, long-running television programs, big-budget Hollywood films and national commercials. Some become teachers.

The most famous recent graduate is probably Bradley Cooper, who had to skip his graduation ceremony from the Actors Studio Drama School in 2000 to star in his first feature film. His newest films are “The Hangover Part II” and “Limitless.”

This year’s graduating class has 27 members. They have interesting and diverse backgrounds. One played Young Simba in “The Lion King” on Broadway. Another is a Fulbright scholar from Ecuador. A Grammy award winner is in the class as are a woman with a chemistry degree, a former Fortune 500 banker and a musician with a double Platinum album. Students have ranged in age from their early twenties to their late sixties.

“We have all kinds of ages, all kinds of backgrounds,” said Manolikakis, “and this is the beauty of it, because one learns from the other.”

The curriculum was designed by Actors Studio leaders, including Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. In weekly workshops, students learn about script analysis, design, stage combat, directing and auditioning for plays, musicals, film and television. A new workshop this year covers writing for film and television. The students take weekly dance classes at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

The program costs $33,000 a year. Some students are supported by their families. Others like Shariffa Wilson, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University and was planning to go to law school, have taken out loans to attend. “Coming into this I knew the sacrifice that I would make,” she said. “I left a job where I was getting paid every two weeks and I had amazing medical coverage but I didn’t want to have any regrets. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

Wilson went on to say that, “the most amazing thing about being an artist is that you feel everything and everything that you’ve experienced, you turn into your art. Things that could have broken you down, you use to feed your art, and it’s amazing.”

“It’s been a life-changing experience,” said another student, Desiree Elle from Montreal. “Being in New York and surrounded by so many different people, so many different cultures, so many different artists.”

“I’ve always performed but didn’t realize I could make a career out of it,” said Shareen Macklin, who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry from North Carolina A & T State University. She will be going to Fort Peck Summer Theatre in Montana this summer to do “Hairspray,” “Chicago” and “Big River” and to teach in a performing arts camp. ““I get to create my own class! Hopefully that will establish me as a teaching artist when I come back here,” she said.

The Actors Studio Drama School is still accepting audition applications for next year’s incoming class. For information, go to http://www.pace.edu/dyson/academic-departments-and-programs/asds

For reservations to see the plays in this year’s repertory season call (212) 346-1665 or email ASDSRep@pace.edu. The free performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.

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