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MFA Acting Concentration: The Curriculum

Our curriculum combines various disciplines of training with experience in projects and productions.  The faculty collaborates closely to address individual actor needs and to maximize the impact of the work.  The core curriculum consists of Alexander Technique, Movement, Voice, Speech, Text, Singing, Stage Combat, Theatre History and Theory, and Scene Study.  We offer additional workshops that may offer experience with mask, clown, acting for the camera, and career pursuits.  Projects and productions begin by the end of first term and continue throughout the training.

The Alexander Technique underlies much of our training.  It is based upon the premise that the ways in which we “use” ourselves in our lives – how we stand, walk, breathe, speak, and so on – become ingrained habits that, over time, deeply compromise our innate capacities.  In short, most of us use our voices poorly, breathe poorly, move poorly.  Actors, however, need optimal conditions of function.  They need openness and ease under the extraordinary demands of performance.  They need freedom from habitual efforts and tensions that constrict spontaneity and expressiveness.  The Alexander Technique provides a consistent means to observe and improve habits of use.  It promotes balance, coordination, and optimal breath and vocal function.  It improves rhythm, presence, and responsiveness to impulse.  It fosters ease, or the use of appropriate energy for any activity.  It teaches actors how to be more open in any given moment before an audience, and how to cultivate that openness in daily life.  MFA actors receive group instruction, regular private lessons throughout training, and Alexander Technique is deeply integrated into acting classes and other work.

Our core Movement training includes the Alexander Technique, Suzuki Technique, and Corporeal Mime work from the tradition of Etienne Decroux.  These practices complement one another in profound ways, equipping the actor with invaluable tools for self-observation and practice, for improving alignment and freedom, strength and flexibility, impulse and control.  Actors become freer and more capable of realizing precise form.  Actors are also introduced to social and period dance and period styles.  At least one term of the third year is dedicated to stage combat.

Our Voice training is based in the Alexander Technique and in practices developed by Cicely Berry, Kristin Linklater, Catherine Fitzmaurice, and others.  We want each actor to have access to his/her full voice, in a healthy, vital, and sustainable way.  We work first to develop free, open, and expressive sound, unhindered by habitual tensions, fully connected to self.  As breath is fuel for sound, we work to free the natural pattern of the breath, to deepen it, and to develop support and control.  Then we work on flexibility, range and power.  Singing is taught in individual tutorials throughout the training, and group classes take place in the second and third year, to allow for work before an audience.  Several times per term, singing lessons are conducted with hands-on Alexander Technique.

Speech training is about shaping sound with ease, clarity, and precision.  Speech gives form to breath and voice, feeling, and thought, and is the primary way in which human beings act upon one another in life or drama.  We help actors build a greater awareness of the possibilities that exist in shaping sound, and of the relationship of speech to meaning, action, and character.  Then we work on expanding the range, control, and precision of speech choices.  The International Phonetic Alphabet is used to approach the full range of human expression through speech, and provides the basis from which we study dialects.

In text classes during the second year, actors work intensively upon Shakespeare and also upon great speeches, poetry, Restoration and Jacobean texts, Wilde and Shaw.

Study of Theatre History, Theory, and Dramaturgy provides actors with essential tools to work well within diverse production and playwriting aesthetics.  Research skills and historical context enable actors to get inside a playwright’s deep concerns in a particular play, and to truthfully inhabit period and style.  In this area we have the extra benefit of two eminent scholars of dramatic literature from the English Department who are also adjunct faculty in the Theatre Department, and who offer special courses to our graduates.  Previous course topics have included: Introduction to Graduate Research in Theatre, History of Theatre Theory, History of Directing and Production Styles, Theatre of Bertolt Brecht, and Intercultural Theatre.

In Acting class, actors put together the work of all their courses in the rehearsal and performance of scenes from plays.  Each actor’s approach to the work is carefully examined.  Scenes are chosen in collaboration with the actor to serve individual needs.  Emphasis is upon making specific choices of objectives and actions that are rigorously derived from the text as written, on the actor’s personal presence in a choice, and on his/her ability to sustain imagined life.  Hands-on Alexander Technique is used in scene work to foster freedom and control.  Consistency and repeatability are also examined, and the process of character transformation.

Workshops in a variety of other disciplines are also offered during the MFA training.  In Clown work, actors learn to stand in simple personal openness before an audience.  Clown brings the actor’s fears into sharp focus – all the ways we hide and seek to control how we are perceived – and reveals what is most interesting:  personal truth.  Clown teaches courage, commitment to clear choices, and recalls the necessity of joy in performance.  Mask work frees us from the mask of personality.  Our familiar self is composed of layers of socialized behavior that can cover and block the the imagination.  Well-used masks liberate the actor from the controlling self, and open access to the well of experience and myriad characters within.  Other master classes may include such topics as Rasaboxes, The Business of Theatre, or Website Design for Actors.  These classes are taught by distinguished guest artists and practioners.


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