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Year 1

In your first year, what we are primarily concerned with is an invigorating mix of large playful release and minutely and rigorously observed behaviors.

You spend time getting to know how your body, including your voice, imagination, and feelings are released through the elimination of tension/muscular holding.

Scene study begins in the second semester of your first year. Acting teacher Richard Feldman defines the challenge:

"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."

Movement

Movement & Mask

Jim Calder, Head of Movement

Transformation the way an individual sees the world and moves in it is essential in the building of a body and mind that can work beyond it's own habits. The teaching of movement involves more of a relaxing of our social and intellectual control systems than a learning of new material, it is re-visiting our physical, primal response to external stimuli, trading our social selves for our reptilian brain. This process is a two-year endeavor, it is great fun to watch but rather daunting to experience. This is accomplished through exercises that put an individual in a variety of playful situations.

A sense of play is a sharpening of imaginative belief in a given situation. Play is the interplay between opposites, fear and excitement, power and weakness, desire and pain. The ability of an actor to tolerate living on the cusp of opposites - never settling into a state, is the goal of these exercises. By experiencing a number of imaginative places of essential human conundrums, an actor begins to develop a faith in their ability to handle greater extremes of belief and desire.

The first year is geared toward observation, imagination and listening. The work centers around situations that demand giving over to the essential rhythms and desires of animals then creating characters that embody the physical and intellectual research. Mask work allows a person to explore their own inherent physical expressivity and develop methods of adapting that behavioral movement.

Circus

Hovey Burgess

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.

Alexander Technique

Vincent Agustinovich, Mona Stiles, Kim Jessor

The first semester introductory class explores the “use” of ourself, and how our “use” in any activity is informed by our acquired habits. Since most habits are unconscious, the student’s awareness is highlighted by visual observations from the teacher and from the other students. By the use of a subtle hands-on technique by the teacher, students can become aware of unnecessary, and peculiar neuromuscular “attitudes” that are employed in the pursuit of a particular movement or activity. Principles, and the “language” of the Alexander Technique are explored in the context of discussion, activities, and some one-on-one tutorials with each student. The class is taught in a small group setting, usually 4 students per class.

After the introductory semester with Vince, you will have weekly 1/2 hour individual tutorials with either Kim or Mona. They teach the basic elements of the Alexander work: chair work, table work, walking, breathing, becoming more aware of your psychophysical habits and how they affect your acting. They appear in certain classes to do hands-on work and collaborate with singing and acting teachers to incorporate Alexander principles throughout the curriculum. Later in the first year, you will begin to apply the Alexander work to your Chekhov and Shakespeare projects.

Meet Vincent Agustinovich

Meet Kim Jessor

Yoga

Annie Piper

In the first year we focus on exploring the breath and how it can aid in a sensation of opening up your body. We work on recognizing your physical and mental habits - patterns of holding, establishing a foundation for safe and effective asana (physical) practice. Our goal is learning to recognize what gets between you and a focus on the present moment.

Physical Actioning

Scott Illingworth

This class continues the physical work begun in Toolbox 1, moving away from observation of your individual habits (and that of other specific individual people) and towards the dynamics of physical/psychological habit in ensemble, scene work, and action.

We use a series of exercises specifically meant to demand a continuous full-body engagement in the work. They aim to strengthen your capacity to act on impulse and illuminate the corners where you hide, the tricks you use, the tools you use to avoid, and what opens you fully to the space, your partner, and the given circumstances. The result is an improved awareness of habitual patterns in engaging with ensembles, partner(s), and text, a courageous physical engagement to meet any demand, and an expanded knowledge and curiosity about how to widen your palate of available actions.

Meet Scott Illingworth

Beginning Tap

Michael Raines

Focusing on rhythm and coordination, the basic elements of tap technique are introduced.

Movement 1

Fay Simpson

Lucid Body Basics; Unwinding Habits - This course is a physical acting class; a somatic process of learning that explores the seven physical energy centers as tools for self-examination and character building. We will look at the emotional/physical blocks  that inhibit the flow of vitality and a full emotional range needed by the actor, and work with the audible exhale as a means to integrate the sensitivities of the body experience to the outside world. This Basic course is focussed on freeing each student from physical and mental habits. The paradigms of persona, shadow and archetype will be explored in our understanding of the psychophysical complexities of character building.  

Objectives:

The objectives of the class are to initiate postural realignment, gain a new practical physical language from which to create the body of the character and develop a way of seeing that allows for deeper understanding of the human being.

Meet Fay Simpson

Psychological Gesture Workshop

Joanna Merlin

In the first year, I teach a seven-day intensive workshop in the Michael Chekhov technique, connecting body, mind and imagination, focusing on Psychological Gesture.

Meet Joanna Merlin

Voice and Speech

Singing

Deb Lapidus, Head of Voice and Speech

Our goal is to find a path to a more expressive, open self through singing.

The focus is on the physical feeling of singing and in tapping into the body’s wisdom in giving self-direction.

We explore various areas of the vocal mechanism to build awareness of our instrument. How do we use ourselves? Which habits are helpful? Which get in our way? How can we develop a focus and awareness that leads us to vocal and physical release?

We do exercises that help vocal coordination: These exercises focus on lips, tongue, jaw soft palate, breath, placement and resonance. We work on a relaxed engagement of the body so that there is a consistency and balance in the voice. This is done first through lip trills and humming and then through various vowel sounds and vowel/consonant combinations. Thru these exercises we develop a warm up.

The other aspect of first year singing is the song study/text work.

How can an actor best use him/herself to bring a song to life? We focus on text, story, imagery, relationship, place, the character’s wants and needs. The actor, thru the clues of the composer and lyricist, must embody why the music is the inevitable place to reveal that particular story. We focus on material from the musical theatre and standards from the great American songbook.

Meet Deb Lapidus

Voice I

Scott Miller

We meet twice a week for 80 minutes per class in groups of no more than 8 students. We spend our first semester together getting to know each other. I spend time getting to know you in your voice, the voice you’ve used much of your life and you spend time getting to know the vocabulary and expectations of the next three years. We start out simply. An understanding of your anatomy and the science behind how sound is made and how you are making the sound you start training with – the belief is that the more conscious understanding of how your instrument functions the more skilled you will be at effectuating change.  Most of this understanding is gotten through physical experience in class.

We work from the premise that behavior and sound is an extension of the character's experience. That sound, when not manipulated by preconceived 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.

The basics of airflow into resonance are worked on culminating in monologue work to see how all the new information can be coordinated into intention.

The second semester is split into two main concentrations. From the basics of the first semester, like with most professional level sports, we begin to integrate a higher level of challenge into your learning process.  (For more on the “Integration Class” see the description under Acting, it is quite thrilling).

In our other weekly meeting we collaborate with Fay Simpson, movement teacher. We work to take the vocal and physical tools that have been introduced in the first semester, deepen and implement them into the development of the body and voice of a character. The objectives of the class are to initiate postural realignment, reveal and find redundancy in efficient vocal use, and implement a practical physical language from which to create the body of the character while not resorting to tension in order to gauge one’s point in this process.

Meet Scott Miller

Speech I

Jane Guyer Fujita

First year speech focuses on the illumination of poetic and classic texts. Actors gain awareness of their articulators and learn anatomy of the vocal tract as well as International Phonetic Alphabet through physical and vocal exercises. Individuals work to release habitual tensions in the vocal tract to create a resonant and flexible instrument. Through a process of awareness, exploration and choice the actors build the skills necessary to acquire different accents and dialects. Particular attention is paid to the skills necessary to work in big theatrical spaces.

Meet Jane Guyer Fujita

Acting

Toolbox 1: Observation and Physicality

Mark Wing-Davey, Chair of Graduate Acting & Scott Illingworth

An observation class. The actors receive a set of categories including: ‘people who work with their hands’, ‘someone over 70’, and ‘someone with strong religious or political beliefs different from your own’. They are tasked to find a person who fits that category and interview them about their life (without the aid of a recorder) for up to an hour. After the interview they write down what they looked like, every detail about their clothing, physical behavior, etc., and what they said. Then the class interviews the student as that character. Anything they don’t know they improvise. Thus the exercise is one of embodying another but has a large amount of creativity. This main observation task is coupled with a series of other exercises built to expand the detail and speed with which students see the behavior of people around them and their ability to replicate it in detail.

Toolbox is co-taught with Scott Illingworth who lends his eye as a movement teacher to the observation work. Scott spends the semester taking the students through a series of exercises built to investigate individual habitual patterns of physical / psychological / emotional behavior that manifest in their work. This, coupled with the observations, serve as a laboratory to begin investigating how to more fully live in the physicality of a character while understanding what in one’s own physical life is difficult to abandon.

Meet Scott Illingworth

Actor's World

Janet Zarish, Head of Acting

You begin your time here with one of our seminal courses, “The Actors World.” The work done in this class begins to create an ensemble through the exploration and celebration of the individual. We begin by making you aware of what you already hold inside – your own unique and individual story and life experience from which you will continue to draw. At the same time, the sharing and trust implicit in this kind of work begins the complex process of the creation of true collaboration as you begin your journey through the three years of your training.

Approaching the Play

Lisa Benavides-Nelson

In "Approaching the Play" the actor learns how best to absorb a script in advance of and during rehearsal. Our thesis is that each actor must decide where to put their time, energy, and imagination and intellect as they begins to inhabit the world of the play. We try to build not just a tolerance, but an enthusiasm for exploration in order for the actor not to jump to results or uninvestigated conclusions.

Meet Lisa Benavides-Nelson

Integration

Lisa Benavides, Scott Illingworth & Scott Miller

This class provides a laboratory for the use of multiple new tools under the eyes of faculty who you already know from first semester. Students work on small sections of scenes from contemporary plays, applying text analysis tools, voice/breath work, and the use of Physical Actioning simultaneously. This tightly focused co-taught environment encourages students to see the way notes about their work overlap, how the successful use of one tool can unlock and liberate them in other areas, and begins the process of imagining a rehearsal process that does not fall back on hold habits.

Shakespeare

Steven Skybell

Beginning with the basics of scansion and moving on to a detailed analysis of the verse, the actor learns to mine the text for all the acting clues that Shakespeare has left, sometimes covertly on the page. Combining the artificed rigor of verse with an unparalleled naturalism, Shakespeare urges and teaches us how to become the complete actor. Beginning with solo speeches and moving into scene work as the skills and experience of the participants allow, actors will learn to read the text to find the LIFE in Shakespeare and to seek the honest deep truth of every moment that Shakespeare creates.

Scene Study

Richard Feldman

In Scene Study in the 2nd semester of the first year, through scenes and occasionally through exercises and improvisations, the class works towards the following goals:

-to develop a sense of process

-to live in the moment on stage

-to practice living off your partner

-to be able to understand and live through the events of a scene

-to develop the habit of playing actions

-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.

Text

Lisa Benavides

Taking the work of Approaching the Play directly into scene work allows the actor an opportunity to assimilate all of the details discovered around the table into the experience of performance in the studio. We emphasize sharing space with scene partners, developing the need to speak, and developing a way to listen actively. Well-acted scenes move forward propelled by a fully transitive approach to what a character wants and how they get it. To that end, we pursue a technique that makes absolutely practical use of an actor’s every decision, bit of research and imaginative risk.

The Now of Then

Larry Maslon, Associate Chair

"The Now of Then" is a three-semester course 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. 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? One of the world’s great actors, John Gielgud, once defined style as "knowing which play you're in,” but theatrical style is also simply the behavior of a given culture. “Now of Then” helps students to recognize cultural difference (and cultural dissonance) between “then” and “now” in a way that they can use for any play in any production. Our beginning work in Year One focuses on the world of New York City in 1937 by using three plays (Golden Boy, Stage Door, and Little Ham) to investigate the specific observable world of the Depression. By using this seminal time period as a practicum, we create a working vocabulary of “now” for entering and researching different “thens”.

We spread our classes over all three years, beginning with the world of New York City in the 1930s.

Games

Danielle Skaastad

Over the years, Theatre Games has become a kind of tradition at NYU. 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 series of open classes viewed by the faculty. Created in a bare room and out of nothing more than found objects/furniture, the work is entirely conceived and performed by the first year class.