I Studied at the American Conservatory Theatre
Helllooooo everyone, welcome back.
I am currently sitting outside writing this because it is so dang nice outside. I have views of an anonymous mountain range and the sun is setting just atop of them. I am so happy the weather is warming up and the birds are chirping! Life is awesome, ain't it? This week I completed 5 auditions, did some networking, updated my site, went to work, breathed. I am so blessed. Anywho, I better finish this before it gets dark out...
What is the American Conservatory Theater?
The American Conservatory Theater (also known as ACT) is an amazing Tony Award-winning institution in San Francisco, California. It is right off the peninsula and about a minute walk from the third BART stop entering the city. They offer a few rigorous training programs such as their MFA (Master of Fine Arts) program, the San Francisco Semester, and the STC (Summer Training Congress), and the Young Conservatory.
The American Conservatory Theatre is home to alumni: Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Elizabeth Banks, Danny Glover, Milo Ventimiglia, Anika Noni Rose, Winona Ryder, Brie Larson, Chris Pine, and more. The average acceptance rate is around 3%, it is ranked as the third best MFA acting program in the country. It is known for its beautiful theater, amazing productions, and difficult training programs.
I was 18 when I attended and trained in their Summer Training Congress. Even though the minimum acceptance age was 19... but shhh we'll keep our lips shut.
How to Get In
To get into the Summer Training Congress, you must go through a submission process months beforehand where you submit a resume, a headshot, a few essays, college transcripts, (Thank God I did one semester in university), and letters of recommendation. To top it off you must attend an in-person audition with the head of the program. Only about 48 people are accepted and people attend from all around the world.
Once You're In
Once you have been accepted into the STC, they then evaluate your audition and place you in a group of your caliber. There are four groups. Black, Red, Blue, and Green. (If I remember correctly). With this group you will train 9 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 5 weeks. You will have classes with no other groups or participate in activities with any other groups. Your group becomes your team, and you become a family. At the end of training you will perform amongst your fellow groups and ACT faculty a play that you have rehearsed with your lead Acting teacher for 5 weeks.
Was it awesome? Or was it awesome?
It was awesome. I was placed into the Black group with amazing artists from around the country ranging from 40 years old, to the youngest, me, 18. We took all our classes together and ate almost every meal together. We become the ultimate family. We cried, we bled, we ran (literally), we screamed, and we sang together. We became a synchronized unit (literally). We learned each others weaknesses and our strengths, holding one another up to become the ultimate ensemble.
It pushed us to our limits.
There is this saying that in a conservatory, as an artist, you are broken. There is a breaking point. This is where everything you once knew about your craft has been broken out of you. You no longer know how to do your craft, you feel lost, you cry (a lot), and you are metaphorically beaten to exhaustion. In most conservatories, this happens at the 7-week mark. STC was a short and rigorous program, so we hit that breaking point at 2-weeks. None of us got sleep, none of us really ate, all we did was act. And when we weren't acting, we were talking about acting.
We learned how to listen to one another and truly see each other. We were nothing but truthful to one another in our judgements and in our performance. We became such a family that after class we often went all out to grab dinner after heading off to our respective homes.
What My Days Looked Like
We had different classes depending on the day. We had four classes per day at two-hours per class, with 30 minutes of a lunch break, and time in between to navigate to our studio classrooms.
I woke up at 5:00am, got ready for the day, usually in all black flexible clothing (welcome to Drama school) with a backpack full of plays, homework assignments, props, and more plays.
I walked two miles to the closest BART station.
I got on the BART right at rush hour and often got no seat, so I stood for the entire ride, and often slept standing up. It took about an hour to get into San Francisco on the BART.
I arrived around 8:30, walked to Walgreens to grab a snack, then walked onto "campus". I headed to my first class of the day, which was oftentimes, Voice, and sat on the studio floor with my other early classmates stretching our bodies, doing yoga, and preparing our body and voice for the day to come.
Christine Adaire lead the Black group in voice doing Linklater voice work. I was so exhausted from standing, walking, reading plays all night, and not getting any sleep, that I often fell asleep during voicework. Her class required that we rid ourselves of our inhibitions and listen to our bodies, as well as listening and taking in our classmates.
After this class, we went to Movement. Mark Jackson lead us in Movement doing Viewpoints. Viewpoints is a style, or a teaching I guess I could say, that taught us how to listen to our instincts, to listen to the room, and disengage our brain from our body. From this class we became genuinely in sync as an ensemble. His classes often included a whole lot of barefoot running, sometimes for 40 minutes straight. This class was not only physically exhausting but mentally, as we had to maintain certain positions for extended periods of times and work together as a team, simply by listening to our bodies.
We then went to lunch, and maybe tried taking a nap.
After lunch, we had improv. Improv was the best class. Kimberly McLean taught us improv and she was so fun. She pumped energy back into us. She had bright blue hair and a killer smile, all she ever wanted to do was have fun. She built this whole new outlook on improv, and taught me so much about making mistakes and making them bold.
After improv, we had acting, where we rehearsed our final production for two hours. We bent our rules and our knowledge of acting, implementing new techniques.
After this, I boarded the BART once again in rush hour, took the hour train ride home, walked home for an hour, and then landed on my bed, usually falling asleep reading plays.
ACT curated so many lifelong friendships and years of knowledge within the weeks. I was broken and rebuilt as an artist. I was so blessed with my amazing teachers and lovely friends who taught me so much about life and our craft. Although it caused almost permanent exhaustion, I was blessed with so much love, care, and guidance. If you ever get the chance to go to ACT as an artist, GO! But definitely get in shape before you go cause, gosh darn. Love what you do, and don't do anything else.