A.R.T. Offers J-Term Theater Training

This J-term, Harvard students will be scattered across the globe—traveling, working, catching up on seasons of TV shows, or otherwise taking a much-needed hiatus from the feverish pace of campus life. Among those who are choosing to remain in Cambridge, however, are 20 undergraduates who will be taking part in a unique opportunity: the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) Institute’s January Undergraduate Theater Training Intensive. This program, taking place between January 5 and January 24, will take advantage of the intersession period to immerse students in graduate-level theater training.

The Intensive emerged as a collaboration between the Office for the Arts (OFA), the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) and the A.R.T. Institute, the graduate-level educational program offered by the A.R.T. The Intensive will offer a wide range of classes, workshops, and discussions intended to introduce students to the kind of training provided by graduate school programs. Alongside the class component of the program, some of the undergraduates participating in the January Intensive will also be involved in the A.R.T. Institute’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “Stairs to the Roof.”

“The program is absolutely unique,” says Matthew C. Stone ’11, assistant director of “Stairs to the Roof.” “These are all teachers that you would find at the A.R.T. Institute and even more people that they are bringing in from outside. It’s the highest level of acting training that you could possibly find at Harvard.”

Teachers involved in the program include Scott Zigler, the director of the A.R.T. Institute, Diane Paulus, the A.R.T.’s artistic director, Jim True-Frost of “The Wire,” and Anatoly Smeliansky, the Dean of the Moscow Art Theatre School, among others. The classes explore various elements of the acting experience, including voice and speech training, character work, Shakespearean scenes, theater history, and even a class on yoga for actors. A seminar involving the business side of acting is also included, touching on topics such as agents and casting directors, the differences between working in New York and Los Angeles, and the pros and cons of MFA programs.

“I thought what we were missing [at Harvard] was preparing for life as an actor and figuring out how you go about the business of acting and graduate school,” says Beth G. Shields ’10, president of the HRDC. “This program is a taste of what you would get in graduate school, so you know if it’s right for you.”


Although many of the program’s classes are intended to guide students who aspire to careers in acting, the Intensive also has wider appeal for individuals interested in directing or working behind the camera, as well as those who simply harbor a passion for theater.

“[The Intensive] is geared for people who care deeply about drama—about the art form—not as detached scholarship, but as practitioners,” says OFA director Jack C. Megan.

Over the course of the three-week program, classes are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with rehearsals for “Stairs to the Roof” running from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Following this demanding schedule, the participating students are able to delve into the many facets of theater training offered by the Intensive.

With the sacrifice of College-sponsored J-term programming due to budget cuts, the Intensive’s use of the period to provide practical training not possible during the normal academic year is particularly significant.

“One of the beauties of the program is that, for a very brief period of time, students can really commit themselves to this in a very full way without compromising themselves academically,” says Megan. “It is a focused period of time during which they get to work on a variety of disciplines and ideas related to theater practice, and they get to do this in a very concentrated way, without interruption.”

The program’s impressive scope was largely made possible by an effective synergy between three arts-related organizations in the Harvard community. “I was really amazed by the way the A.R.T., the OFA, and the HRDC brought this all together so early on in the formation of a J-term,” Stone says. While the A.R.T. Institute brought in the instructors and curriculum for classes, the OFA handled logistics such as obtaining campus housing for the participants, and the HRDC facilitated the program’s involvement of undergraduates. All three organizations cooperated and exchanged ideas on the direction of the final program.

The Intensive’s focus on providing high quality training for undergraduates demonstrates the potential uses to which J-term could be put in the future. “I’m incredibly happy to have this opportunity and be a part of this given the fact that most J-term programs really aren’t under way yet,” says Stone. “It’s a great opportunity and I think it’s something that’s going to evolve into something really awesome over the years.”