Regional Theater of the Week: The Acting Company in NYC
By: Anya Sebastian
BroadwayWorld.com, the largest theatre site on the Internet, is excited to announce a new feature to its comprehensive regional coverage - the Featured Regional Theater of the Week! Each week, BWW will introduce its readers to a regional theater located in one of our (over 130!) coverage cities. By exploring these different venues, their history and showcasing the production seasons, BWW continues its commitment to expand our presence in communities and cities across the United States.
The Acting Company is one of the few, remaining, classic, theater touring companies in the country. Founded in 1972 by renowned producer/director/actor, John Houseman, and the current Producing Director, Margot Harley, the New York based company has performed for more than 3 million people in 48 states.
Initially drawn from the first graduating class of Julliard’s Drama Department, the membership base has now broadened to include, primarily, graduates from NYU, Yale and the University of Delaware. The demanding task of touring, often with more than one play and stopping for only one or two nights in each place, provides young actors with a unique opportunity to develop their skills and master their craft. Notable alumni members are many and include Kevin Kline, Frances Conroy, Rainn Wilson and Patti LuPone.
But what really sets The Acting Company apart is its education outreach program. As well as putting on plays, the company also offers a number of different workshops, working with schools, colleges, Indian reservations and community centers around the country. The actors focus primarily on areas where live theater and arts education are limited, or even non-existent. “Some audiences have never even seen a play before,” says newly appointed Artistic Director, Ian Belknap.
The company’s flagship education program, Learning Through Theater, offers to bring an actor/teacher from the touring company, into the classroom, for a week before the opening of a play, to fully prepare the students for what they are going to see. The same actor/teacher goes with them to the performance, providing an opportunity for the students to share their thoughts about the production, with a professional actor.
“The response is always so positive,” says Belknap. It’s fun and an extremely gratifying part of our work.” What’s more, the program seems to have more than one, positive effect. Teachers in disadvantaged schools report improved communication and social skills, as well as a renewed interest in learning and better grades.
Other programs, separate from the tour schedule, include: Acting Classes in Shakespeare, Shakespeare for Teachers, Stage Combat and Page-to-Stage (a workshop focusing on how to transform words in a script, into a live, theatrical performance.) There is even a year-long residency program, which offers to send an actor/teacher into the English class once a week for a whole school year, to give students a different way of experiencing literature, by actively involving them in the text.
The Acting Company reaches more then 30,000 students a year, with its arts education programs and plays to audiences of over 70,000. By promoting theater and literacy and bringing classical productions to underserved communities, the company is doing valuable and much needed work. But it’s also, in the end, a win/win situation, because, as Artistic Director, Ian Belknap, rightly points out, “We’re educating future audiences and that’s essential, not only for our survival, but for the future of theater as a whole.”