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BWW Exclusive: Advancing Young Directors with NTI

In order to best showcase the student's perspective and share what it means to spend 14 weeks "studying away", Risk Again! asked alum Emma Miller (NTI-AD Spring '14, pictured below) to write a letter to a prospective student sharing the impact NTI's Advanced Directing program had on her.

BWW Exclusive: Advancing Young Directors with NTI
NTI Spring 2014 Advanced Directors Laura Detwiler, Ken Phillips and Emma Miller
during an observership of THE SHAPE SHE MAKES
by Jonathan Bernstein and Susan Misner (pictured) at A.R.T.

NTI-ADs learn about all facets of theater with the specific intent of preparing him/her to excel as a director. Studying with master teachers helps students understand the history of directing as well as challenges them to dream about the future of the craft. Skills are acquired through observerships, special theater trips, and two weeks studying abroad in London. With weekly opportunities to direct, this program strengthens a passion for directing, expands artistic boundaries, and emphasizes collaboration. It teaches emerging directors how to think about the big picture and how to convey that vision to an audience.

In Emma's words:

"Dear Prospective NTI Advanced Director,

I am so excited you're thinking about spending a semester as an Advanced Director at the O'Neill. I already know you are brave and passionate, since you are drawn to a program as rigorous and grueling as NTI. Should you choose NTI, your 14 weeks as an AD will be some of the most challenging, transformative, educational, and creative of your life.

I found NTI's Advanced Directing semester after thinking I was certainly going to study abroad in a foreign country. A wise professor and mentor challenged me to think about what I really wanted to get out of my time off-campus, and to consider where I was most likely to receive an experience and an education that would push me and help me grow during my time away from school. Then, an NTI alum told me she chose NTI because she realized most people go to another country to be immersed in their culture, while at NTI she felt she could immerse herself in the culture she would spend the rest of her life in: the world of theater. I spent some time weighing the decision, talked to alums and NTI faculty, and ultimately realized that as an Advanced Director I would receive training and experiences unlike anything I would be able to receive anywhere else.

I am a stronger, more confident, more versatile, and better equipped director because of my time at NTI's Advanced Directing Semester. I am a better collaborator, a stronger leader, a more passionate creator, and a deeper thinker because of the hands-on, deeply engaged training I received from some of the industry's most valuable and remarkable professionals. Because of NTI, I know that I can and will pursue directing, but also that I will make writing and teaching part of my life.

NTI-Advanced Directing is not easy, but it is remarkably worthwhile. You earn, through hard work, perseverance, commitment, and dedication, a position in your ensemble that allows you to receive the very best training an aspiring director can: practical experience in the perfect laboratory. NTI carves out a space for you in which you are free to risk, safe to fail, and expected to push the envelope. It provides the environment you dream of all year long at school: a place where every day is a new experiment, where you can test your visions, shape your identity, and receive guidance and feedback from artists and peers you respect and admire.

As an AD, you have the unique and coveted opportunity to spend time observing in a professional rehearsal room. My semester, we were beyond fortunate to be able to sit in on rehearsals for Jonathan Bernstein and Susan Misner's THE SHAPE SHE MAKES at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Boston. During the observership, it became clear that NTI opens so many doors. We were welcomed graciously by the cast, crew, and creative team and asked to do far more than just "observe." NTI knows that the best way to learn about the craft-besides doing of course-is to watch and interact some of the finest as they work. I came away from my time in Boston with a refreshed understanding of why directing matters to me...and an entire notebook full of lessons, observations, and notes.

The opportunity to direct six theater labs and to work with and learn from seven guest directors is unparalleled. There is no other program that gives directing students the chance to speak with, work with, eat with, and learn with leading directors and artistic directors from all around the country. Each week, you are privileged to be introduced to a new guest director, who brings his or her own set of artistic values and a unique aesthetic and taste. One of the most influential aspects of the directing training is the chance to "try on" each of the guest director's styles while you shape, find, and hone your own approach.

At NTI you are trusted. Trusted to make the most of your short and valuable and challenging time at the O'Neill. Trusted to collaborate, inspire, lean on, listen to, care for, grow with, push, respect, challenge, teach, and support one another. To become an ensemble. To eat, sleep, and breathe theater. To create. To dig in and not stop. At NTI, creativity is demanded and risk-taking is the norm. At NTI-and particularly as an AD-the expectations are high and the possibilities are endless.

Whether it be during Playwrights Week or Company Project, during a lab or a late-night conversation over coffee, doing laundry, or walking on the beach, up at 6am finishing your design homework, or in a handstand in Droznin, you will receive training that will transform your sense of self and outlook on theater. You won't realize it as it's happening, but every morning when you stand in front of the mirrors in the Dina Merrill Theater for Tai Chi or yoga, you will see a person who is evolving before your very eyes, becoming more of an artist and creator with every passing second.

Being an AD is not exclusive. During your 14 weeks, you are not just a director, but a writer, a designer, a dancer, a yogi, a fight choreographer, a scene partner, a producer, a lighting technician, a set decorator, a singer, a musician. You are a student and a teacher, a director and an actor, a collaborator and a critic.

I left my semester as an AD with many things for which I am unbelievably grateful: a network of individuals (teachers, peers, interns, O'Neill staff, and more) who I am proud and honored to call mentors, future collaborators, and lifelong friends; a stronger sense of who I am and who I am hoping to be (both theatrically and as a human as well as an understanding that those two worlds are not so separate!); a renewed faith in the power and importance and value of strong storytelling; a refreshed, renewed, and reinvigorated sense of why I want to direct and what it means to me to be a director; and a firm belief that the next generation of theater artists (in which I now believe I have a place) is going to shake things up in unforeseeably remarkable ways. I left NTI with the tools to make theater anywhere in any amount of time, an understanding of all that can be accomplished in a half an hour (believe me, it's more than you think), and a renewed sense of why this art matters.

NTI was the perfect and most challenging compliment to my liberal arts education-it grabbed me and shook me up a little, forced me not to just to step out of the box and beyond my comfort zone, but to forget the box and the concept of comfort entirely. It taught me to get out of my head and up onto my feet, to live in my body and not just my mind, and to push myself and those around me. It reminded me that students can sometimes make the very best teachers, to ask for more from myself and from those around me, and to work harder than I ever believed I could.

Because of NTI-Advanced Directing, I am not only a more confident, compassionate, and capable director, but also a more confident, compassionate, and capable human being. NTI stretched me in ways I never even knew I could be stretched, challenged me in ways I never knew I could be challenged, and nurtured me in ways I never knew I could be nurtured. NTI eliminated all of the things that get in the way, the daily distractions, so that I could find out what was really in my way and face it head on. It reminded me, by opening me up to millions of new ways of thinking and being, that my voice is valuable and that there is room for me and the kind of theater that I care about in the world. It taught me how to look at the people and the world around me more deeply, to hear more acutely, to challenge myself to go past my first impressions, and to look for the "juice" in every single second.

At NTI, you make theater out of ocean air, plays out of newspaper clippings, and magic out of nothing. Grateful isn't a big enough word to describe how I feel about my time at the National Theater Institute. Actually, there is no word big enough to encapsulate the love, energy, spirit, hard work, heart, passion, creativity, dedication, commitment, collaboration, growth, drive, and artistry that seeps through the walls during a semester at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center."

Excitingly, the O'Neill has just announced complementary opportunity for early-career directors, the National Directors Fellowship. A five-year joint initiative in partnership with the Kennedy Center, National New Play Network, and Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation, NDF fast-tracks the professional experience of 25 emerging stage directors and propels the advancement of new plays. The program connects emerging directors to a vast network of new writers, expands access to professional support services, and provides laboratory-like environments for observation and experimentation, equipping tomorrow's stage directors with the skills, knowledge, and network to advance new play development and production around the country. The decades-long success of the National Theater Institute and NTI-Advanced Directing semester paired with the new National Directors Fellowship has firmly established the O'Neill as the premier launchpad for those who will shape the storytelling on our stages for generations to come.

Next week: Q&A with Matt Newton (NTI '97) as he shares his NTI memories, what it's like returning as a faculty member, and advice for young actors. Matt is the founder of MN Acting Studio NYC and currently the on-set acting coach for Season 5 of the hit CBS show "Blue Bloods." As well as teaching "Business of the Business" for NTI, he is a contributor to Backstage and the author of the book "10 Steps to Breaking Into Acting."

To learn more and apply, visit and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@NTIRiskFailRisk). The application deadline for fall 2015 semester is March 20. Early applications are encouraged.

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