Theatre Kibbitz: Reflections by 4 Graduates of The Honors Acting Conservatory at The Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts

Auditions take place tomorrow – Sunday, December 11, 2011 – for Theatre Lab School of the Dramatic Arts’ The Honors Acting Conservatory  or by appointment. Applicants should prepare two monologues (at least one, and preferably both, contemporary).

Theatre Lab's Co-Founders Buzz Mauro and Deb Gottesman

I asked Theatre Lab founders Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro to tell us about The Honors Acting Conservatory:

The Honors Acting Conservatory at The Theatre Lab is currently auditioning for the class of 2012. This unique program provides MFA-style training on nights and weekends, so participants can maintain a day job rather than pulling up stakes and mortgaging their lives to attend graduate school. You don’t get a degree at the end, but you do get a full year of highly intensive training with some of Washington’s best working professional actors, and you leave fully prepared to join the world of the professional theatre.

Led by Theatre Lab Directors Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro and popular instructor Kim Schraf, the program is designed for people who are serious about their acting training and able to commit much of their evening and weekend time to it. All students pursue the same core curriculum of contemporary acting technique, movement, voice, and dialect, with even a little Shakespeare thrown in. Students also study Stanislavski straight from the horse’s mouth through a close reading of An Actor Prepares, and put their training in context with a whirlwind tour of the history of theatre, from the Greeks to the present. A wide variety of electives are also available, including classes in film and TV, musical theatre, and specialized aspects of improvisation and scene study.

Students perform throughout the year, in both showcases of class work and full productions. Each student is assigned a mentor (Deb, Buzz or Kim) and receives personal attention to his or her growth and areas of need as the year progresses.  The year culminates with a showcase for area directors and casting directors—a critical launching point for soon-to-be-graduates.  (You can catch the showcase of the 2011 class on Monday, December 12 at 7:30pm.) And, apparently, the process works.  Approximately 90% of past students have worked professionally within months of graduation, at such prestigious venues as the Shakespeare Theatre, Forum, Arena, Keegan, Olney, Ford’s, American Century, Theater J, and Classical Theatre of Harlem.

Class composition is always diverse. Typically, some students are already working professionally but want to up their game and compete for opportunities at larger venues; others are relatively new to the craft but have raw potential that the Program Directors respond to. Some are right out of college; others, empty nesters who are returning to the stage now that they have more free time. What unites all of those admitted to the program is a passion to immerse themselves in the craft.”

The Honors Acting Conservatory graduates Amal Saade, John Stange, Karin Rosnizeck, and Rob Weinzimer reflect on their experiences at The Honors Conservatory at Theatre Lab:

Joel: When did you audition for The Honors Acting Conservatory, what did you perform at your audition, and when did you find out that you were accepted into the program? When did you attend?

Amal Saade. Photo by Paul Gillis Photography.

Amal:  I auditioned for the Honors Acting Conservatory in November of 2006, and then I attended January- December, 2007. At the audition I performed a piece from Kissing Jessica Stein and Isabella from Measure for Measure. I remember Buzz asked me to do the Isabella monologue again and this time, speak to God. I was super intrigued by that direction, and a few weeks later when I had to decide between accepting my spot in the Conservatory or doing a show, I think it may have been that direction that made me pick the Conservatory. Now four years later, I’m really glad I made that decision.


John Stange. Photo by Paul Oberle.

John: It was in the Fall of 2008, right before Election Day (I remember because I was volunteering and it was a scheduling issue).  I was accepted a few weeks later, and was in the 2009 class.  What in the world did I… ah, here we go: Rob, from Anthony Minghella’s Cigarettes and Chocolate, and Malachi, from Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker.The second piece was an attempt to do something in the “not socially awkward” vein.  For contrast, from the other piece and the rest of my demeanor.  I may have used my wallet as a prop.

Karen Rosnizeck. Photo by Paul Oberle.

Karin:  I auditioned last minute when somebody dropped out and Michael Russotto mentioned the program to me in December 2009. I had phone conversations about the program with Michael, Deb and Tina Ghandchilar from class 2009 and they all were very convincing. At the audition, I performed a monologue from Lulu (Countess Geschwitz’ final words before she dies) and a piece from Hush by April de Angelis. Deb and Buzz let me know a few days after the audition and I was in for the 2010 program.

Rob Weinzimer. Photo by Paul Oberle.

Rob: I auditioned in the fall of 2007.  I performed monologues from Man of La Mancha (Don Quixote) and from Donald Marguilies’ The Model Apartment (Max).  I was thrilled to get a voice mail from Buzz some time after the audition inviting me to join the program. I listened to it over and over and over again for several days.  I was in the Class of 2008.

How has what you learned at The Honors Acting Conservatory helped you in your career on and off the stage?

Amal: I learned a ton in program, more than I can put down in words, but I think what really stands out to me is that I learned to “just do it.” And no, the Conservatory isn’t sponsored by Nike; it’s just that Deb, Buzz, and Kim really push the Honors students to just jump in and go after what it is you really want on stage. What do I want from my scene partner, and what is in my way? Focusing on the other person on stage, instead of all that other mumbo-jumbo (how I do I make myself feel this or that, or how do I play this “type of character,” etc, etc) just gives you so much freedom on stage and allows you to just trust your instincts and go for it – and what better life lesson is there than that?

John: Everything?  It was a firehose of life wisdom as well as acting wisdom.  One could easily write a book.  The Theatre Lab gets some of the smartest theatre artists in town to come teach.

How about the one I’ve had the most trouble mastering: Be wherever you are right now. I’ve heard a dozen acting teachers put it a dozen ways, and it’s the single most important (and hardest) thing for me.

(colloquially: “Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a Q-tip”)

What else…?  Don’t limit yourself. You’re capable of a lot more than you
think you are, as long as you’re willing to work hard and give of yourself with reckless abandon. The logic behind my monologue selection up there is kind of laughable nowadays – I’m landing romantic leads, Shakespearean kings, hardened terrorists, and other alpha-male roles that seemed completely foreign to me before the Honors Acting Conservatory.

Karin: I became more confident, more independent and can always rely on a set of tools the program provided. I also learned to accept imperfection, messiness, insecurity and struggle as positive for the creative process. I also know that everyone has a different process and know how to tackle my weaknesses better. I learned and am still learning – particularly in my case – that “less is more”, and to get away from the pressure “to perform”. I also learned to distrust the concept of progress. Learning a skill, particularly in the arts is not a linear process, (more like a snowball) or something always evolving, changing its form, sometimes more active and intense, sometimes less.

Off the stage – keep networking, taking classes, accept and even cherish times when not “on stage” and keep working on scripts, monologues, audition preps and sharing ideas with fellow theater makers.

Rob: The answer to this question is too long to put in your article. Suffice it to say that I owe everything to Theatre Lab. The Honors Acting Conservatory program gave me the skills and the confidence to pursue my dream of acting in professional theater. For the past few months, I’ve had the great thrill of working alongside a great cast of actors

in the Keegan Theatre Company’s production of The Crucible.  I even got to tour with them in Ireland as part of their annual “road tour”- taking one of their plays to various venues in Ireland.  (the attached photo is me as Frances Nurse). I will be forever grateful to my teachers and fellow students for their encouragement and talent and passion in guiding me in my education as an actor.

What are your fondest memories of attending/performing in The Honors Acting Conservatory and Theatre Lab?

Amal: One memory that jumps out to me is Kim telling me in scene study class that she thought my character in this particular moved and acted like a cat. I realized at that moment how many different “points of entry” there are into a character. And that’s what’s really neat about having three directors of the program – if the direction that one of them giving isn’t resonating with you at that particular moment, chances are, the direction of another one will.

I also have so many fond memories of time spent with the other nine students in my class. I have never felt so bonded with a group of fellow students and felt that true sense of “ensemble.” That is a testament to Deb, Buzz, and Kim, and the program itself because the atmosphere they create is one of collaboration and solidarity, as opposed to competitiveness and one-upmanship. Each member of the conservatory is regarded as an artist with special skills and attributes that are unique to him or her alone.

John: Every time someone had a light-bulb moment, or showed something they’d never shared before. Our class tended to get emotionally involved in each others’
work, so when someone had a breakthrough I always found it affecting. I got to play Jerry in The Zoo Story for my final project.  That one still gives me the shakes. Amazing role.

Karin: I felt particularly proud performing my final project The Breath of Life (abridged version) by David Hare which I did with fellow student Harlie Sponaugle. We were really working hard and had Jenny McConnell Frederick as an excellent project advisor. I felt a lot of things I heard and learned in the Conservatory clicked while doing this piece, and felt that I was using them!

Another one is a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire where I freaked out before going on and was able to use my anger instead of having it use me.

I also fondly remember the team spirit of the class, especially towards the end when we were helping each other produce our final projects.

Rob: I loved so many things about my Honors Acting Conservatory year. The
teachers were so , so great, but best of all was getting to work along side 9 really dedicated and talented students in the program. I learned a lot from the faculty but I think I learned the most just from watching my fellow students work and having the opportunity to work with them. I especially loved the scene work we did throughout
the year. It was so much fun and so educational to get to work on scenes with so many of my classmates. I will forever be indebted to Jenlene Nowak, my talented and generous scene partner with whom I worked on the one-act play that was the culminating excercise of the Honors Program.
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Read Alex Murphy’s report on The Theatre Lab’s Cabaret Benefit.