There is no exact formula that creates a potential Oscar contender. Backgrounds are as varied as actors — however, at the core of every major thesp’s career is some kind of training: Meryl Streep is a Yalie, Annette Bening trained at San Francisco State U., Forest Whitaker graduated from USC, while Peter O’Toole and Maggie Gyllenhaal studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
The options for an actor’s education seem endless. A foundation can be laid at leading drama schools including Juilliard, Yale, Boston U. and NYU. Professional training studios like Stella Adler, the Actors Center and the Actors Studio allow thesps to hone their skills. Master teachers such as Joanne Linville, Ron Van Lieu and Arthur Mendoza are available in both settings.
“Carefully study all of the acting programs to identify the ones that will challenge you,” advises Van Lieu, chair of Yale School of Drama and teacher at Gotham’s the Actors Center. “If you want to establish a long-standing career, then an investment of three years out of your life is a small one.”
At the Actors Center, Van Lieu’s classes attract working thesps and major names. Currently, Van Lieu is teaching character creation using Tennessee Williams’ plays. Included in the class roster are Oscar winner Dianne Wiest and Randy Harrison of “Queer as Folk.”
The traditional drama programs that continue to succeed do so because they acknowledge the need to teach more than just acting. Yale has nine programs within the School of Drama, as actors interact with all other disciplines and therefore gain a realistic picture of the actor’s working world.
Tisch School of Arts at NYU broadened its curriculum to ready actors for the business of acting: resumes, auditions, and interviews. Additionally, schools like NYU and New York’s Pace U. have forged ties with the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and the Actors Studio, respectively, enabling students to earn university credits while training at the professional studios.
Tom Oppenheim, artistic director at Stella Adler, has solicited the help of veteran teacher Joanne Linville to revive the Stella Adler Conservatory in L.A., allowing both coasts to once again be served by Adler’s mission: “Growth as an actor and growth as a human being are synonymous.”
No matter which path an actor chooses, dedication and constant attention to their field are the underlying themes leading to a successful career.
“Any actor benefits from an awareness that allows them to ask the question: How do I put myself in a position to do a better job the next time?” says James Bundy, dean of Yale School of Drama. “I don’t think a person has to come to a conservatory to become a better actor, but the best actors are devoted to acquiring the highest level of mastery that they are able.”