Photos by Craig Schwartz and Chris Shinn.
By LYNNE HEFFLE Y
The MFA Acting program was one of three new graduate degrees inaugurated under the leadership of Madeline Puzo, dean of the USC School of Dramatic Arts from 2002 to 2015. Puzo brought award-winning stage and screen actor/director Robinson on board in 2004 to create and direct the program, which launched in Fall 2006. Among the theatre professionals and educators with whom Robinson consulted was a core group of other notable USC faculty: Bridel and Ohama, former Royal Shakespeare Company actor Charlotte Cornwell, and veteran stage and film actor David Warshofsky, who serves as the current director of the program. (All but Cornwell continue to teach at the School.) Robinson drew, too, on his own classical conservatory training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and on his involvement in the 1960s with the formation of experimental theatre group La MaMa Plexus, which incorporated the “rather extraordinary physical training techniques,” created by theatre innovators Jerzy Grotowski and Eugenio Barba. The MFA Acting curriculum, while training actors to acquire the tools to be
viable in today’s multiple areas of potential employment, would “unify those two strands of training: the conservatory and the experimental physical,” Robinson determines. The third year of the program, would encompass a threeplay repertory, something “as rare as the griffin,” in actor training programs. With limited opportunities for apprenticeships at a dwindling number of resident repertory theatres across the country, “very few young actors ever get a chance to do this kind of rep situation,” he says. “It’s such a great, great tool for us in terms of how they have to culminate the work that they’ve been doing in a very practical and very demanding way.” Meanwhile, the program’s close-knit core faculty meets regularly, Robinson noted, “to talk about what we perceive as what’s needed, what’s a problem, and what’s extraneous.” This collaborative effort in fine-tuning and advancing the program “continues to be a driving force for us creatively,” says Ohama. “Our commitment to our students is incredibly high, and we genuinely enjoy working with each other. I think that goes all the way through the program.” ❚
“I chose the USC School of Dramatic Arts
program not only for its reputation for diversity in its student population, but because of its inclusion of diversity in the curriculum, administration and teachers. When I attended the callbacks for USC, I was surrounded with students who looked liked me and even though I was walking into the unknown, I trusted that I would be guided in the hands of professionals who were open to dissecting the humanity of people of color and the importance of stressing a technique that comes from within. USC taught me how to appreciate my uniqueness and work from a place that celebrated my African history.” — Chantal Nchako,
MFA Acting Class of 2016