Acting program prepares to graduate first students

Hayley Odom

Leah Curney spends a large chunk of her time packing her whole life into a backpack each morning. In it, she compresses acting props, homework assignments and clothing necessary for her classes.

And for the first time in four years, she said she is looking forward to not carrying that extra 50 pounds on her back each day.

Curney and 14 others are the first to graduate from the University’s actor training program. Four years ago, they started in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, which is intertwined with training through the Guthrie Theater.

“It’s a truly singular experience,” Curney said. “No one else is going to have the experience of being the first class to graduate in a program like this.”

While approximately 500 applicants audition annually, the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance only accepts 20 students each fall for the program.

Fifteen of the original 20 are graduating this spring and summer. The other students either transferred to other programs or schools, or left the program.

Students in the actor-training program forgo the typical college life associated with socializing and extracurricular activities, because their schedules allow for little free time.

“You’re not a regular college student,” Curney said. “You don’t go to football games and things like that. It’s a very individual thing.”

Curney said her typical day consisted of going to morning classes until noon, attending movement and voice classes in the afternoon until after 5 p.m. and rehearsing for a show until 10:30 p.m., which left little time for anything else.

She said she chose the program because of the balance of intense acting training with a liberal arts education.

“I had friends that had gone to conservatories and were burned out and friends who had gone to liberal arts schools who weren’t being challenged. I wanted something in-between,” she said.

That in-between draw is exactly what sets this program apart from others around the nation.

“We want students interested in learning,” said Judy Bartl, program director of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

Bartl said these students take all the liberal education requirements – the same as the Bachelor of Arts -as well as the Bachelor of Fine Arts core actor-training work.

“They really have to want to be here. It’s a really intense program,” she said.

That intenseness almost drove senior Jeremey Catterton away from the program.

After his semester abroad in London – which all students in the program do during the fall of their junior year – he wanted to quit acting because of his interest in other subjects such as poetry and visual arts, which he did not have time to take classes in.

“The curiosity was killing me, but I stuck it through anyway and now I know I can do damn near anything,” he said.

Now that he is graduating, Catterton said, he plans to take a visual art multimedia internship in New York, if he can afford it with the loans he has out.

“I got accepted to this really prestigious (internship) with no background in it, so this has really prepared me to do anything I set my mind to,” he said.

Bartl said a good percentage of the graduating students are working in Shakespeare festivals this summer or have shows lined up at the Guthrie Theater.

“They’ve spent every Monday night at the Guthrie Theater, talking to artists and hearing what it’s like out there,” she said. “They’ll figure out how to survive; they have a lot of tools to work with.”

The program’s partnership with the Guthrie is another feature that sets it apart from other programs.

Jennifer LeGrand, the Guthrie’s company development assistant, called the partnership a fantastic success and said the students have also inspired the Guthrie artists with their commitment and passion.

“The outlook for these 15 individuals is very bright. There’s no limit to what they can do,” she said.

The students said they feel the same way about one another.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we could all be famous some day,” Catterton said.