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American Academy of Dramatic Arts: ‘Students from different countries, cultures and backgrounds come together here to learn’

New York Company performance of To Wong Foo

The American Academy of Dramatic Arts is one of the world’s leading drama schools, with alumni including an array of Hollywood and stage stars. It invites applications from prospective students from around the world


Few theatre institutions are as prestigious as the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Founded 134 years ago, it’s the oldest drama school in the English-speaking world, has scores of world-famous alumni, and offers unrivalled training and excellent facilities on both coasts of the US.

Its institution was down to the tireless efforts of one man – Franklin Haven Sargent, a Harvard professor, elocution expert and theatre lover, who took it upon himself to open America’s first school for acting in the late 19th century. On October 3, 1884, the Academy opened the doors of its first home, at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, for the first time, to a class of 118 students.

From those humble beginnings, the Academy has grown to become one of the world’s leading drama schools, moving to its current New York home on Madison Avenue in 1963, and opening another campus in California in 1974, which relocated from Pasadena to Los Angeles in 2000.

American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ Los Angeles campus

Along the way, it has trained and educated some of the most successful and recognisable performers in history. Its extensive list of alumni includes such illustrious names as Robert Redford, Danny DeVito, Paul Rudd, Jessica Chastain, Kirk Douglas, Adrien Brody and many, many more.

The secret to its success, says current head of acting David Sullivan, is the tried and tested method of coaching that the school has developed over its history, the emphasis it places on authenticity in performance, and its ceaseless ambition to innovate.

“Since its founding, the Academy’s approach has focused on truthfulness in acting,” says Sullivan. “Our master acting teachers have crafted a time-tested sequence of training that is unique to the Academy but incorporates the best of American techniques, including Adler, Hagen, Meisner and Strasberg.”

American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ New York campus

It’s thanks to this unique approach to coaching, and to the unmatched expertise of the coaches themselves, that the Academy’s students graduate thoroughly prepared to succeed across the performing arts. Current graduates feature in Hamilton and Frozen on Broadway, in Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, HBO’s Insecure, and in theatres across the world.

“Our faculty consists of master teachers with decades of experience and actively working professionals with MFA degrees and first-hand knowledge of the industry today, from Broadway to feature films, TV sitcoms and award-winning web series,” explains Sullivan.

The core education offered by the Academy, alongside a range of summer schools and youth projects, is a full-time, two-year conservatory programme, select graduates from which can go on to join the Academy’s prestigious third-year company. A range of scholarships and opportunities for financial assistance are available, to ensure that anyone can attend.

One graduate, the actor, writer and director Billie Aken-Tyers, says she owes her professional success to her education at the Academy.

“We were encouraged to try a wide variety of techniques and styles to curate a toolbox that was individual to us,” she remembers. “I felt that the teachers and instructors really got to know me as an individual and were able to choose work that suited and challenged me well, and I have worked consistently since graduating.”

The Academy’s two locations might be on different sides of the country, but they share the same ethos. And both offer world-class facilities and a wealth of cultural amenities on their doorsteps.

Los Angeles Company performance of Return Engagements

“The New York and Los Angeles campuses at the Academy share a challenging yet nurturing learning environment, but each reflects the character of its city,” explains Sullivan. “Located just blocks away from the heart of Broadway, Academy NY is housed in two tall buildings on bustling Madison Avenue, which feature acting and camera studios, three theatres, and production and media facilities.”

“Academy LA is located just off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood on the former Charlie Chaplin studio lot and across the street from the Jim Henson Company Studios,” he continues. “Its campus, featuring plenty of outdoor space, is a city block of acting and camera studios, rehearsal rooms as well as production, media, and theatre spaces.”

Aken-Tyers studied at the academy’s New York campus, and fondly remembers her time there.

“It is inherently a special place,” she says. “A building with such heritage has innate soul, and to be learning your craft in such a beautiful building is a blessing. I believe that what makes the Academy special is the same thing that makes New York special – students from different countries, different cultures and different backgrounds coming together to learn.”

“I have encountered many academy alums in my career, and I am always impressed by their skill, specificity, professionalism and their respect for the art form,” she continues.

The Academy casts its net wide in search of the next generation of performers. Auditions are held across the globe at multiple dates throughout the year. In London, they occur in February, April, June and October each year.

And what do they look for? “We seek diverse actors from around the world,” says Sullivan. “Actors with personal discipline, grit and drive, and the spark of truthfulness in performance.”

For more information on the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and how to apply, visit aada.edu

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