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A Surprising Discovery

James Lipton discusses how the Actors Studio Master's Degree program came to be

Those of you who have taken the time and trouble to visit my blog in the past (for which my sincerest thanks) know that spring is my favorite time of the year – for many reasons, one of which I’ve never shared with you before. It’s simply this: Spring marks the time of year when our Actors Studio Drama School students, who comprise the eager audience you see on Inside the Actors Studio, complete three years of intense and exhilarating study at Pace University and embark with their Master’s Degrees in Acting or Directing or Playwriting – and before they do, they present their theses on our Drama School stage in the only Repertory Season of its kind in the American university system – and for that matter on any stage in the city of New York. A large claim, but I can substantiate it.

In 1994, when I came up with the idea of creating for the first time in the then 47-year history of the famed Actors Studio a degree-granting Master of Fine Arts program, the Studio asked me to lead a committee of legendary Studio members in the structuring of the first school to bear the Studio’s name – and carry its banner to a new generation. I’ve described this chapter in the school’s history in a previous blog, so I’ll confine myself here to the point with which I began this reflection.

During the year in which we forged the school’s curriculum, the central pillar that emerged with an inexorable logic that surprised and encouraged us was the concept of a full-blown, full-blooded, fully-produced Repertory Season in which the students would unite to present their Master’s Degree theses not on paper or in the classroom, but where theatrical works belong: on the stage, in a season of original plays written by the graduating class’s playwrights, directed by its directors and acted by its actors, all of it offered free to the university, to our professional colleagues in search of new and exciting talent, and to the residents of the Lower Manhattan community in which Pace makes its home.

We reasoned that since, uniquely among America’s drama schools, our actors, writers and directors spend three years side-by-side, acquiring the world-famous “common language” conceived by Constantin Stanislavski to inform the work of all three disciplines – writing, directing and acting – and espoused and honed by the Actors Studio, what could be more logical than concluding our students’ time with us in a repertory season that combined their talents and newly acquired skills in a program of original and traditional works.

That was it, in a nutshell: an exciting Repertory Company of gifted young people, chosen by us for their talent, and trained by a faculty of life-members of the Actors Studio to carry on the Studio’s tradition for the public. For you. Want to share this experience? If you’re in New York between March 24 and May 1, you can acquire free tickets to the Repertory Season, which offers a brand new program of theatrical works each week, at www.pace.edu/ASDSRep.

I commend this theatrical experience to you without hesitation – and with what I hope is understandable bias and pride. Two weeks ago, as I was driving home from the Rep Season’s opening night with my wife, to whom I’d turned sixteen years ago when I first asked the question, “What if we created a Master’s Degree program at the Studio?” we reflected on the fact that if the question hadn’t occurred to me, and I hadn’t set out to answer it, none of the students we’d watched with such pleasure and pride would have been on that stage tonight, because the Repertory Season – and the school – and, for that matter Inside the Actors Studio, which was born as, and still is, a class in the school’s program – wouldn’t have existed.

Which led to a moment’s silence and another observation. “Funny,” I said to Kedakai. “When I’m asked, I always say I don’t have any children, but maybe…”

“…you’ve got hundreds,” Kedakai said, and smiled. All around us New York glittered as only it can on a fine spring night. It has never looked lovelier.