The Flint Journal: “University of Michigan Flint playwright talks Actors Studio, new play”

“(Writing plays) really just utilizes my strengths. I had a good ear for dialogue, and for me, it’s just a matter of being able to tell a story through characterizations. Even though I can do short stories or novels, I seem to be more at home when the characters are more engaged in the situation,” Sean Welch explains. “For me, it’s pretty exciting to see a couple of actors go up there and say the words I’ve written, in the moment. I don’t think there’s anything really like that.”

From The Flint Journal, by William E. Ketchum III

FLINT, MI—These days, Flint native Sean Michael Welch is living in New York, writing plays and earning his masters of fine arts (MFA) at Pace University’s prestigious Actors Studio-sanctioned drama school. His new play, “All An Act,” debuts during week five of the university’s Repertory Season, where Welch’s fellow graduating students will present other plays and scenes.

But before he was studying and working with the country’s elite, the Grand Blanc High School Graduate first explored his skills at University of Michigan Flint. He had grown an affinity for penning short stories in previous years, but after taking an acting class, he saw that writing plays was an experience that made even more sense.

“(Writing plays) really just utilizes my strengths. I had a good ear for dialogue, and for me, it’s just a matter of being able to tell a story through characterizations. Even though I can do short stories or novels, I seem to be more at home when the characters are more engaged in the situation,” Welch explains. “For me, it’s pretty exciting to see a couple of actors go up there and say the words I’ve written, in the moment. I don’t think there’s anything really like that.”

He cites U-M Flint professors Carolyn Gillespie and Professor Lauren Friesen as his primary support at U-M Flint, giving productive feedback and introducing him to other playwrights he would admire. Before graduating in 2000, he snatched up the 1999 Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival (KC/ACTF) John Cauble Short Play Award for “Earl the Vampire,” and the 2000 KC/ACTF Region III Ten-Minute Play Competition for “Charleston’s Finger.” The former, which he considers his first complete play, was about a vampire who begins a political movement to bring minority status to vampires in America. In “Charleston’s Finger,” a family has a dinner table discussion about how their son’s finger fell into his soup.

Welch moved to New York City afterward, and worked a regular job for eight years while writing nightly. He finally decided to attend grad school, and he was accepted into Pace University’s drama school sanctioned by The Actors Studio, a decades-old performers organization that, according to its web site, boasts award-winning actors Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel, and Ellen Burstyn as co-presidents. After head playwright Edward Allan Baker explained the benefits of the school, Welch loved the aspect of students engaging in acting classes.

“I always considered (acting classes) a bonus, as I still enjoy acting and still wanted to act,” Welch said. He lists the curriculum, being surrounded by other talent, and feedback from Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham as high points of the experience. “It hit on all points, and it allowed me to do what I was supposed to be doing and what I wanted to do.”

As his graduation nears, this month he participates in the school’s Repertory Season to premier his play “All An Act,” which is about two clowns who have to talk out a drunken night of debauchery to preserve their professional relationship and long-term friendship. After its debut, Welch plans and the play’s crew plan to set their sights on collecting donations to participate in the Edinnburgh French Festival in August.

“I think we’re in a very good place. I have an excellent director and two fine, very skilled actors who…have actually studied clowning, whether while in school or in their own time during the summer months,” Welch says. “I’m anxious to see what an audience makes of it. I think all the work they’ve put into it is worth viewing.”

Downtown Express: “Pace’s Actors Studio stages its annual repertory season”

One of the interesting things about the repertory season is the opportunity to watch the actors and directors work on several plays and scenes. Week Three (April 11 – 14) brings scenes from “Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks, “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson and “Raised in Captivity” by Nicky Silver. The 24-hour reservation line is: (212) 501-2099 and email is ASDSRep@pace.edu

From an article in the Downtown Express

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER

In a five-week repertory season, the graduating M.F.A. class of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University is once again showing what this school teaches and what the graduates have learned after three years of study. Anyone with affection for theater would likely find the Actors Studio Drama School productions interesting. Some of the acting is memorable. Sets and costuming are professional. The plays and scenes range from the familiar to the offbeat, giving each of the acting students an opportunity to show their stuff. And it’s all free, though reservations are required.

This year’s graduating class consists of 31 actors, four directors and one playwright. They range in age from their early 20s to their late 40s. Their backgrounds are diverse. Among the actors are a U.S. Navy veteran, the daughter of a Japanese martial arts master, a Junior Olympic gymnast who is also a screenwriter and novelist, a Fulbright scholar, an opera singer who has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Some have significant acting credits.

The Actors Studio Drama School program dates from 1994 when James Lipton, now Dean Emeritus, developed the curriculum with the assistance of some of the famed actors in the Actors Studio itself. Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino are still mentors to the school and appear in the repertory season program.

Lipton resigned in 2005 and Andreas Manolikakis became the chairman of the school. “This is not training for a specific style. It’s training of the instrument so that the actor will be able to do whatever he’s asked to do,” Manolikakis said.

Everyone in the program takes acting classes. Directors and playwrights have additional instruction.

“You get a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be on stage so when you ask an actor to do something, you know exactly what they’re going through,” said Chris Triebel, one of the directors in this year’s graduating class.

The annual tuition for the program is $35,320. In addition, there are living expenses. “I figure it costs about $57,000 a year to go through the program,” said Michael Crowe, who turned to acting after having spent five years in the Navy, where he worked as a chef, followed by a couple of years in business school. But, he said, “I don’t view this as an expense. I view it as an investment…I feel a better man, artist, human, from being here,” he said. “In order to be an actor, you have to be so vulnerable. It’s a really sacred, safe place here.”

One of the interesting things about the repertory season is the opportunity to watch the actors and directors work on several plays and scenes. This week brings scenes from “Topdog/Underdog” by Suzan-Lori Parks, “Brilliant Traces” by Cindy Lou Johnson and “Raised in Captivity” by Nicky Silver.

Next week includes “The Voice of the Turtle” by John Van Druten, scenes from “Orange Flower Water” by Craig Wright and a scene from “Red Light Winter” by Adam Rapp.

The repertory season concludes the following week with a scene from “Fallen Angels” by Noël Coward, a new play, “All An Act” by Sean Michael Welch, the sole playwright in this year’s graduating class and already the recipient of several important awards, and scenes from “The Producers,” with a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan and music and lyrics by Mel Brooks.

The performances take place in the theater at Dance New Amsterdam, 53 Chambers St., Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. through April 28. The full schedule and information about plays, actors, directors and playwrights is online at www.Pace.edu/ASDSRep Admission is free, but reservations must be made in advance by phone or email as seating is limited. The 24-hour reservation line is: (212) 501-2099 and email is ASDSRep@pace.edu

MEDIA EVENT ALERT, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5: Go INSIDE The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University for a FREE Master Class on The Method and The Stanislavski System

The Theater Master Class will be conducted by Andreas Manolikakis, Chair of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University and members of the MFA program’s faculty. For more information or to be considered for participation, send your resume and contact information to actorsstudiomfa@pace.edu or call 212-346-1531.

CALLING ALL ASPIRING ACTORS, DIRECTORS, PLAYWRIGHTS …

MEDIA EVENT ALERT: FREE THEATER MASTER CLASS

Saturday, November 5, 2011, 1- 4 PM

Go INSIDE The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University for a FREE Master Class on The Method and The Stanislavski System.

The Master Class will be conducted by Andreas Manolikakis, Chair of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University and members of the MFA program’s faculty.

Unique Aspects of The Actors Studio Drama School:

  • The Actors Studio Drama School is the only MFA program officially sanctioned and supervised by the legendary Actors Studio.
  • It is the only school that offers the authenticity, continuity and authority of the Stanislavski System and the Method.
  • The curriculum has been designed and supervised by the leadership of the Actors Studio, including the Presidents of the Actors Studio, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino.
  • Faculty members include major figures at the Actors Studio, many of them Moderators, Board Members and Associate Artistic Directors of the Actors Studio.
  • All students — actors, directors, playwrights — train side-by-side as actors.
  • All students participate in the Craft Seminars known to the world as the Bravo Network TV series “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted by James Lipton.
  • In Friday Workshops the MFA candidates are exposed to different elements of the theater, such as script analysis, design, stage combat, directing, and auditioning for plays, musicals, film and television.
  • All MFA dance courses are taught by the famous and prestigious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at their uptown studios.
  • All students participate in an Observership Program at the Actors Studio.
  • All MFA black-box studios for professional training are designed and equipped according to state-of-the-art standards.
  • Located at prominent and easily reached campus in downtown New York City.

Repertory Season and Industry Showcase:

  • In their final year, all Actors Studio Drama School students present their work to the professional world and the public, in a fully-produced professional Repertory Season at a theater in downtown Manhattan. 
  • In addition, after the Repertory Season, our actors present their work to representatives from the theater, film and television industries in an Industry Showcase at the Actors Studio itself in midtown Manhattan.

After Graduation:

  • All students have the privilege, for one year, of the status of Working Finalist at the Actors Studio itself, which means they are eligible to attend weekly sessions and take a Final Audition for Studio Membership, bypassing the usual Preliminary Audition. Some of these students, if they successfully pass their Final Audition, will become Lifetime Members of the Actors Studio.
  • All directing and playwriting students are invited, for at least one year, to be part of the Playwrights and Directors Workshop of the Actors Studio, a unit especially created for the continuation of the training of our directing and playwriting graduates.

Next Steps:

For more information or to be considered for participation, send your resume and contact information to actorsstudiomfa@pace.edu or call 212-346-1531. Attendees must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university or be within one semester of graduation. Admissions representatives will be available to answer your questions.

Media Contact:

Samuella Becker, sbecker2@pace.edu, 212-346-1637 or 917-734-5172

BroadwayWorld: “CHAGRIN Plays Fringe NYC” – Opens August 12 with Actors Studio Drama School MFA Grads

Recent graduates of The Actors Studio Drama School’s MFA program come together to perform “Chagrin,” a humorous and heartbreaking story of failed friendship at the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival.

Outside Inside was founded in 2011 by graduates of The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University to produce new plays written, directed, and performed according to the tenets of the influential Stanislavsky “System,” and the philosophies of the world-renowned Actors Studio

Outside Inside’s inaugural production will be Chagrin by Michael Ross Albert, debuting at the largest multi-arts festival in North America, the 15th Annual New York International Fringe Festival.

Chagrin takes place outside of a small town hospital, where four estranged friends are unexpectedly reunited. Fifteen years ago, these child geniuses rose to mega-stardom on a popular TV game show. Now, brought together by a tragic accident, they must grapple with their collective past in the place where it all began – Chagrin Falls. 

Adam Levi directs this world premiere production which stars Marco Agnolucci, Heath Carr, Suzy Kimball, and Melissa Rosenberger. Kaitlyn Samuel serves as Associate Producer/Assistant Director.

Performance schedule for Chagrin @ LaMaMa’s First Floor Theater (74A East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and Bowery): 

  • FRIDAY 8/12 @ 7:15-8:15 pm (Opening Night!)
  • SUNDAY 8/14 @ 4:15-5:15 pm
  • WEDNESDAY 8/17 @ 10:00-11:00 pm
  • THURSDAY 8/18 @ 4:00-5:00 pm
  • SATURDAY 8/20 @ NOON-1:00 pm

Omaha World-Herald: “Nebraskan to graduate from N.Y. Actors Studio”

Lincoln native Melissa Rosenberger will graduate this month from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York City.

Rosenberger’s family will travel to New York to see her repertory season performances in “Gypsy,” “Fool for Love” and “Dutchman” for her thesis.

Actress Melissa Rosenberger, 35, won a coveted place at the Actors Studio Drama School (ASDS) at Pace University in 2008.

ASDS is the only officially sanctioned master’s degree program of the Actors Studio. 

Founded in 1947, the Actors Studio has had many illustrious graduates, including fellow Nebraskan Marlon Brando. Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino are its co-presidents.

Downtown Express: “Pace’s Actors Studio stages repertory season”

The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University is in the second week of its five-week MFA repertory season during which this year’s graduating class performs plays and excerpts from plays in order to earn their degrees. This year’s graduating class has 27 members. They have interesting and diverse backgrounds. One played Young Simba in “The Lion King” on Broadway. Another is a Fulbright scholar from Ecuador. A Grammy award winner is in the class as are a woman with a chemistry degree, a former Fortune 500 banker and a musician with a Double Platinum album.

“We have all kinds of ages, all kinds of backgrounds,” said Andreas Manolikakis, chair of the Actors Studio Drama School and a board member of the Actors Studio. “And this is the beauty of it, because one learns from the other.”

The curriculum was designed by Actors Studio leaders, including Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. In weekly workshops, students learn about script analysis, design, stage combat, directing and auditioning for plays, musicals, film and television. A new workshop this year covers writing for film and television. The students take weekly dance classes at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

Shariffa Wilson (pictured in a scene from Edward Allan Baker’s play, “Face Divided”),  has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University and was planning to go to law school.  She told the Downtown Express: “Coming into this I knew the sacrifice that I would make,” she said. “I left a job where I was getting paid every two weeks and I had amazing medical coverage but I didn’t want to have any regrets. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”

NEWS RELEASE: Discover the Next Bradley Cooper! The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University Celebrates 13th Repertory Season, April 13 – May 14

Twenty-seven “rising stars” will make their professional debuts in a five-week repertory season that is open to the public beginning Wednesday, April 13, but are not total unknowns. Since the fall of 2009, they’ve been watched by viewers in 89 million homes and 125 countries around the globe as a result of the telecast of their master craft seminar, “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted on Bravo TV by the school’s Dean Emeritus James Lipton.

“ALL-STAR” MFA CANDIDATE LINE-UP:  20 ACTORS, 4 DIRECTORS, 3 PLAYWRIGHTS 

FREE THEATER PERFORMANCES, GENERAL PUBLIC INVITED

World Premieres: NIGHT GAMES, SHARP EDGES, STARFISHES

Plays, Scenes, Books by: Edward Allan Baker, Maria Irene Fornes, Michael V. Gazzo, Eugene Ionesco, LeRoi Jones, Arthur Laurents, Bryony Lavery, David Lindsay-Abaire, Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan, William Saroyan, Sam Shepard

NEW YORK, NY, April 4, 2011 – This year’s 27 Master of Fine Arts (MFA) candidates of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University includes:

  • Young Simba from Broadway’s The Lion King and the originator of the role of Jack Scott in Disney’s stage version of High School Musical
  • Reigning Miss Black USA (2010)
  • Loud Nanny in The Nanny Diaries (The Weinstein Company)
  • Musician featured on the double platinum album The Light & The Shadow, which launched hip hop into Israel’s mainstream
  • Grammy award winner, recognized for her outstanding choral and drama programs in a South Carolina high school
  • Fulbright Scholar
  • Lauded playwright – For the Winter (finalist, 35th Annual Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Contest), and Four Sons (winner, Under 20’s Playwriting Contest, Tarragon Theatre).
  • Director of Martha and Me: A Musical, which enjoyed a sell-out run at the New York International Fringe Festival
  • Winner of the State of Ohio Solo Musical Theatre Thespian Competition at age 16
  • Tri-linguist in English, French and Spanish
  • Fortune 500 banker turned actor

All are accomplished and have multiple credits on the big screen, small screen, on stage and in the wings. They have founded their own theater companies as well as performed, written and directed for others.  But they have collaborated together these last three years in New York City, united as they pursue their dream and refine their craft as actors, director or playwrights in the only Masters’ theater program endorsed by the renowned Actors Studio … two express subway stops from Broadway.

These 27 “rising stars” will make their professional debuts in a five-week repertory season that is open to the public beginning Wednesday, April 13, but are not total unknowns. Since the fall of 2009, they’ve been watched by viewers in 89 million homes and 125 countries around the globe as a result of the telecast of their master craft seminar, “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted on Bravo TV by the school’s Dean Emeritus James Lipton.

This bird’s-eye view of industry greats also comes with red carpet/Schimmel Theater stage interview privileges, allowing the students to pose questions “one-on-one” to Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe and Grammy award winners they someday hope to emulate.

One of the most frequent questions James Lipton himself has been asked these past 13 years by interviewers is “Who is the guest you want the most?”

Lipton’s answer is invariable: “Since I’m the founding dean of the Actors Studio Drama School, of which Inside the Actors Studio is a class, the night that one of our graduates has achieved so much that he or she walks out and sits down in that chair facing me will mean more to me than any moment since this journey began.”

Lipton got his wish during this past academic year, when Bradley Cooper, a graduate of the Actors Studio Drama School, Class of 2000, walked across the Schimmel Theater stage and sat in the chair opposite him and his blue cards in an episode which aired Monday, March 14, 2011. 

During his graduate school years, Lipton was Cooper’s dean; Elizabeth Kemp and Andreas Manolikakis were his teachers. Lipton, Kemp and Manolikakis are still very much part of the Actors Studio Drama School program today.  Along with Bradley’s star, theirs has risen as well with Manolikakis now Chair of the Actors Studio Drama School MFA Program and Kemp currently Director of its Acting Department.

Having Cooper return was not only an exciting experience for current MFA students, but also a powerful testament as to their future capabilities, truly taking “the world is your oyster” to heart.

In addition to Cooper, the MFA candidates have received words of wisdom from Lipton Inside the Actors Studio guests such as: Judd Apatow, Jason Bateman, Halle Berry, Jon Bon Jovi, David Bryan, James Cameron, James Carrey, Sean Combs, Danny DeVito, The Family Guy Cast, Colin Firth, James Franco, Ricky Gervais, Kate Hudson, Denis Leary, Laura Linney, Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler, Daniel Radcliffe, Diana Ross, Mickey Rourke, Richie Sambora, Charlie Sheen, Brooke Shields, Christian Slater, Hilary Swank and Tico Torres.

The 2011 Actors Studio Drama School Repertory Season performances will take place at the theater at Dance New Amsterdam, 53 Chambers St., just north of City Hall, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m. from April 13 through May 14. The full schedule and information about plays, actors, directors and playwrights can be found online at www.Pace.edu/ASDSRep

Admission is free, but reservations must be made in advance by phone or e-mail as seating is limited. The 24-hour reservation line is: (212) 613-6209 and email is ASDSRep@pace.edu

The works are considered educational and may not be reviewed.

Established playwrights with one-act productions or scenes showcased are:

  • Week One: Broken Bones by Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan; Springtime by Maria Irene Fornes; Face Divided by Edward Allan Baker
  • Week Two: A Hateful of Rain by Michael V. Gazzo; Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire; Gypsy, A Musical Fable with book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Jule Styne, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
  • Week Four: Fool for Love by Sam Shepard; Dolores by Edward Allan Baker; The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco
  • Week Five: Frozen by Bryony Lavery; Hello Out There by William Saroyan; Dutchman by LeRoi Jones

World Premieres

A published and frequently produced New York City playwright, with 32 plays to his credit, Edward Allan Baker has written for HBO and Showtime, attended Sundance Film Institute and been a faculty member of the Actors Studio Drama School since 2005 as Associate Professor – Playwriting.

During the 2011 rep season, the following one-acts by Baker’s students will be making their world premiere during Week Three:

  • Night Games by Sarah Rachael Jones – Mystery. Bondage. Betrayal. Who will survive these night games?
  • Sharp Edges by Alla Ilyasova – A childhood friendship shattered. Can Nate and Carol put the pieces back together or is there nothing left but Sharp Edges?
  • Starfishes by Michael Ross Albert – a lonely lighthouse keeper in Nova Scotia who is visited by a mysterious stranger with demands that force him to confront his deepest desires. 

“Real” Rep Season: Off-Broadway, Practical Level Experience

 “The season is produced, managed, and designed by union member industry professionals, creating an actual Off-Broadway experience that prepares our graduates with practical experience as working professionals before graduation,” said Manolikakis, a Lifetime Member and a member of the Board of Directors of the Actors Studio.

Among the industry professionals who will be supporting the Actors Studio Drama School 2011 MFA candidates during repertory season:

  • Peter Dean (Production Manager) Off-Broadway credits include The American Dream and The Sandbox directed by Edward Albee (Cherry Lane) and Women Beware Women, (Red Bull Theater). He also serves as the Lead Ride Manager for The Ride New York, a 4.5 mile theatrical tour that runs throughout midtown Manhattan.
  • Lara de Bruijn (Costume Designer) Recent projects include: Three Penny Opera (Trinity Rep Consortium), Lysistrata (La MaMa), Dog Act (Flux Theatre), The Torch-Bearers (Peterborough Players), and All She Can Carry (White Wave).
  • Paul Hudson (Lighting Designer) has designed scenery and lighting for theater, dance, and television in New York City for ten years. Highlights include scenery for the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Tommy; lighting on Full Frontal Fashion for the WE channel, and the Tribeca Film Festival ‘03’s World Premiere Venue.
  • Melissa Jernigan (Assistant Stage Manager) Broadway: Lennon (production assistant).
  • Shawn Lewis (Set Designer, Supervising Director) has worked as a set designer for more than 50 productions throughout the United States and abroad, designing plays, musicals, opera and film. Currently designing Frankenstein: The Rock Musical and Forever Plaid in Canada.
  • Brittany Loesch (Properties Designer) has toured with Rent, taking her across the country and to Japan.
  • Sydney Maresca (Costume Design) has designed costumes Off-Broadway?for Buddy Cop 2, The Little Death Vol. 1, Nostradamus Predicts the Death of Soho, The Zero Hour, and MilkMilkLemonade
  • Shelley Miles (Production Assistant). An AEA Stage Manager, Broadway credits include: Rock of Ages, The Philanthropist and The American Plan.
  • Joseph A. Onorato (Production Stage Manager) has stage managed on and Off-Broadway, as well as 18 years of The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular.
  • David Pinkard (Sound Designer) has worked as a composer, sound designer, and musical director in and around New York City since 1995.
  • Ron Piretti (Fight Choreographer) has directed the fights for many productions including the Broadway productions of West Side Story, The Miracle Worker, In the Heights and Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo.  Actor: Officer Krupke in Broadway’s West Side Story.
  • Sarah Thea Swafford (Costume Shop Supervisor). Assistant Costume Designer for The Britten Project and Romeo & Juliet, the film directed by Eve Annenberg.
  • Scott Wynn (Photographer) official photographer for the Drama Desk Awards (10 years). 

 “The Actors Studio Drama School Repertory Season is real repertory where our students work as a repertory company – acting, directing and writing the material – creating collaborations that can last a lifetime,” underscored Manolikakis. “Unlike other MFA programs’ productions, we provide each and every student actor with the opportunity to be the ‘lead’ in a production. In many other programs, a few students carry those roles while the rest ‘carry spears.”

The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University is the only MFA theater program officially sanctioned by The Actors Studio. The entire faculty is chosen and approved – and the curriculum is designed and supervised – by the leadership of The Actors Studio through its Curriculum Advisory Committee, including the Presidents of The Actors Studio, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino. All students — actors, directors, playwrights – train side-by-side as actors. All students participate in the Craft Seminars known to the world as the Bravo Network television series, “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted by James Lipton. For further information about the program, go to www.pace.edu/actorsstudiomfa

About Pace University

For 105 years, Pace University has produced thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. www.pace.edu

###

 Pace Media Contact (photos on request):  Samuella Becker, 212-346-1637 or 917-734-5172, Sbecker2@pace.edu

NEW YORK TIMES: Theater Review | ‘The Merchant of Venice’

At a time when “anti-Semitism… has blighted if not ended two major careers” in fashion and show business,” the “terrific” production of Shakespeares “The Merchant of Venice” now at Pace is “oddly fitting,” according to The New York Times’s rave review. http://theater.nytimes.com/2011/03/05/theater/reviews/05merchant.html?ref=arts

Evoking the “bottom-line obsessed world of today’s Wall Street,” F. Murray Abraham’s Shylock has “a fierce hatred in his heart, but on the surface struggles to maintain a steady cool,” says the reviewer, Charles Isherwood. Abraham”s performance in many ways exceeds even that of Al Pacino, Isherwood says.

What Price a Pound of Flesh?

By CHARLES ISHERWOOD

If you’ve scanned the headlines recently, you have no doubt been freshly reminded that the toxin of anti-Semitism has hardly been eradicated from contemporary culture. In the last couple of weeks it has surfaced spectacularly in the worlds of show business and fashion, blighting, if not ending, two major careers.

How oddly fitting, in these strange circumstances, that New York should play host to a terrific production of “The Merchant of Venice,” arriving just weeks after the last one closed. The new staging, from Theater for a New Audience, features F. Murray Abraham as Shylock. (I don’t need to remind you of who starred in the just-closed Broadway version, do I?) The production, directed by Darko Tresnjak and originally produced in 2007, can be seen at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University through March 13 before a tour to Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.

Modern dress is often the default choice of directors trying to signpost Shakespeare’s relevance today, but Mr. Tresnjak’s version, evoking the bottom-line-obsessed world of today’s Wall Street, resonates more deeply than most in suggesting how the calculations of profit and loss are integral to even the most intimate human relationships. With the businessmen of Venice attired in sleek dark suits and sporting the latest in high-tech gadgetry, Mr. Tresnjak’s nuanced interpretation also points toward the casual, collective prejudice — whether it is anti-Semitism, misogyny or homophobia — that still germinates among all-male societies today.

Most impressive, however, are the fully realized performances in literally all of the play’s roles. Mr. Tresnjak and his superb cast allow us to see with unusual clarity the light and the dark in Shakespeare’s characters, not just the wronged but vengeful Shylock and his nemesis, the casually bigoted Antonio (Tom Nelis), but also the wise, loving Portia (Kate MacCluggage), who sees fit to test her husband’s love with unnecessary calculation, and comparatively insignificant players like the servant Launcelot Gobbo (a spirited, funny Jacob Ming-Trent).

Shakespeare’s profound understanding of human complexity is rendered with such care that we register sharply how both cruelty and compassion, ignorance and intelligence, mercy and injustice reside not just in any human heart, but also in every human heart. A late-coming speech we often only half-hear, a celebration of the music of the spheres from the minor character Lorenzo (Vince Nappo), makes a powerful impression, encapsulating the lamentable truth the production illuminates.

Gazing up at the stars, he muses, “Such harmony is in immortal souls,/But whilst this muddy vesture of decay/Doth grossly enclose it, we cannot hear it.” Disharmony is the condition of fallen humanity, and even the noblest and most loving hearts are deeply flawed.

Mr. Abraham’s Shylock is probably the finest I’ve seen, although the British actor Henry Goodman was terrific in a National Theater production in London some years ago. It would be coy to avoid any comparisons with Al Pacino’s exciting, savage-spirited performance for the Public Theater production in Central Park and, later, Broadway. Both Mr. Abraham and Mr. Pacino are first-rate actors, I need hardly say, but Mr. Abraham is the more rigorous classicist, phrasing the language with an attentive care for rhythm and clarity.

Mr. Pacino brought intense fire and a revelatory anger to Shylock’s most famous speech (“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”). Mr. Abraham delivers it with a complicated mixture of bitterness and implacable logic. As a man who must negotiate the decorous halls of the contemporary business world, Mr. Abraham’s Shylock keeps a tighter lid on his rage, and on his humiliation, too. In flashing asides we see how the treatment he has received has stoked a fierce hatred in his heart, but on the surface he struggles to maintain a steady cool, even when he is being taunted and beaten.

Mr. Abraham’s Shylock is also piercingly moving when he gives way to a desperate grief at the loss of his daughter (and, yes, the ducats on which his pride as a successful businessman in an antipathetic world rests). Speaking to Tubal of the ring he cherished as a remembrance of his wife, he breaks down in tears, and Mr. Abraham makes us feel acutely how his suffering and his thirst for revenge are tragically, inextricably linked.

As Portia, Ms. MacCluggage radiates a forthright intelligence inflected with both humor and, when she has declared her love for Bassanio (Lucas Hall), a glowing warmth. Mr. Hall’s Bassanio is touching in the sincerity and simplicity of his ardor, and in his deep filial feeling for Antonio, as well. (I think the impulsive kiss in the trial scene is a mistake, however; hints of homosexuality don’t violate the word of the text, but is such literalism necessary?)

Mr. Nelis’s Antonio bears himself with an upright stoicism, and his affection for Bassanio is written in gentle but true colors. We see, too, the reflexive prejudice that has him unthinkingly take out his handkerchief to wipe his hand after shaking Shylock’s. And yet it is of course Antonio, rather more than the unflinching Portia (in disguise), who grants Shylock at least a little of the mercy she so eloquently invokes in the trial scene.

The smaller roles are filled equally well: Ted Schneider is a frat-boyishly funny Gratiano, Christen Simon Marabate a poised Nerissa. Melissa Miller and Mr. Nappo are unusually vivid as Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, and her beloved Lorenzo, their uneasy relations clearly haunted by the shadow of the prevalent prejudice against Jews and by her guilt at having abandoned her father.

Love in Shakespeare’s plays is rarely a simple matter, but it is almost always presented as an example of humanity’s noblest impulses, the best of what man can become. Blissful unions conclude most of the great comedies.

“The Merchant of Venice,” which is technically classified as a comedy, is no exception. But in this troubling play the love matches bring grief in their wake, just as the pursuit of justice — ostensibly a righteous mission — also proves an act of inhuman cruelty. Without piling on the atmospheric gloom, as Daniel Sullivan’s Broadway production sometimes did, Mr. Tresnjak’s first-rate interpretation makes these complications get under your skin in a way they rarely do. You are left with the disheartening thought that it is possible to do right and wrong at the same time.

Read the article with photos on the New York Times web site here.