Last week I had the privilege of touring the top ranked performing arts high school in the United States, the Kinder High School for Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. This is the third high school that I have toured (the first two left me underwhelmed, to say the least). PVA (as the students and faculty refer to it) was far from underwhelming, it was alive. Every program or course of study, academic or artistic, was working rigorously with laser focus. They knew where they wanted to go in life and they knew exactly what they needed to do to get there. I was amazed at the quality of work that was being created, especially from their freshman.
Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
Everything I witnessed at PVA made me reflect and compare; in fact, I was pleased to see that in terms of theatre, we are teaching the same concepts from the same theorists and practitioners. If they're number one, it would seem we're on the right track to join them at some point. Their instructors have degrees and are working or have worked in their fields, no community theatre stars in the mix, they are professionals. But as I continued to reflect and compare I realized that they have an advantage that we do not, and that is auditions. They are a magnet school and they audition and interview thousands of students every year. Through this they avoid many of the problems that we consistently encounter; which is, little to no training, or often bad training that has to be fixed.
Other than COPA, which is new for us this year and an exciting partnership which we will continue to develop, most students have not had structured theatre training, which would include: the formatting of resumes, appropriate audition materials, introductions to the great acting teachers and their methods (Stanislavski, Meisner, Chekhov, Spolin, Shurtleff, to name a few), introductions to Viewpoints or even elements of devising. But with passionate, disciplined, and focused students we can make up that gap in one year, in order for them to excel beyond high school. But that's a small obstacle, so let's shift gears and talk about where we excel. - (Updated for clarity 3/03/2019)
Over the years I've been fortunate to have students go on to perform leading roles on Broadway, in tours, and in regional theatres, I have students in film and television and I'm most fortunate to be the acting coach for my son who has his own Netflix series. I've trained students who have gone on to Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, University of Southern California, Columbia, Northwestern, American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Carnegie Mellon, CalArts, North Carolina School of the Arts, ans Boston University, to name just a few (I've also had so many students go on to New York University that I couldn't count them on my fingers and toes combined.) All this tells me is that I'm doing something right, and it hasn't stopped since I've been at Tuacahn.
We've been able to secure scholarships and acceptance for students at all the best schools both in and out of state, and yes, that includes NYU. We've consistently been honored with awards at the Utah Shakespeare Festival / Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition. Two years we went up against the biggest schools in the biggest division and came away with a First and Second Place Sweepstakes Trophy. We were the smallest school in the Division with only 400 students compared to schools of 2600+. This last year we scored straight superiors on our Ensemble Scene, and Jose & Ashley won first place in scenes, while Marlie won first place in monologues and all of them received scholarships.
We explore devising and the creation of new work, something that each of our students who auditioned for scholarships discussed in their interviews, which was met with excitement and interest. "A high school is devising?" Why are they so interested? Because it's what they're teaching, as well. Speaking of new work, we've even been fortunate enough to have Disney partner with us and offer opportunities to help them edit and rework plays before anyone else gets to produce them.
We know that Universities are teaching Viewpoints developed by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Our students learn Viewpoints here because I worked with Anne Bogart and her company while I was in grad school at Arizona State University. We also know that some Universities are teaching Rasaboxes developed by Richard Schechner. One of his students, Rachel Bowditch, was one of my grad school instructors and is helping Schechner write a book on Rasaboxes. I learned Rasaboxes from her and I'm so glad that I can share what I've learned with students that I work with here.
By the time a student moves on to further training, they should know Stanislavski, Meisner, Strassberg, Chekhov, Spolin, Shurtleff, and more. They should be able to create new work and discuss how it is made. They should know Viewpoints and Rasaboxes and know how to apply them. We are preparing them for the next step.
"What about musical theatre?" Well we teach it. We just don't call the training "MDT" because, according to the top schools sending leads onto the Broadway stage (not just ensemble members), we should really be teaching TMD. That's the order of importance you should focus on when working toward a career in musical theatre performance. And, yes, we teach all three of those things.
Bottom line: We're not PVA yet, but we're preparing students in some ways that even they are not. And though we know that we're not quite where we want to be, we are also proud to say that in Utah ... no one's even coming close.