Press Room
BADA Newsletter January 2014

Spotlight On: London Theatre Program

Zachary Nicol attended BADA's Midsummer Conservatory Program in 2010 and then returned to participate in our London Theatre Program in the fall of 2012.  While rehearsing for the end-of-semester production of "Burial at Thebes", he shared his thoughts on his experiences at BADA.

 

Zach Nichol (center) with fellow LTP students Alexis Agolsove, Britney Abrahams, Zack Martin, Radhika Chopra, Sarah Mass, Christian Hatch, Mallory Muratore. (Photo by Lucy Barnes)

Travelling to Oxford to participate in the Midsummer Conservatory Program, I sensed that a life in the theatre was somewhere on the horizon for me. I was sixteen years old, frantically trying to pare down my list of universities to apply to in the next year, and anxious but excited to spend a month in England immersed in Shakespeare. BADA gave me an opportunity that I never had in high school: to fully engage myself with the practice of acting, to plunge into texts without having to come up for air, to work day and night on characters and to have the time and energy to make them live. It was enthralling to me, just beginning to figure out what I might study at college, to live in Oxford and devote myself to the study of acting, if only for a short time. The caliber of work and the amount of diligence expected of me was high, and it was a challenge I took on with much pleasure.

After graduating high school and spending two years at a liberal arts college, I knew that I was craving something more from my theatre education. As those of us that have gone through a course at BADA know, you never stray far from the halls in Oxford or the classrooms in London. My time at the MCP left a mark on me that never really faded. I wanted the time to dedicate myself to my work as an actor, to learn from British actors and directors who were themselves working in the field.I made the decision to return to BADA for the London Theatre Program. I am slightly older, slightly wiser and now certain that I want to pursue theatre professionally. The training that I received in London these past three months has given me the confidence, scope, and preparation to charge into the business boldly. It has exposed my strengths and weaknesses, built on what I learned three years ago in Oxford, and taught me what it means to work hard as an actor. The standard has certainly risen on the LTP, and we are treated as professionals and artists with a great responsibility for our work—but so has my hunger to learn.

I get the feeling that I won’t need to “look back” on my time at BADA, because the skills that I have learned here will continue to influence my everyday life as an actor.


Interview with Chris Myers

CHRIS MYERS, first introduced to BADA as a high school student via the Midsummer Conservatory Program in 2005, returned to BADA four years later in the Midsummer in Oxford Program.  In between and along the way, his schooling was always geared toward his ultimate goal: becoming an actor.  His time at the Harlem School of the Arts, La Guardia School of Performing Arts, and the Juilliard School (Class of 2010) worked synergistically with his BADA training to make him what he is today: the founder of a New York-based theater company and a consistently working actor, currently appearing in the Long Wharf and McCarter Theater co-production of August Wilson’s “Fences,” directed by BADA guest artist Phylicia Rashad.Over the Christmas break, Chris met with BADA’s David Byron to discuss his eventful journey thus far and his wariness of ever becoming an amoeba.

Photo by T. Charles Erikson

DAVID:  You graduated Juilliard only two years ago, but you’ve covered a remarkable amount of ground since then, having acted in four productions in the past year alone.  How’ve you managed to hit the ground running?

CHRIS:  To be honest, it kind of comes back to a chat I had at BADA in Oxford in 2009.  Toward the end of my time there it occurred to me that, while I was having the time of my life I was also starting to worry about life after school.  So I wanted to get some advice. One day I sat down with the Dean of the school, Ian Wooldridge, for dinner. I remember feeling pretty tough sitting at the teachers’ table at the time - especially when the dining hall looked like Hogwarts and the faculty were a comparable league of wizards, if you know what I mean.

I was like, "Man, I'm about to graduate next year, what kind of wisdom do you have for me?” He thought about it a little bit and finally said, "Look. Don't be an amoeba, floating along.  Make things happen.” He referenced Tarell McCraney, a BADA alum who had talked to us earlier that day, as an example of a self-starter (and, you know, RSC playwright-in-residence, winner of a ‘Genius Grant’... no big deal!). At first I didn’t know what he meant. In my head I'm like WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? I'M AN ACTOR -- NOT EVERYONE CAN STUNT AT THE RSC! I JUST WANNA MAKE IT, MANNNN! But out loud I'm like "Thanks, Ian!"

Fast forward to now: man is my life different. Like I honestly had no idea what to expect after graduation, but after highs and lows, I can finally say I understand what Ian meant, in my bones. I'm literally living like I'm dying. Like, I could die tomorrow and be like, "At least I didn't waste no time.”  Not just work-related, but every minute of my day, in every aspect of my life. It guides my life.

What does that mean, practically?

I don’t take no for an answer.  And I founded a theater company called Special Sauce here in New York in 2011. We put together a series of short plays on the Lower East Side, raised a thousand bucks for disaster relief in Japan.  And ever since then when there are enough of us in town we find something to do and we do it.  We don’t have a mission statement, we’re very grass roots, we’re just about building up an audience and creating work.

You’ve managed to work a lot, but does being African American affect the amount or kind of work you get?  Is it an issue in any way?

I think my initial expectation after getting out of drama school was that I could play anything, but when I wasn’t getting sent out on a lot of auditions at first I blamed my agent.  Then I saw the breakdowns [list of auditions sent to agents from casting directors] and I realized, “Oh my God, there are so few roles for me!”  I thought at first I’d be going out 5 or 6 times a week, but I was lucky to audition once a week.  But creating work for myself is a big part of carving out a place for myself in the industry. Like USA Today conflated “The Best Man Holiday” and “12 Years a Slave” as successful "race themed" films. I just laughed. I work to create an environment where people can just work, and we can leave bogus terms like "race themed" behind.

You mentioned that seeing David Harewood [black actor and guest artist at BADA, currently starring in Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at New York’s Theater For A New Audience] affected your perceptions of what a black actor could be.  Tell me about that.

Mr. Harewood has meant a lot to me. It wasn’t until I saw him play Hotspur in Henry IV at the National in 2005 while I was at BADA that I saw someone who looked like me doing exactly what I wanted to do – and not just doing it well, but how I would like to do it. Mr. Harewood floored me. It was a particularly porous time for me -- in the best of ways -- I was a sponge soaking up all the live theater I could, and at that time it was just dawning on me how hard I was falling in love with Shakespeare. Moreover, I was eager to see people who looked like me performing the bard’s words, to help me take Shakespeare off the pedestal in which my schooling had placed him. So watching Mr. Harewood do his thing was a singular moment for me. It provided the unlocking I so desperately required to begin to feel empowered as a young, black actor.

Were there other BADA faculty who had a lasting impact on you – and did your two stints at BADA build on your time at Juilliard?

My time at BADA was the best experience I’ve had, really. At Oxford I found the entire faculty to be amazing.  I had contemporary acting with Ian and I loved just his presence, as well as his expertise and the combination of the two just made me really comfortable in an environment where by the end of that month we all felt that this could go on for all eternity.  He fostered a really nice environment for learning. James Bundy [Dean of the Yale School of Drama] was a brilliant Shakespeare dude.  And Jackie Snow [Movement teacher], who felt like a friend/mother/mentor.  Andrew Wade [Voice], definitely.  Just learning from their poise and commitment was so valuable.

In terms of BADA building on Juilliard, a lot of it has to do with the immersion factor.  British people are just very good at theater, so it’s so important for young people to see a lot, not just to learn from, but to see just how far you can go.  If you don’t see how high the bar can be set, you settle for mediocrity.  I’m not trying to cast that kind of judgment on the entire American theater, but the balance of good theater in London was amazing.  We went to the Almeida, the RSC, the West End, little black box theaters in the middle of nowhere, which is where I found some of my favorite things.  It was spectacular.

Phylicia Rashad is one of many in a line of BADA faculty and guest artists who’ve later worked with BADA alums in a professional setting.  What’s been your experience working with her on “Fences”?

She’s a gift.  She rattles your bones! She’s coming at the experience having worked with August Wilson before, with a deep understanding of August’s world and his dramatic intentions.  And that affords us as actors a great benefit; there’s a kind of shorthand that’s quite liberating.  She knows how to give one note that causes a chain reaction of adjustments and trusts us and encourages us to go deeper every single time we do it.  She believes that when we’re done with this run it’ll be an entirely different show from when we started.

“Fences” has entered the canon of classic American plays, but not long before this you had a chance to put all your classical training to work when playing Demetrius at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington.  If you never did another classical play would that be OK with you?

I feel like I need to play all the classical roles before I die!  There’s something about those characters and the experience you go through as an actor and the joy you get in telling the stories – I hope I don’t die any time soon, because I have so many roles left in me to do!  No amoebas here, Ian!

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“Fences” runs at Princeton’s McCarter Theater Center from Jan 10 - Feb 9, 2014.

 


THE WEEKEND: A new film by BRIAN AVERS

While a majority of students who leave BADA and pursue a career in the theater and films do so as actors, there are some, like BRIAN AVERS (London Theater Program, 1999) whose creative energies can’t be contained in just one field.  Actor, writer, director and acting coach, Brian has just recently ventured into film as a director.  The result: The Weekend, an independent feature now playing on iTunes and Hulu (see below for links).  Brian shared with us the story of the film – and of how he’s lately come to be a man of many parts.     

DAVID BYRON:  I have to say I loved this film.  It’s fresh, sexy, extremely funny, touching, unpredictable and original.  Can you tell those who haven’t yet seen it what it’s about, both in terms of the story and its themes?

BRIAN: The Weekend is about a group of summer camp friends, now in their 30s, who reunite in upstate New York to celebrate, and send off, a couple who are getting married and moving away.  They relive childhood rituals, generate plenty of ‘adult’ fun, run up against the difficulties and questions of their current lives, and face unresolved personal tension. Complications naturally ensue!

Thematically, the film is obviously about friendship, our need to connect, our desire to belong, the difficulty of letting go of our youth.  Perhaps less obviously, the story is a metaphor for life: we arrive, we live, love, dance, drink, have sex, throw punches, grapple with why we’re here, try to make meaningful connections, and then before we’re ready, we have to say goodbye.  Meanwhile, of course, it’s a lighthearted comedy!

I know you trained as an actor at BADA and at NYU Tisch in the graduate acting program, but you had no experience as a film director before you set out to make The Weekend.  How did it come about and how in the world did you learn to direct a film?

I learned by making this one, of course!  (Laughing) This was a massive learning experience for me; it’s embarrassing to reflect on how unprepared I was going in.  In the end, I took a leap of faith that something would come of this project, and I was fortunate to be surrounded by people who helped along the way.

I knew a bunch of great actors who, I felt, deserved to be in a movie.  I felt we could generate a basic story, shoot in documentary style over three days in one location, and get something authentic, funny, smart, touching, and of quality.  I pitched the idea to a friend of mine and asked if we could use his parents’ house.  He said the most important word in the English language: Yes!  He became the lead producer of the film, ended up taking First Camera, lent us his parents’ house, paid for the entire project, and we are all indebted to him and his warrior spirit.  Thank you, Michael Izquierdo!

The cast is entirely made up of NYU graduate actors, most of whom I knew and loved, while a few came via recommendation.  I called each of them and asked if they would be up for creating and shooting a feature film in two weeks, for no money, and they all said: Yes!  Which is extraordinary, frankly, and I will love them all forever.  (In fact, as it turns out, the lovely Gretchen Hall, who plays soon-to-be-married Alice, went to BADA as well!)

We have distribution: this is why we are on iTunes, Hulu, and much more.  FilmBuff, along with Michael’s production company, Sunnyside Films, specializes in distributing independent films online (VOD) and that has been our approach. In the end, we believed people would love the film if they saw it, and we chose to get it out there when we had the chance.  Now it’s out there, for anyone to rent or own!

What inspired you to dream up this particular idea?

The company and I created the story together in a rehearsal room, over a week’s time.  We knew we had one location, and one weekend to shoot, which meant a certain kind of story.  We played with a number of ideas, but my actors all shared a kind of playful, clownish, vulnerable and sweet quality that felt youthful and warm.  A reunion of old friends just made sense for this group, and summer camp as a common bond felt meaningful and ritualistic in a joyful way.

There is an undeniable working parallel to the experience of graduate school, and of BADA, in this movie:  a circle of twelve, ritualized experience, the comedy, romance and drama of being stuffed together in one location, the “rules of play” -- it’s all in there for sure!

In a larger context, it’s true that we all need to embrace our interdependent world.  We all are part of the whole, and have a profound yearning for the whole to be unified and well.  Creating a sense of community, whether at a school like BADA or in your hometown, is a vital and sometimes forgotten element of what makes life on earth so potentially rewarding.

The dialogue has a very fresh, spontaneous and quirky quality and the credits bill “The Company” as the writers.  Was all the dialogue improvised?  Did you have any kind of structure to guide them or was the film really constructed in the editing room?

I’d say 75% of the dialogue was improvised on the spot, which is another testament to the wonderful actors.  The rest I kind of shouted at them from behind the camera, or knew was needed for the sake of story or clarity.  A lot was later tacked on through ADR [additional dialogue recording].

In terms of structure, from their ideas and my own, I had built a story outline and knew most of the scenes that needed to get shot, so I always had a sense of what the movie would be in the end.

A significant element to the film was, of course, the editing process.  Our editor, Ben Stauffer, put in a tremendous amount of work; he and I kind of lived in his apartment for about a year, and it wasn’t always fun.  He deserves a medal, truly.

Was your background in theater useful when it came to directing a film?

Absolutely.  TV and film directors are notorious for misunderstanding the language of acting, and the power of actors as storytellers.  A background in theater has taught me the unlimited capabilities of great acting, the dynamics of how to affect an audience directly and without trickery, the magic of behavior over technical effects, the importance of heart, humanity, and truth.  Old studio directors understood this better: look at Frank Capra, look at Billy Wilder, Jean Renoir, or modern geniuses like Woody Allen.  They arm their movies with actors, and stuff them with language and behavior.  That stuff all comes from theatrical tradition, you don’t get that kind of expressivity with close-ups and CGI.

As for classical training: the range, character intelligence, storytelling instinct, and muscularity of craft you gain by learning through the classics can’t really be replicated by anything else.  The cliche is true: If you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything.

Your time at BADA was an early introduction to theatrical tradition.  What was your experience of the program and of British theater?

BADA was deeply formative for me.  Having an immersive conservatory experience for the first time, with a range of accomplished artists as teachers, with London and its theatre as a backdrop, I was in my element.  I met a few people who are still among my closest friends, I worked with a director in Irina Brown who has been a powerful mentor for me to this day, and I can point to a number of other experiences that contributed directly to success I’ve had in my career.

One example: we were taken to Trevor Nunn’s production of Gorky’s Summerfolk at the National.  It was four hours long and I was totally staggered by it, heartbroken when it ended.  Jennifer Ehle, Henry Goodman, Roger Allam, Simon Russell Beale… I’ll never forget them.  Years later, I auditioned for Trevor Nunn for his Broadway production of Tom Stoppard’s Rock N Roll, and got the chance to thank him personally for Summerfolk.  We both got choked up talking about it.  He hired me.  If I see Trevor or Tom Stoppard, to this day, I get a warm hug!  It’s hard to express how meaningful that is to me.

How do you envision your future?  Actor/writer/director in film/TV/theater?

I will likely continue to make my living as an actor, but intend to do a lot of writing this year, some for TV but mostly for film.  I hope to direct as many of these projects as I can, but I think having great ideas and developed screenplays is the first real step in that process. 

I’d love to create and direct for the theater as well.

The most visceral contact with characters, with behavior, with language, with magic, with imagination, with human experience, and with a sense of community continues to be found in the theater.  And, as anyone who trained at BADA can attest, the greatest actors almost always rise with the stage as their foundation.  It’s a wild ride.

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You can rent or buy “The Weekend” on iTunes at  http://bit.ly/1ctEaNg, or watch free (with ads) on Hulu athttp://bit.ly/GPWrXG - be sure to review the film afterward!

You can also learn more about Brian and his work at www.brianavers.com

 


 

Apply for BADA's Summer Program

The deadline for applications is February 28, 2014. Please forward this information to anyone you think might benefit from the BADA experience.

 Midsummer in Oxford Application 

 Midsummer Conservatory Application

For information about the programs please visit the BADA website.

 


Do you run a theatre company?

We are looking for BADA Alum who have formed their own company. We'd like to interview you for our next newsletter!

Please contact Jennifer Rockwood at jrockwood@badaonline.com 


Did you know?

BADA Alum Tracie Thoms has played Joanne in RENT three times: once on Film, once on Broadway (also filmed), and at the Hollywood Bowl. Tracie's latest movie is RAZE, a horror/action film directed by Josh C. Waller. 

Follow Tracie on Twitter  @traciethoms


American Friends of BADA

New York City

January 28. We will see the Acting company's production of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead at The Pearl Theater, featuring BADA Alum Robert David Grant. This event is sold out!

March 13. Save the date for Antony and Cleopatra edited and directed by BADA Alum Tarell Alvin McCraney at the Public Theater.

Washington, D.C.

March 25. Please join us to see Henry IV at The Shakespeare Theatre followed by drinks and conversation with BADA’s Dean and Director, Ian Wooldridge.  

To reserve your space for either event in March, please email Jennifer Rockwood:jrockwood@badaonline.com

To see photos from past events, click through to the AFBADA website here.


 

Our end-of-year appeal raised almost $5000 towards helping deserving students attend BADA! Thank you to everyone who contributed.