The Catholic University of America

July 23, 2015

High School Students Receive In-Depth Training During Drama Institute

  Drama faculty and participants in this year's High School Drama Institute

On a hot July afternoon in Hartke Theatre, a group of rising high school juniors were gathered in a blackbox theatre, practicing scenes.

One pair of girls worked on a scene set in an online chatroom. Sitting next to each other, they ran their lines. Nearby was M.F.A. alumnus and drama lecturer Brandon McCoy, ready to give suggestions on how the students could improve the scene.

“It’s about being able to make adjustments on the fly,” he said. “If you find yourself in a place where you do not entirely recognize what a director is asking you to do, do something. The only thing you can do is make a choice.”

The scene rehearsal was just a small part of the Department of Drama’s High School Drama Institute, a two-week program that took place from July 6 to 17. Sixteen high school students took part in this year’s program, which included classes and workshops on a wide variety of topics, including acting, voice, movement, improvisation, theatre games, and stage combat.

According to director Rosalind Flynn, the institute was intended to provide high school students — mostly rising juniors and seniors — with an in-depth look at the world of theatre.

“The overall goal is to immerse them in theatre in a way that can’t happen during their normal academic year,” said Flynn. “The way schools are nowadays, they might take one drama class during the year and they might participate in the afterschool productions, but they don’t get that kind of in-depth look at how to create a character, what kind of rehearsal techniques to use, or why it is important to work on your voice.”

Classes and workshops during the institute were taught by McCoy, drama professor Gary Sloan, and Tom Pedersen, head of the musical theatre division at the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. Additional courses and programs were led by drama alumni and graduate students.

High school students participate in a movement class, as part of the High School Drama Institute earlier this month.  

During the program, the students stayed in Opus Hall, where three drama majors served as residential advisors. At the end of the first week, the group were visited on campus by Tony award-winning actor Scott Waara, who is currently starring in the touring production of Once, and took a trip to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to watch him perform.

Over the weekend, the group took field trips to the National Zoo, Chinatown, Folger Theatre, and Eastern Market. On the final Friday the students performed their rehearsed scenes and monologues as part of a showcase production for their family and friends.

“We wanted this to resemble more of a pre-college program and to give them the experience of living on campus, so they had freedom within limits,” Flynn said. “That turned out to be really great because we had a student from Austin, Texas, and a student from Dubai. Other students were from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and of course the D.C. metro area.”

This year’s program was inspired by the High School Drama Institute that was started by longtime drama professor Jack Carr in the 1970s and continued for nearly a decade. Among the talented high school students who participated at that time were future celebrities like Saturday Night Live’s Ana Gasteyer and Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Earlier this year, Carr was honored posthumously with a Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Award from the Kennedy Center. Part of the prize money went to providing scholarships for institute participants.

“We’re looking at this as the renaissance of the original program,” said Flynn, who remembers teaching at the High School Drama Institute soon after earning her bachelor’s degree from CUA in 1978.

“Being where we are in D.C. is such a draw for these students. And when you’re in high school and you spend two weeks on a campus, I think it can make you feel more comfortable with the idea of college and also make you think, I’m going to look more closely at CUA,” she continued.

In the years to come, Flynn hopes to increase both attendance and available scholarship funds. She also hopes to partner with the music school to expand the institute into a four-week program with special sections on musical theatre.

“It’s fun for the students to be with other theatre kids who love this and are happy to do it,” she said. “We’re hoping that next year at this time we’re overloaded with applications.”





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