A unanimous vote of the board of directors of the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA) has turned this 42 year-old organization into an international association of 40 professional, graduate (MFA) training programs from around the country, and now from overseas.
East 15 Acting School/London, associated with the University of Essex, is the new U/RTA member. The school is distinct from other professional programs in the United Kingdom by virtue of offering two Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degrees, one in Acting and the other in Directing. In the United States, the MFA is considered the primary professional degree for theatre, whereas most European schools treat the Master of Arts, or MA, as the training degree for the field. East 15 was established 45 years ago out of the Theatre Workshop started by the legendary director/actress Joan Littlewood (credits included directing and starring inthe British premier of Mother Courage and Her Children,producing/directing The Hostage, A Taste of Honey, and Oh, What a Lovely War!).
East 15’s MFA Acting (International) is designed specifically for non-British students and its most recent class had participants from 15 different countries. The diversity within this learning environment is special, as students bring together their unique cultural ideas and influences. The curriculum includes acting, voice, movement, and singing, and is supplemented with added time devoted to voice-articulation, practical dialects and special studio work. Students rehearse and perform a number of productions with leading directors, have the chance to study at one of East 15’s affiliated programs in Moscow, and enjoy extended opportunities to perform in productions off campus including at a professional London theatre.
The MFA in Theatre Directing is one of the most established such programs in the UK. It is professional in outlook and almost entirely practical, with a rich mixture of workshops, exercises and projects, and seminars with visiting professionals like John Doyle, David Farr, Peter Hall, Fiona Shaw, Maria Friedman, Michael Frayn, Willy Russell, and Cameron Mackintosh. Optional studies at the GITIS Institute in Moscow, and in Eastern Theatre traditions in Bali are available. As with Acting, there is an international perspective to the program, and graduates run theatres, teach directing, or work as freelance directors across five continents.
“East 15 more than met the criteria shared by U/RTA member institutions,” states U/RTA executive director Scott Steele. “On top of which they proved very concretely the ability of their American graduates to transition into a professional network back in the United States after time training in Great Britain. They addressed concerns that are unique to reviewing an international program.”
American actors and directors are no longer training with the single idea that they will take their place in the creative ranks of LORT companies across the country. The artist is more than ever an individual entrepreneur, putting together a career consisting of many pieces, some of which will feature work around the world. And then there’s film, television, and Internet media, all of which know no borders. The arts have globalized, and professional training is following along. Schools recruiting internationally in each other’s back yards must associate, cooperate and, whenever possible, coordinate, or face increasing student frustration and decreasing participation.
“East 15’s membership in U/RTA is a very important event,” says Steele. “They will certainly enrich the association, and U/RTA’s services will prove of great value to them. And it’s terrific to be able to offer candidates looking at graduate programs through U/RTA the chance to see and be seen by an accomplished overseas school like East 15. It’s an exciting development and perhaps just the beginning of international membership for us.”
U/RTA is the nation's oldest and largest consortium of professional, graduate (MFA) theatre training programs and partnered professional theatres. U/RTA advances theatre by connecting educational theatre programs with professional theatre and performing arts industries, promoting professional practices and artistic excellence in higher education, and assisting students with their transition into the profession. U/RTA provides a variety of services and informational programs to its members, and to non-member students, theatre professionals and producing companies. These services include the NUA/Is, an annual recruiting process for candidates seeking placement in graduate programs; and the Contract Management Program (CMP), the largest not-for-profit contract management service of its kind in the country and which assists different organizations in employing professional actors, stage managers, designers and directors. In addition, U/RTA maintains agreements with most theatrical unions that provide contracts for use by colleges, universities and other institutions.