The California State Summer School for the Arts Theater Program offers intensive professionally-oriented acting training for students who are serious about exploring the craft of acting and the possibilities of the art of theater in the modern world. An open mind, an adventuresome spirit, the desire and ability to work hard and enjoy it, the capacity to be a part of an ensemble, and a passion and willingness to explore a variety of approaches to acting are more important prerequisites for this program than extensive prior theater experience.
The focus of the program is two-fold. First, it is about training, with an emphasis on the development of the actor’s physical instrument. There is rigorous physical work in every class. Students are placed into one of six groups which meet daily for a 2-hour core acting class. Each of these acting groups moves between classes in Tai Chi Ch’uan, movement, physical comedy, contact improvisation, stage combat, dance, and voice, Mondays through Saturdays throughout the four-week session. There is no separate “musical theater program”: however, there is a Musical Theater Workshop, offered as an elective, for all students in the program. We wish to encourage all who sing, or who are new to singing and do not identify themselves as singers to have the opportunity to explore this work. All students with an interest in singing for musical theater are invited to sign up for this elective. Other electives include Shakespeare, mask, theatrical clown, and acting for the camera.
Second, it is about the life of an actor. CSSSA annually schedules performances, lectures and seminars with visiting actors, casting agents and companies to expand each student’s vision of the art form, and to provide a practical, realistic picture of the various choices within the profession. The list of guest performers in the Theatre Program has included The Faustwork Mask Theatre, Daniel Stein, Charles Fleischer, Mara Neimanis, The Green Fools Physical Theatre Society, The Ghost Road Company, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Brenda Wong Aoki, The Dell’Arte Company, the Oxblood Theatre Company, Lume, a Brazilian physical theatre troupe in their first US performance and residency. Most recently, CSSSA has hosted Universes, a performance group that fuses theater, poetry, jazz and hip hop, Theatre Movement Bazaar, Diavolo Dance Theater, the Shamans, an award-winning company from Hungary, and Dave Malloy’s Ghost Quartet performance group. Special seminars were conducted by casting agent Deborah Barylski, Chris Anthony, Associate Artistic Director of Los Angeles Shakespeare Center, actors James Belushi, Helen Hunt, Peter Kors, Leonard Nimoy, Calvin Remsberg, Nancy Travis, stunt coordinator Dean Ferrandini, and others. Students have direct contact with all visiting artists and lecturers.
There is no performance component to the Theater Program, and no show at the end. Process takes priority over product in this program. There is a weekly departmental assembly, every Monday night of the summer session, entitled Bits & Pieces, in which work from classes, exercises and assignments is shared among theater students and faculty, and with other members of the CSSSA community. The pieces are critiqued, refined with faculty input, and often repeated. It is a way for students to work in a larger context, and learn from others. There is also a weekly departmental Connections seminar, which provides a framework for discussion of the performances seen and the classes taken during the week.
In addition to required classes, seminars and performances, theater students have opportunities to collaborate with participants from other departments in the development of scripts, monologues, films and performance art projects.