Coast to coast
All the world is a stage, or at least – as Syracuse University’s drama department students are discovering – everything from Central Park to Huntington Beach is.
The department is opening doors to SU drama students and alumni from east coast to west coast with the Tepper Center in New York City and the Syracuse University Los Angeles center.
‘Our goal is to build in experience,’ said Joan Adler, director of SULA. ‘We’d like to be able to stay in touch with our alumni; there are over 8,000 in Southern California.’
SULA is looking to expand its existing programs and create new ones. The center presents Sorkin Week, which allows students to meet the famous writer/producer Aaron Sorkin and several other industry professionals. This might eventually become a semester-long program if Sorkin hopes to advance it, Adler said.
SULA aims to keep alumni and current students in touch for job opportunities. The center also hopes to work as a recruiting program for students looking for internships in Los Angeles.
A more advanced SULA will not be solely for students and alumni in entertainment, but for business and law students as well. With the large amount of SU alumni practicing law in Southern California, SU law students will have more opportunities to obtain law internships and summer associate positions through SULA connections, Adler said.
Eventually, SULA aims to become a whole-semester internship/education program like the Tepper Center.
The Tepper Center is a relatively new program, began by Arielle Tepper, a 1994 SU drama alumna who felt the need for a New York City immersion program for students.
In its nascent stages, the Tepper Center was a week-long intensive program until two years ago when it became a semester-long immersion.
What is now the Tepper Semester in New York City started six and a half years ago as a much smaller program. It consisted of a class on the SU campus called ‘Professional Practice,’ which had guest artists – professionals from New York City and Los Angeles – who worked on campus with seniors and participated in workshops.
The program served as a transition from college to professional lives in the entertainment industry. Students would learn how to audition for theater and meet with nutritionists to learn how to find their healthiest diets for roles, culminating with a week in New York City.
The program consisted of ‘casting directors and key people in the industry’ that serve ‘to impart their knowledge and (for the students to) build relationships,’ said Lisa Nicholas, director of the Tepper Center.
Eventually, the program’s popularity helped it grow.
‘With the success of the week in New York … Ariel had the vision of a semester program,’ Nicholas said.
Now, students who attend Tepper Semester live in the New Yorker Hotel, located on Eighth Avenue at 34th Street in downtown Manhattan, with views many other New Yorkers lust for, and meal plans at local diners rather than dorm cafeterias. The program is, after all, as much about learning how to live in New York City as it is an intensive entertainment business training session.
The program consists of about 20 SU students and 20 non-SU students from across the country, all in their senior year of their BFA programs.
The students received ‘lots of one-on-one time (with) small classes and individual attention,’ Nicholas said. ‘There is a degree of rigorous training.’
Tepper Semester classes are taught by working professionals in the entertainment business. When they are not in class, students see 25-30 shows during the semester, both on and off Broadway. They learn the culture in a way they never could otherwise.
Carli Fitzgerald, a senior in the acting concentration, explained the importance of being immersed in such a way.
‘I’m from Maryland,’ Fitzgerald said. ‘Living in New York City is very different, and I wouldn’t have been prepared.’
The professionals who teach at the Tepper Center are not the kind to dismiss their amateur students or act pretentious, Fitzgerald said.
‘They’ve all been so generous,’ she said. ‘They’re genuinely trying to help us.’
Even some experts that come in for a day-long workshop and are unfamiliar with the students are very helpful.
‘It’s so refreshing, because it can be so intimidating,’ Fitzgerald said.
The students have the chance to pick the brains of accomplished casting directors and actors outside the program as well.
Fitzgerald was pleased with a recent ‘talk back’ (a post-show Q&A session) with the cast of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brody,’ a play starring ‘Sex and the City’s’ Cynthia Nixon.
While the program has its perks, the students are taking about 19 credits and usually have classes all day.
‘It’s a really busy course load, but it’s not unbearable,’ Fitzgerald said. ‘Everything we’re doing is so exciting and fun.’
A typical Wednesday for Fitzgerald is a voice class, a theater history class, film class and then maybe a Broadway show.
Much like participants in SULA’s Sorkin Week, Fitzgerald highlights networking and learning how to live in the city as key lessons learned through the Tepper Semester.
‘I think it’s the best experience (that an acting student can get),’ Fitzgerald said.
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