The Theatre Department at The Chicago Academy for the Arts employs a unique Project-based curriculum that intersects students with a selective overview of theatre and performance studies.
In addition to regular and intensive work in the Acting Studio, Theatre students will explore up to twenty topics in the discipline including all facets of Stagecraft and Scene Design, Directing, Makeup, Auditioning and Professional Business, Dialects, Stage Combat, Improvisation, On-Camera, Playwriting, Circus and others. This model is supplemented at every stage with an integrated look at some of the most important dramatic texts in the canon. Projects will culminate in a showcase of the student’s work. Examples include: Scene Design: Finished Model, Circus: Workshop Production, and Stage Combat: Final Showcase.
Acting Studio is at the core of our work in the Theatre Department. These classes will meet between three to five times per week. Acting classes are divided into three sections, Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced. Those students who enter the program as freshmen can, in general, expect to progress sequentially through the acting curriculum, spending their last two years in Advanced Acting. Examples of a student moving ahead of traditional trajectory or vice versa, will occur from time to time. As with all departmental evaluation processes, the department chair will maintain consistent communication with the student about their progress.
Performance Opportunities in the Department of Theatre vary from year to year. Annually, we will produce a Fall Play, a Spring Play, a Shakespeare Festival in January in conjunction with the Department of Musical Theatre, as well as several other performance opportunities based on the Projects in which our students are engaged. These opportunities may include one to two Directing Showcases, a Circus Project Culmination, a reading of Playwriting finals, and others.
Guest Artists will work with our students an average of two times per year for immersive project experiences. While our department faculty is made up of working professionals from the Chicago Theatre Community, the Academy is extremely proactive in finding other artists to engage with our students. Guest Artists may work on Projects such as On-Camera, Circus, Playwriting, Stage Combat, Improvisation, and others.
Supplementary Work in the department includes two years of a free-period singing class with Musical Theatre Department Chair Emeritus Patricia Rusk. This class meets once per week during a student’s free period during academic classes and is required study for second and third year students in the program. First and fourth year students may opt into this class with the approval of the Department Chair.
Play Attendance is another highly integral piece of our curriculum. Chicago has one of the most vibrant theatre scenes and we will plan to provide students with the opportunity to attend, at least, six professional plays during the school year. These productions are carefully selected to intersect with our course work and will, as often as possible, include plays that we are reading in the Theatre Curriculum. In addition to attending the productions, we will provide opportunities for students to interact with production staff and cast members of the attended plays.
This class is designed to provide new Theatre Department students with the essential tools for approaching text and character. The first semester uses a “neutral voice” monologue aimed at helping students experience freedom from habitual vocal and movement patterns. Students also begin work with Shakespeare in their first semester. In the second half of year one, students focus on work from Timothy Mason’s The Less Than Human Club as a way of exploring intention and objective. Mason’s text give students direct access to these techniques as his characters are near Academy student’s ages and often mirror student’s unique personalities.
Using Robert Cohen’s Acting One, Academy student’s second year of Acting focuses on identifying the strengths of Department students and matching those with great characters from faculty selected material. Plays such as Bert Royal’s Dog Sees God and Naomi Iizuka’s Good Kids allow for continued focus on giving students greater access to their own vocal and physical power by offering them relatable characters in contemporary settings.
Most Juniors and Seniors can expect to find placement in Advanced Acting. The work pursued in this laboratory is meant to push students to delve deeply into the psychological needs of character. Using the carefully curated material from essential dramatic literature, both classical and contemporary, faculty use their familiarity with the student’s previous work to force them out of habitual tendencies and “easy” choices. Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting and Robert Cohen’s Acting Power are read and discussed in rotation through years one and two of this class.
A two semester course, Directing encourages students to engage with material on a profound dramaturgical level. Culminations in this class include an evening of student-directed scenes in semester one and a group directed show in semester two. Scenes in semester one are chosen from the essential playwrights from the canon of twentieth-century American drama including Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Lorraine Hansberry, Lillian Hellman, and others.
Using Charna Halpern and Del Close’s seminal text Truth in Comedy, this class will encourage students to stretch the limits of their imaginations. Student’s insecurities about “revealing self” to their audience will be discussed and explored in a safe and fun environment.
Taught alongside Directing, Design classes allow students to realize a complete production. Working with both computer-based rendering applications and more conventional drafting methods, student’s designs will receive showcases alongside their directing project culminations.
Mandatory for a thorough understanding of the craft of Theatre-making is a solid grasp of “backstage” terminology, practices for Theatre safety, and techniques for stagecraft, lighting and sound operation. Students in this class can expect to learn how to safely and properly handle power tools and hand tools, how to create lighting and sound cues, and how to correctly identify the numerous technical aspects of theatre production.
With so many opportunities in the growing industry of digital media, a contemporary actor’s ability to adjust their performance techniques for the camera lens is essential. In this class, students will receive an introduction to on-camera technique for commercials, television, and film.
*Course titles reflect transcripts for the 2017-2018 freshman class.
A scene from Theatre and Musical Theatre's joint presentation of As You Like It in Fall 2016.
The beginning of Circus Arts at The Actors Gymnasium.
The beginning of Circus Arts at The Actors Gymnasium.
Chair - Theatre
Ben Dicke holds a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Education from Sterling College. He has worked as a professional actor for twenty years in regional markets throughout the country.
Saren Nofs-Snyder is an accomplished, Jeff Nominated, Chicago based actress who teachers Acting in the Musical Theatre Department. She earned her BFA in Acting from the University of Utah, and her MFA in Acting and Directing from the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC).
Sasha teaches acting and costume design for The Academy. She holds a post-graduate degree in Acting from The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts in the United Kingdom and a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Communication from Sterling College.
Emily is a seasoned professional with multiple years of teaching experience at the Denver Center Theatre Academy. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Oklahoma.
The Theatre Department offers both performance and production studies to train individuals for careers in the live performance industry. Theatre applicants may select either the performance or the production track.
Other semester-long classes and workshops that occur during a student’s tenure in The Academy Theatre Department include Makeup for Stage and Screen, Costume Concepts, Circus, Combat for Stage and Screen and Playwriting.
The Academy Theatre Department routinely invites Guest Speakers and Resident Teaching Artists to connect students with the wider landscape of the Industry. Recent and upcoming Lecturers and Instructors include Peggy Roeder, Leah Urzendowski, Anthony Courser, Adrian Danzig, Sylvia Hernandez-DeStasi, Kevin Beverley, Alex Aguilar, Orion Couling, Sara Gammage and others.