Dear Prospective NTI Student
Dear Prospective NTI Student,
NTI was not part of my plan. I don't know about you, but I'm a hardcore planner/scheduler, and I had my entire college career mapped out. THE PLAN: earn my BFA in acting, minor in dance, take voice lessons on the weekends, get cast in everything, and graduate with an agent and a national tour lined up. THE REALITY: I got cut from my acting program in the middle of my sophomore year. I was devastated, hurt, and confused about my future. I had no idea what to do.
Transfer to another college? Quit theater altogether? Become an accountant? Luckily a friend of mine, who had just finished a semester at NTI, saw what a mess I was, took me out to coffee, slid a big colorful brochure across the table and simply said, "Do it."
When I arrived at NTI, there wasn't much time to dwell on how terrified I was, because we went to work immediately. By throwing myself into classes like acting, directing, playwriting, movement, mask, puppetry, and clowning, I learned and accomplished so much more than I ever thought I could in 14 short weeks. I found teachers who were both challenging and supportive, many of whom I remain in close contact with today. They instantly recognized the obstacles that were hindering my progress and worked closely and lovingly with me to overcome them. I found ensemble members who pushed me to attack the work with both tenacity and playfulness. I found that I was not only an actor but also a director, sound designer, and writer. It turned out that the world of theater was way, way bigger than I had ever imagined, and there was plenty of room for me in it. The limitations I had been putting on myself were completely bogus. I came to NTI deeply afraid of failure and too scared to try new things. It turns out that you can't fail, no matter how messy or loud the attempt. The real failure is in the not trying.
After NTI, my life as an artist took off in ways I couldn't have predicted. I was accepted to a prestigious summer acting program, directed a play for my undergraduate thesis, worked for the O'Neill during their summer conferences, interned for NTI, and started to assistant direct professionally. Every opportunity that I have gotten has come directly either from someone I met during my semester or an alum of the program. Once you enroll, you instantly become part of the NTI family, a wide network of friends, teachers, and collaborators who will continue to support you on your artistic journey.
So I'll say to you what my friend said to me. "Do it." I can't say it enough.
"I found that I was not only an actor but also a director, sound designer, and writer. It turned out that the world of theater was way, way bigger than I had ever imagined, and there was plenty of room for me in it."
Dear Prospective NTI Student,
NTI. Three letters staring you in the face, each one trying to explain what 14 weeks making theater in a barn might be like. What might it be like for you? The best answer I can give you is, “I don’t know.” It might be a call to arms, it might be an artistic revelation, or it might just be a new look at the way this leaf falls from that tree. It might be waking your long dormant writer, discovering Vogel and Williams in a basement, or touching your toes for the first time.
I do know this: NTI wakes you up. It opens your eyes a little wider, spins your wheels a little faster, and pounds your heart a lot harder. The shape of what you’re sure of begins to shift. You start to smell the way the sea comes up to meet your window. You discover the difference a minute makes when you salute the sun before it rises. You slam words against ideas against drawings against windows against muscles against sand against breath. And bang. 14 weeks collapse into a heap at your feet. And you are awake, surrounded by fearless others who have journeyed with you.
Over the course of a semester, NTI introduced me to a number of artistic options, including ones I’d never dared to attempt (…playwriting). It allowed me to create challenging new work with a team of my peers. It pushed me to crack open and live inside every work I encountered, from Shakespeare to fresh-from-the-printer-plays.
So now, two years later, what do I have? Eyes that open a little wider, wheels that (sometimes) spin a little faster, and a heart always ready to pound a little harder.
"NTI allowed me to create challenging new work with a team of my peers. It pushed me to crack open and live inside every work I encountered, from Shakespeare to fresh-from-the-printer-plays."
Dear Prospective NTI Student,
I’m sure you have many questions about this place you’ve heard of that’s near the ocean, sometimes encased in fog, has a barn as one of the theaters, and seems to be a theater boot camp (prepare yourself, because it is). I had these questions and many more when I applied a few months after I graduated. Some questions were still left unanswered as I set foot on the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s campus and was handed my room key to the Farmhouse. I would soon be acquainted with the quirkiness that was the O’Neill just hours later meeting the 20 other students that I would be closer with than I ever imagined. These “other” students were soon to be my ensemble.
The four months that I spent at the O’Neill were filled with the variety of classes that I was hungry for. In one, single day I was doing everything from reading a scene I had written for playwriting in the morning, stretching and doing animal walks during Droznin in the afternoon, running around with a red wooden clown nose after dinner, and dissecting a scene for directing class late at night – too excited afterwards to fall asleep. The camaraderie and sheer trust I experienced and fostered in my ensemble was incredible and I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable and supported as a theater artist anywhere else. The immensely talented and experienced faculty we had the pleasure of working with, learning with and from, blew past my expectations. I developed friendships not only with my ensemble but with faculty as well.
I entered the program with a certain state of mind of where I would be once completing NTI and that idea was certainly turned on its head (I am now cross-country from where I imagined I’d be). NTI taught me to be confident with decisions, even if it means making a wrong one – I know there is a lesson embedded in every choice, right or wrong (Risk. Fail. Risk Again.). So I’m asking you, future ensemble member, to accept the fact that you are headed into uncharted territory but guided by some of the best collaborators you could ask for.
The National Theatre Institute is a magic slice of my life that I will cherish forever because I set my foundation on those sacred grounds and the network I developed there will serve me for the rest of my artistic career.
"The camaraderie and sheer trust I experienced and fostered in my ensemble was incredible and I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable and supported as a theater artist anywhere else."
Dear Prospective NTI Student,
NTI will change your life.
It is not easy. It is not always fun. It can be overwhelming. It will push you beyond where you want to go, and where you think you are capable of going. It will hurt. It will change the way you work. It will change the way you play. It will change the way you sleep. It will change your body and soul.
NTI is about living in the present. It is about doing. You have the opportunity to do things that no one else in the world gets to do. To give you a sense of NTI I will share some of the things I got to do:
I got to have Rachel Jett as my Artistic Director–a woman who does her job with more love and intensity than anyone you’ve ever met. I got to have Michael Cadman, a former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company teach me that Shakespeare’s speeches are not speeches, there is no time to think, love is frightening and out of control, and that the imagination is the most important tool we have. I got to have a directing teacher in Jonathan Bernstein who taught me to allow myself to be found out, to be restlessly curious, and to assume everything matters. I got to spend two weeks in London training with the world-renowned theater company, Complicité. In London, I got to see plays nearly every night at Shakespeare’s Globe, The National Theatre, and in the West End. I got to learn yoga, Tai Chi, African dance, and stage combat. I got to become a Russian acrobat. I got to build sets. I got to be taught and mentored by a faculty who are at the top of their games in their own professional careers. I got to learn about virtuosity. I got to write plays and I got to read them for people who wanted to hear. I got to be in an ensemble with 30 theater-making artists and, together, we were able to work harder and create more in four months than I ever dreamed. We got to build worlds, rehearse though the middle of the night, perform in the most unexpected roles, and create a new piece of theater that was entirely our own. We got to do all this at the most historically significant, the most celebrated, and (I would argue) the most beautiful campus of the American theater.
Upon entering NTI, I thought I wanted to work in the theater. I left NTI an actor and a director. It is what I do and I love doing it more than anything else. Now I am moving to Los Angeles and beginning my first of three years at the USC School of Dramatic Arts for an MFA in acting – a new adventure that would not have been possible without NTI. After that, I have no idea what’s next, but I know that it will be shaped, at least in part, by my experience at NTI because NTI has had such a powerful influence in shaping me.
"It will change the way you work. It will change the way you play. It will change the way you sleep. It will change your body and soul."
Dear Prospective NTI Student,
When I was in my senior year of college, I underwent the most transformative experience of my life. I chose to exchange a semester of liberal arts classes at my small college in western Massachusetts, for a 14-week theater program at the Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Connecticut. I first heard about the National Theater Institute from an alum who described the semester as being sort of a “theater boot camp”, where we would study theater from sun up to sun down. Classes ranged from playwriting to directing to movement to dramaturgy. As I investigated other possibilities, it became clear that NTI was the only program that would provide me with the opportunity to access all-around conservatory training in one intensive semester. As an actor, director, and playwright with an interest in ensemble work and collaboration, NTI was the perfect fit.
My time at NTI was so much more than I could have anticipated. The classes were rigorous, the teachers were passionate, and my fellow classmates were committed in their efforts. I learned an enormous amount about myself as a theatermaker during those 14 weeks. Through rehearsals, exercises, and collaborative projects, my classmates and I developed as individuals and as an ensemble. Every day felt like an adventure, with lots of new discoveries. NTI encouraged me to explore every aspect of theater and to embrace my various interests. I found passions for puppetry and movement. I realized a love for Shakespeare. I re-discovered my desire to write. We were constantly being challenged to push ourselves, to go farther, to take risks. We worked together from 7:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. I had to learn to think on my feet, make quick decisions, and follow my instincts.
Attending NTI was truly a life-changing experience. The program helped me to discover who I am at the core— mentally, emotionally, and artistically. The work both challenged and empowered me. The people I met inspired me. I found life-long friends who I hope to work with someday in a professional capacity. Through the program, we all developed a strong work ethic and a common language. The shared experience of attending NTI brings alums together outside of the O’Neill. The larger alumni community is very supportive. Some of what I gained at NTI cannot be put into words. Dedicating 14 weeks to the theater, putting all of my efforts into the art, and committing to day after day of classes showed me that I was far more capable than I had ever thought. I left NTI knowing that I had the skills to rise to any challenge, in the theater or elsewhere. NTI made a theater career for me feel within reach.
I urge you to consider NTI. It will impact you more than you can imagine.
"My time at NTI was so much more than I could have anticipated. The classes were rigorous, the teachers were passionate, and my fellow classmates were committed in their efforts."
Dear Prospective NTI Student,
Your life is about to change.
It sounds kind of scary when you write it out like that, just kind of blunt and right there. But it's true. Your life is about to change and NTI is about to change it. It might change small, like a soft sort of feeling of shifting. Or it might change big, like an explosion. For me, it was the explosion.
I knew that I wanted to go to NTI when I was 16 years old and a student at the New York State Summer School for Theater and I first took Rachel Jett's Droznin class. I'm not sure if I've actually ever told her that I enrolled in NTI because I knew she was the Artistic Director. (It's true, Rachel Jett). There are people you meet who you know are going to push you to grow and to change and to question and to do more, to fail harder and I knew that Rachel would not let me rest. She would look at us and say, "As an artist, it will be your responsibility to save the world" and it was terrifying. How was I supposed to save the world?
I didn't even know what I wanted to do with my life. I came into NTI thinking that, yes, I wanted to make theater or work in service to those who made theater, but I had no idea what that meant for me. I just knew that when adults would ask (as they always do) what I wanted to do with my life, I'd say "I'm a theater major" and that would usually end the conversation pretty fast. My teachers at NTI listened to that statement and then said, "Okay. What do you want to make? What do you have to say? How can you say it so that people will be moved, so that people will connect? How can your art reach people?"
And it's a crucible (pardon the reference) or like...running the gauntlet. You don't rest. You don't have time to look ahead of you and panic or look behind you and think about what you've done. You have to focus on each thing as it comes with your whole being and work tirelessly, fearlessly and bring your whole self always. Support your ensemble, don't be afraid to let them support you, carry them and allow yourself to be carried. And when it ends (we don't like to talk about it, but it does have to end), you get to finally look at your experience as a whole and see what it was.
For me, my experience at NTI was everything. Moments of extreme failure, extreme sadness, extreme joy, knowledge, deep connection, support, loneliness, unwavering community and the love of theater supporting each day, each person, each moment. My semester at the National Theater Institute taught me what I can do - how much art I can make in a day, what branches of art I might follow in the future (and there are many! Never let anyone tell you that you must pick one thing. Follow all your passions tirelessly!), and most importantly: what kind of an artist I am. What I can bring to a collaboration, how I can serve others in making art and how generously and openly I can enter into any artistic endeavor.
I still don't know what I want to do in theater, exactly. But I think that's okay. NTI taught me that there are many paths to travel down and many doors to travel through and as long as I am active and ready and willing to work hard, there is art to be made.
If you are going to change the world, you must allow yourself to change. Constantly. Let yourself be affected by the people you meet, the things you learn, the state of the world. NTI teaches you how to be open enough to allow that change to come and brings you into a family of artists and peers and mentors who are also poised to change the world.
So be open. Be ready. Be fearless.
"NTI taught me that there are many paths to travel down and many doors to travel through and as long as I am active and ready and willing to work hard, there is art to be made."