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School of Acting Hosts San Francisco URTAs

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Executive Director of the School of Acting Diane Baker (center) with Rachel Friedman (left) and Scott Steele (right) of the University Resident Theatre Association. Photo courtesy of Diane Baker.

Each winter, the University Resident Theatre Association holds a series of auditions and interviews for prospective M.F.A. candidates. Known as the URTAs, the events are held in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. This year, Academy of Art University’s School of Acting hosted the San Francisco URTAs. The event took place Feb. 4–5 and provided some 150 aspiring actors with the opportunity to audition for dozens of recruiters from 39 URTA member universities and other prominent institutions.

Participating in the URTAs allows M.F.A candidates to avoid the expense and inconvenience of traveling to different campuses, arranging separate interviews and navigating applications for numerous institutions. Schools benefit by seeing hundreds of top candidates from across the country in just a few days. 

“The schools see several hours of auditions and tell us who they’d like to interview later—this can be an individual, a pair of candidates or a group,” explained Scott Steele, executive director of URTA. “No one is going to make a decision based on this first 15-minute interview, but it’s an opportunity for the schools to talk about their programs and find out something about the candidates. The URTAs are a good, efficient, economical way for M.F.A. candidates to meet representatives from a huge number of programs at one time, in one place.”

 URTA business and communications director Tony Hagopian emphasized the diversity of the programs offered by member schools: “They focus on different styles of acting, different pedagogues and are all looking for different things,” he said. “It’s great for candidates to be able to audition for all of these schools because it’s easier for them to find the one that’s the right fit for them.”

On the first morning of auditions in San Francisco, the hallway outside the theatre at 79 New Montgomery Street pulsed with nervous energy as candidates waited for their turn to take the stage. Some stood quietly in line. Others paced the corridor and practiced their monologues. One young man dropped to the floor and cranked out a set of push-ups. 

Each actor had two minutes to impress the recruiters in the hopes of getting one or more callbacks at the Parc 55 Hotel that afternoon. Most performed both a traditional piece—such as a monologue from a Shakespeare play—and a contemporary piece. 

“I think it went pretty well,” said Justin Brackett after his audition. “I did better on my contemporary piece.”

Greg Leaming, director of FSU/ASOLO Conservatory in Florida said he looks for actors who have a strong, personal connection to their material, dramatic imagination and charisma on stage when determining who to call back. “We’re a very small institution that’s not on a campus—the administration is just me and my assistant—so URTAs provide us with the structure that can get our name out there and bring us into personal contact with the broadest range of students.” 

Leaming added that he also values getting to work collegiately with other theater training programs from around the country. “It’s a good way for us to identify and clarify our vision, and our work, in contrast to what other people are doing and to learn from them.”

 URTA callbacks are not only beneficial for recruiters; they also give students a chance to learn more about individual schools. During one of the Academy’s group callbacks at the Parc 55 Hotel, for example, acting instructors Karen Hirst and Rebecca DuMaine fielded questions about the Academy’s application process, curriculum and opportunities to work with area theatres, among others.  

The Academy’s School of Acting Executive Director, Diane Baker, who had just returned from the URTAs in New York, said it was an honor for the Academy to host the San Francisco URTAs. She and Damon Sperber, School of Acting associate director, were also looking forward to giving other URTA members a tour of the Academy. 

“Being part of URTA gives us a presence around the world and is a wonderful way for us to reach out to actors all over the country that might be looking for what we have to offer,” stated Baker. “It allows us to open our doors and be seen and known for our acting program.”