North Central College - Naperville, IL

Theatre Training on a Worldwide Stage

When Will Allan ’09 learned last April that he had an opportunity to study in Moscow at the Moscow Art Theater School, he knew he’d hit the study abroad jackpot.

His fall semester abroad was a life-changing experience in every respect, as he experienced Russian culture and trained among 33 fellow actors from schools including New York University, the University of Michigan and Skidmore College. The Moscow school is viewed as the pinnacle of acting and theatre training, Allan says, and as an art form, theatre holds an exalted place in Russian culture. “It was one of those things you had to take advantage of, because you may never get the chance again,” he says. “It’s arguably the best theatre training in Europe and perhaps the world.” The 25 Russians studying there attend for free, selected from 1,000 applicants.

School days were about 10 hours long, with three hours devoted daily to acting. Allan’s other courses included costume design, voice, fencing, theatre history, ballet and cinematography. Some were taught in English, others in Russian with a translator present. There were no textbooks, homework or tests, so when the actors had free evenings, they headed for the local stages. Allan saw 22 theatrical productions.

“There is so much appreciation for the arts, with hundreds of theatres in Moscow alone,” he says. “The majority are still funded by the government.”

Life in Russia outside school was trying at times. The police were suspicious of foreigners and could stop the students at any time. “Sometimes we had to call the school administrators so they could verify our status,” Allan says. “It got worse around the parliamentary elections when they were cracking down.”

The food was bland and expensive, which was the students’ primary complaint about their semester. One spent $75 for a meal at Moscow’s T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant on Thanksgiving. Allan recalls that after his father picked him up at O’Hare International Airport in December, their first stop was Chipotle.

Regardless of the lack of burritos and spicy barbecue foods, Allan says that more North Central College theatre students should take advantage of the Moscow opportunity in the future. He says his peers’ talents rival those from more prestigious schools. “A good number of people here are talented enough to go,” he says. “We can hold our own. ”Allan did so well, in fact, that he was offered an opportunity to return for a two-year graduate program, which would require that he become fluent in Russian. Whether he returns is a decision he’ll put off for now.“The school was unbelievable,” he says. “It’s strict but fun. If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that you have to find the joy in theatre or you’re in the wrong profession.”

North Central NOW Winter 2008