Walton Wilson, Chair of Acting at Yale School of Drama


Walton Wilson – Chair,
Acting Department My name is Walton Wilson. I’m chair of the acting program
here at Yale School of Drama. Our mission in training
actors is to equip you for a lifelong career. We want to graduate students
who are passionate and fearless, who have highly developed
bodies, voices, minds, and spirits, and who
are ready to contribute, with imagination and a strong
sense of truth, to theatre, film, television, and new
media, both in this country, and throughout the world. Over the course of
three years, you’ll have a wide range of
opportunities in the classroom. Our training is
designed, in part, to help actors let go of
those habits of mind and body that at present hold
them back in their work and to replace
those with practices that will serve them better. We’re not interested in
“breaking down” actors and rebuilding them in our image
of who we think they should be – the last thing we want to do
is to erase the very qualities that make each of these
people interesting and unique. The training we
offer both liberates the talent of the
actor as well as helps you to become
more of who you are. Your growth as an artist is
not separate from your growth as a human being because
a good acting education is a good human education. You’ll probably have 12 or
more production experiences while you’re here. These range from bare
bones studio productions of original works
written by your peers in the playwriting program, to
fully produced projects chosen and directed by your colleagues
in the directing department. Sometimes actors are
invited to audition for — and possibly be cast in —
shows at Yale Repertory Theatre alongside a company of
seasoned professional actors. All acting students are assigned
to understudy roles at Yale Rep, which is how you earn your
membership to Actor’s Equity by the time you graduate. There are also extracurricular
opportunities — should you choose —
at the Yale Cabaret, which many graduates credit as
the most influential in terms of translating their classroom
training into their own independently chosen
production work. Some of the things we look for
when we’re auditioning you is a person of strong
individuality; someone who wants to participate
fully in the collaborative nature of theatre making —
who loves the idea of acting as a form of play —
and very importantly, we look for people who bring
a spirit of generosity, good will, and courage into
the room in order to take on the hard tasks that serious
actor training asks one to do. Actors must be keen and
empathetic observers of the world, deeply
curious about all aspects of human nature, able to take
on the behavior, rhythms, cultural points of view and
styles of language which are quite unlike their
contemporary selves. Objectively, we
look for actors who possess lively imaginations,
and an appetite for language, whose bodies and voices
are flexible, responsive, and capable of being
trained with the potential to transform into a whole
range of characters. A primary purpose of training
is to make actors as expressive as possible, to
teach them to put what they understand
intellectually into behavior, sound, and language. The actor’s mind needs
to be trained, as well. The actor should be able to
get inside the imagination of the playwright, to penetrate
the center of the event which the writer has
structured, in order to bring it to specific
life on the stage. An actor should also develop
the ability to translate a director’s notes into the
language of the technique they’re learning. Acting is at its root
an exchange of energy — a give and take,
like breathing — with energy sent out into the
world and received back again. The art of the theatre is
the art of collaboration. Yale School of Drama is the only
professional training program that trains artists in all 9
disciplines of the theatre. Every member of the production
team has to learn when it’s appropriate to step
forward in the room, and contribute with
intelligence, passion, and generosity to
the work at hand, and when it’s appropriate to
step back and let other people make their contribution. We strive to create
an atmosphere in training where
courage and daring are welcomed and promoted. We believe actors need to
be allowed to reach beyond their present capacities –
even to fail, if necessary. A young actor needs to learn
to regard failure itself as a valuable
learning experience, something to take information
from rather than suffer humiliation over. As an actor in
training, you must learn to tolerate
your own discomfort. Speaking of discomfort – I’m
familiar with that feeling. In recent years, for example,
I’ve really had to examine the privileges of
my social location, and unpack the unconscious
prejudices I’ve accumulated. Our students here have taught me
to look at things differently, and in that regard, I sometimes
live in a state of discomfort in order to continue
learning about issues that are very important to me: as
a human being, as a citizen, and as an artist. I’m also working to
understand more clearly some of the racial-, gender, and
ability-based biases inherent in American actor training. This close examination
of equity, diversity, and inclusion is happening
throughout the School of Drama. We’re not perfect by any
stretch of the imagination, but I’m confident we’re
moving in the right direction. Whatever your economic
status, whatever your race or ethnicity, however
your identify and express your gender, whether you have a
non-disabled or a disabled body – there’s a place for you here. Thank you for your interest
in Yale School of Drama. We look forward to
meeting you in person and having the opportunity
to see your work.

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