Posted by Ali Peterkort
Last year, after finally declaring a double degree in Psychology and Art and Performance, I decided to dedicate the summer to my passion in life: acting. Once I started to look, I realized summer acting programs are abundant, but I didn’t know which ones would be most beneficial for an aspiring actor. Google became my best friend as I researched, compared, and haphazardly applied to a variety of programs that looked interesting. Little did I know that my on-a-whim submissions would lead me to quite an extraordinary summer.
I spent my first month at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts (NYCDA) taking classes from 9:30am-6:30pm during the week and squeezing in as many Broadway shows as I could on the weekend. New York City lives up to all the buzz. What an animated, magical, hard-working, and inspirational city. Times Square is a beautiful mess, and what happens behind the closed doors of the multitude of theatres is life changing. It’s impossible to walk down the street without confidence and a decent amount of awe. If you haven’t been yet, treat yo self. I can now imagine myself living and working there at the beginning of my career.
After a pit stop in Reykjavik (which is AMAZING!) I spent a month at Magdalen College as part of the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Program (BADA). There I took classes from 9am-6pm, along with one-on-one tutorials with most of my professors and master classes with professional screen and stage actors. Oxford could not have been more opposite to New York City. Its streets ring with reverence and history, and every restaurant, pub, and street corner comes with its own story. I walked the same path as Oscar Wilde, sat in the same seat as Tolkien, and felt the spirit of the thousands of intellectuals that passed through Oxford everywhere I went. I lived and worked in 13th century buildings, listening to the words of Shakespeare reverberate in the quads and cloisters. In this environment I not only got close to the phenomenal people that I shared it with, but I found a part of my artistic self that I had lost.
After leaving Oxford, I got to explore the bustle of London and Dublin and the beautiful landscapes of the Scottish highlands. The Isle of Skye turned out to be a moody, soul-healing place that I can’t wait to return to.
Despite their many differences, I felt at home in both programs. This was the first time in my life that acting consumed my days—and I loved it. Any free time I had was spent reading plays, listening to musicals, talking about acting, or watching my peers practice. I won’t deny that there were still days when I questioned my choices and asked myself if I could put up with the rejection and hardships that everyone in this field faces. But getting out of bed in the morning involved more excitement about the day, and I went to sleep at night imagining all the wonderful possibilities of my future.
In both New York and Oxford I met some extraordinary people. My amazing Shakespeare coach at BADA, James Bundy, Dean of the Yale School of Drama, helped me get in touch with Shakespeare with just a few poignant phrases. Neal Lerner, my scene study coach at NYCDA, gave me some tips and techniques that I will use for the rest of my career. I also took part in master classes with Fiona Shaw, Brian Cox, Simon Callow, Henry Goodman, Pippa Nixon, John Heffernan, and Peter Francis James. Getting to interact in an informal setting with actors that I look up to helped me feel comfortable and gain confidence in myself and my individuality. Listening to their expertise and experiences provided invaluable information to someone searching to get into the business. Even so, I realized that what they were sharing was often unique to them, and, as phenomenal as it was to hear, I have to understand that my path will likely be completely different.
Thanks to these programs, I am filled with love for my craft, and I am thrilled to share it with the world. If you are the least bit interested in exploring your artistic side, I urge you to follow that spirit. Sometimes the most rewarding moments in life come when you take a chance. You never know what you will find!