Spotlight on the 40th anniversary

In 1975, Joy Zinoman began offering classes and the Acting Conservatory was born.  40 years and thousands of students later, the Conservatory is still going strong and still standing firm in its mission to offer serious training in the craft of acting.  We sat down to talk with Joy about her journey over the 40 years.

It is quite an accomplishment for The Acting Conservatory to have been training actors for 40 years.  How do you plan to mark this significant milestone?

We are having a big celebration of this exciting anniversary; on Monday, May 11th, students past and present have been invited to the theatre for a cocktail party which will be followed by a program which will honor the six longest serving teachers in the Conservatory: Nancy Paris, Meade Andrews, Colette Yglesias-Silver, Serge Seiden, Denise Diggs and George Fulginiti-Shakar.  We will also announce two new scholarships; the Nancy Paris Comedy Scholarship and the Ken Dryfuss Scholarship as well as two new initiatives—the recording of all curriculum lectures and the alumni website.  It will be a memorable event. 

How did the Acting Conservatory begin?

I was at American University as a graduate student, directing my thesis project in Peking Opera and some of the students I was working with asked me why I wasn’t teaching acting.  I had written a curriculum based on early Stanislavski when I was living in Asia; I taught acting to classically trained Asian actors who were deeply interested in studying Western Realism. I used the curriculum developed over my years teaching in Asia to begin the program.  We began with twenty-two students in two classes and it was taught in a student’s attic and it was called The Joy Zinoman Studio.  We spent two years moving from space to space and then partnered with Liz Lerman and moved to 1443 Rhode Island Avenue; from there we moved to Church St., which is when the Studio Theatre was born.  Now we have about 750 students each year at the Conservatory. 

What did you discover as the Conservatory grew?

That there was a real hunger in Washington for technique-based training.  The Acting Conservatory offers a three-year curriculum; the first year focuses on Realism, the second year on Classical acting and the final year on Styles.  And, that there was a need for classes that dealt with the actor’s instrument—which is how the adjunct classes were developed.  Meade Andrews and Colette Yglesias-Silver were really instrumental in the creation of those classes. And, in 1986, I asked Marcia Churchill to adapt the Realism curriculum for teen actors—which is the program that is now called the Young Actors Ensemble. 

What is your philosophy regarding how the craft should be approached? 

Oh dear…that is a difficult question to tackle—I could go on for hours.  But, if I had to give a short answer I would say that all acting begins with the study of Realism.  And, I would say that actors can learn technique, and they can have their creativity enhanced.  But it is when intuition meets technique that one becomes an artist. 

What kind of students comes through the doors of the Acting Conservatory?

We have an extremely interesting and diverse student population. There are professional actors who want to continue to hone their skills and be challenged; there are students who have some training—often from a B.A. or B.F.A. program, but they feel their training wasn’t sufficient. There are students who have no experience whatsoever in the theatre, but are driven to explore and discover what it is.   And, we have some who just want to work on their bodies or their voices.  We have classes that will serve all these students and help them meet their goals. 

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Interviews and conversations with members of the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory community.