First-Year Students: Set Yourself Up for Success at The Academy
In preparation for the upcoming academic year, we sat down with our First-Year coordinators on both coasts, Maggie Low (New York Campus) and Brenda Beck (Los Angeles Campus), to get advice for incoming First-Year students. Read on for tips to set yourself up for success as you transition into conservatory training. This is going to be a remarkable journey full of inspiration, growth, and discovery.
What advice would you offer incoming First-Year students to help set them up for success?
Maggie – Treat yourself like an Olympian. Self-care is important to do your best work in the classroom. Eat and sleep well. Give yourself permission to not know the answers. Be open-minded. As artists we are always learning. Every working experience is different and the ability to learn and explore is a must.
Brenda – Say “yes” and stay curious. You are here to be challenged, which at times, can be uncomfortable – that’s okay. Being open to the new and unfamiliar, to everything your instructors have to offer, is the first characteristic successful students exhibit. Be present. Focus on what’s going on now and don’t worry about second year or Company or how to get an agent. Those things will have their time. By remaining present now, you’ll be ready then. Be your best at what you can do, every day - there is so much you can bring besides talent: curiosity, diligence, can-do attitude, preparation, ability to take notes and direction, ability to listen, generosity - none of these involve your talent. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else: you’re here to learn about yourself and to grow and transform, and everyone develops at different rates. Positive competition can be inspiring, so it’s also good to surround yourself with others who are equally committed to and passionate about what you love. Hang out with friends who respect, understand, and love what you’ve chosen to do. Be proactive in your education - don’t sit back and wait to learn. Show up, step up and find new things to explore and question, every day. If you don’t understand something, ask for help. If you want more challenge, let your teachers know. Do your work.
What types of goals would you recommend First-Year students set for themselves throughout the year?
Maggie – Perfect attendance and placing a priority on time management. A lot of work goes on outside of class, both personal practice and rehearsals with partners. Budget your time consciously. We have learning outcomes clearly stated in the syllabi that are a good guide to goals.
Brenda – Goals can be big and overreaching or small and measurable - I believe you need both. If you want help making and sticking to goals, our Student Advisor can help. A measurable goal might be something like doing your Voice and Speech assignment as soon as you get out of class (or at the first break you have) so that the material is fresh in your mind, or reading your play the first day you’re assigned. It could also be spending 20 minutes every day on your choreography, even if you don’t have Movement again until after the weekend. Some goals will develop out of the comments you get from your instructors; stay involved and work consciously alone and with teachers’ guidance to achieve these through the year.
How should a student reach out when they need assistance or support?
Maggie – On the New York Campus, you can find support on the sixth floor. There you’ll find our Director of Instruction (Julia Smeliansky) and Director of Student Services (James Wojtkiewicz), in addition to myself, all who can offer assistance. You can stop by our offices or reach us via email. In the Residence Hall, our Residence Director and/or Residence Assistants can help. We also have a certified mental health counselor available by appointment.
Brenda – There is a lot of support students may take advantage of - and you’re encouraged to do so! First off, your instructors are always available for you, whether you have a question about your in-class work or more personal concerns. The First-Year Coordinator (myself) is also a go-to person with an open office door – whether you just want to talk, have questions about the program, or need any guidance. The Director of Student Services (Juan Tinoco) and our Student Advisor (Linda Brennan) are available for you, usually on a daily basis, especially for student housing, student life, and time management issues. We have certified mental health counselors available by appointment, and there’s a great student mentoring program which matches First-Year students with Second-Year students and Company members. You are not alone and we want you to know and feel supported as you move through your training.
How can students balance their studies and coursework with their personal lives?
Maggie – Make time management a focus and a priority. In addition, remain in open communication with The Academy community and with the important people in your life.
Brenda – Balancing training with personal life is an ongoing challenge. Acting school is all-consuming, but you can’t be your best in class if you don’t get rest, eat, visit and laugh with friends. Many ideas abound, but I believe you have to find joy in something just for you - whether it’s meditation, tending to a plant, working out, finding time every day to take a walk, or hanging out with a friend - get out and see the world around you (Los Angeles has wonders abounding). Try not to procrastinate but break work into manageable sections so you can take breaks: think of homework as something you “get to do’ rather than a chore and remember that everything you’re asked to do is to help you become a better actor. Do it for you.
Any other pieces of advice or tips for incoming students?
Maggie – This is an intensive two-year program that goes by very quickly. We have students from all walks of life and all ages , some with families, etc. It can be done. It is highly recommended, that while you are enrolled at The Academy, that the work here is your priority. The opportunity to be immersed in the art of acting on a full-time basis is special. Soak up every bit of it.
Brenda – Be prepared for highs and lows, and keep in mind that transformation and growth take time and an open spirit. Trust in the choice you’ve made and commit to it 100%. You will get out of it what you put in plus more so be sure to continue showing up for yourself.