FLATIRON DISTRICT — A group of teens from across the city have been chosen to study this July at the renowned acting school, the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, to learn about Shakespeare — and themselves.
In a five-week workshop at the school at 31 West 27th St., the 24 teens have been meeting Monday through Friday for 2 1/2 hours each day, forming bonds, breaking out of their shells, and preparing for the spotlight in an upcoming production of Julius Caesar.
Though they had to interview and audition for the program, many of the students — most of whom come from families living below the poverty line, the studio's artistic director, Tom Oppenheim said — knew little about acting before they began.
"Before I came here, I used to be very shy," claimed Ramon Sanchez, 17, standing at the center of his new group of friends at the studio Thursday. "I didn't even know myself!"
His classmates giggled, bursting with energy after an afternoon rehearsal. But they all nodded in agreement with Sanchez.
"When you think about dreams you can get delusional," piped in Manhattan student Melvin Pichardo, 15. "But when you start working for what you want, you discover yourself."
The students' conversation naturally turned to "bettering yourself," and realizing that acting is more than seeking fame.
"To act is to starve," said one Bronx student, Angelica Flores, 17, who said she has a wholehearted dedication to the field. Her classmate, Dario Novembre, also said it was important to push outside his comfort zone.
"I didn't know anything about theater...it's been hard," said Novembre, 17, a student from Queens.
Just three weeks into their workshop, the students seemed to embody the studio's philosophy, that "growth is an actor is synonymous to growth as a human being," as Oppenheim phrased it.
"Your first responsibility as an actor is to nurture your own humanity, not to be rich and famous," said Oppenheim, whose grandmother Stella Adler began the famous studio that's trained stars including Marlon Brando.
Oppenheim said that the summer youth workshop, part of the studio's outreach for youth, reflects the organization's mission "to respond to economic and educational inequality."
And why Shakespeare?
According to Carlos Caldart, director of outreach, the playwright is actually one of the best to teach beginning actors.
"Once you learn your lines and the meaning of them, all of the action is there [in the script]," explained Caldart, 43. "It's also to show kids that they actually can speak Shakespeare."
Caldart said he's seen kids dramatically increase their self-esteem just from taking the brief workshop, and that many afterward choose to audition for the year-round free outreach program.
"They come here often not knowing how to articulate what they want," said Caldart. "We establish a very good structure, so they can feel safe to let go and create."
The summer workshop students will perform a 45-minute version of Julius Caesar at Stella Adler Studio on Aug. 5, at four different times throughout the day. Performance times will be announced soon.