Welcome back to In the Chair!
This week on In the Chair, Will and Samantha are joined by NYU Tisch at Strasberg second year students, Alyssa Virji and Dillon Odle. NYU Tisch and The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute have been partnered for over 40 years – allowing students to earn their BFA in Drama and take academic courses from New York University, while receiving their actor training from LSTFI. Just a year into their studies, today’s guests tell all about the ups and downs of their NYU experience. This two-part series gives a behind-the-scenes look at one of the nation’s top drama programs. Tune in on all your favorite podcast platforms:
The NYU Tisch Application Process
“I was going on College Confidential forums and seeing as much as I could find out about the auditions. It was this super elusive, mysterious thing.”Dillon Odle
Being one of the top – not to mention largest – drama programs in the nation, NYU has garnered quite the reputation. According to Dillon and Alyssa, the audition is far less intimidating than they anticipated. Dillon explains that other schools were intimidating and “had this sense of ‘You’re really lucky to be auditioning for us right now’. At NYU, he had the opposite experience, finding the audition proctors to promote a friendly and non-competitive environment – despite the selective nature of the program. “There are several people from my audition that I remember and am friends with now here,” Dylan says.
NYU takes great measures to make the application process as smooth and welcoming as possible. International students are permitted to audition via Skype or in alternate locations – like Alyssa, who auditioned in London. Administrators are readily available to help you with any issues you may encounter – like Dillon, who called the Dean of Admissions to reopen his application after he had denied his acceptance months before. On the auditions in particular, Alyssa and Sam both remark on the effort NYU puts into connecting with its potential students. Alyssa remembers, “They said ‘You’re only going to be in for 15 minutes,’ but I talked to my auditioner for over an hour.” She remembers her proctor to this day and often thinks, “Thank you for changing my life.”
Starting out at Strasberg
Ours hosts and guests agree – like any new journey, the training at LSTFI comes with a learning curve.
“The first two weeks will be weird. Everyone lies that they feel something in sensory. Everyone’s like, ‘I felt so at one with my morning beverage.’ Don’t worry if you don’t. It took me 3-4 weeks and no one tells you that. So just get through the first three weeks, and then it’s amazing.”Alyssa Virji
For those unfamiliar with The Method, Will poses the question: What exactly is sensory?
“Sensory is sense memory. You recall past experiences, objects, people that you have come in contact with throughout your lifetime and you use the actual five senses to re-experience it. It’s not about imagining something that didn’t happen, it’s about using your real life experiences and the tangible sensations that come along with it – whether it’s sight, sound, touch, smell, taste – to recreate it. There’s truth in touching something and seeing something, instead of just seeing it through your mind’s eye. It’s a very different thing to say ‘I’m thinking about something,’ but how does the grain of the wood of the coffee table in my childhood home feel? That’s a very different thing, and when you learn to start re-experiencing instead of just thinking about something and personalizing something, I think your work becomes a lot deeper.”Will Brockman
The training that actors receive at LSTFI requires a level of vulnerability and willingness to dive deep into Lee’s work. Luckily, students at both NYU and The Institute are surrounded by a support system of peers and teachers. Arming students with this support and the foundations of Lee Strasberg’s Method Acting, LSTFI seeks to provide students with actor training found nowhere else in the world.
Will Brockman: Samantha Vita!
Samantha Vita: William Brockman!
Will: How are you doing?
Sam: I am doing so well!
Will: It has been a long time.
Sam: It has been a very, very long time.
Will: You were in LA.
Sam: I was. I was in LA… two days ago?
Will: Amazing. I’ve been in the tri-state area.
Sam: How was that?
Will: Honestly… very colonial for the most part.
Sam: I did not have a very colonial experience.
Will: No, that’s… Wild Wild West.
Sam: It is the Wild West.
Will: For Wild Wild Sam.
Sam: Is that what they call me? No, it was a lot of fun though. Did some auditions, saw Ellen – she was amazing, got a 150 dollar gift card. We haven’t been back since the last time I talked to you.
Will: Yeah, we took a hiatus that ended up being…more of a sabbatical.
Sam: More of a sabbatical. You were in a show.
Will: Was I?
Sam: You were in a show.
Will: Oh, I was in a show. Oh my gosh.
Sam: I have been in rehearsals for a show coming up in March. We’ve both been auditioning.
Will: Auditioning like mad.
Sam: Living lives, doing work.
Will: Driving around the tri-state area.
Sam: Well, that’s you.
Will: Mostly me, yeah.
Sam: I’m dog-sitting right now, it’s quite lovely.
Will: I’m substitute teaching.
Sam: It’s the same thing! No, I didn’t mean it that way! Oh my god!
Will: Oh my god, I love that.
Sam: Okay, I didn’t mean it that way. I love –
Will: I know, but I’m keeping that.
Sam: I love kids, I’m a nanny. I actually do love children, and teaching.
Will: I mean, my kids are like, high schoolers, so… So we do have a good episode planned, right?
Sam: It’s an amazing episode. We have some second years on the show, Dillon and Alyssa –
Sam: – coming in to share their perspective of their NYU experience so far.
Will: Which was super helpful, because it’s been a long time since I’ve been in their shoes.
Sam: Right, same! Even though I was a transfer, but that provides unique perspective as well –
Will: But it’s different when you’re still going through it.
Sam: Totally, totally. It’s just different hearing their experience in their audition, and Alyssa being from London.
Will: LOVE London!
Sam: We love London here!
Will: We STAND London here!
Sam: We love London.
Will: The minute she said “Gloucester Road,” I was hooked.
Sam: I knew you were. I don’t even know where that is.
Will: You don’t need to.
Sam: I was happy that you were hooked. I was happy, I saw it in your eyes.
Will: Yeah, yeah. I’m just so glad.
Sam: Even though this is an audio medium, I wish it was visual sometimes so that people could see.
Will: We should just post a picture of me thinking about London on the Strasberg Instagram.
Sam: That will be the promotional.
Will: Just a photo of me thinking about London.
Sam: I think that would get a lot of good publicity. The publicity that we want.
Will: I think it’s gonna be the most liked photo on the Strasberg Instagram.
Sam: Well, it should be.
Will: ‘Cause right now, it’s the photo of Stefani Germanotta, A.K.A. Lady Gaga.
Sam: Oh! I was like, “Who are you talking about?”
Will: Stefani Germanotta.
Sam: Well, that’s also a really good photo as well.
Will: It’s a great photo.
Sam: Right. So we have those two in here talking about their experiences and it’s going to be a good time.
Will: And we’ll be right back with them after this short break.
Will: So here we are, Sam Vita.
Sam: Hey Will, how’s it going?
Will: Pretty good, pretty good.
Sam: That’s good.
Will: We’re here with two very special guests, two NYU second years. Alyssa Virji and Dillon Odle.
Dillon Odle: Hey guys.
Alyssa Virji: Hello.
Will: How are you doing today?
Alyssa: I’m good, how are you?
Will: Pretty good!
Dillon: It’s been a nice day, woke up kinda late today.
Will: Love that. Love sleeping in.
Sam: Love that. I already took a nap today ‘cause I woke up at 7 and I’m dog sitting right now.
Alyssa: What kind of dog?
Sam: She’s a mix of some sort, like a black lab type of mix…hound? I don’t know, but she woke up very early needing to go outside. So I woke up, took her out, went back to bed, and here I am.
Will: Love that.
Sam: On that note!
Will: So, let’s talk about NYU!
Will: The black lab of schools! What I would love to hear you guys talk about is the early stages of becoming an NYU student. So, the audition process, why you chose NYU, maybe other schools you looked at, stuff like that. Because it’s been quite a while since I auditioned for NYU, it’s been a solid five years ago now.
Sam: Oh my God.
Will: Yeah, so it’s been a while for me. So, yeah, tell us what brought you here.
Dillon: Well, my college audition process was a lot easier, I think, than a lot of people’s, because I did the first early decision session for NYU. So, my audition was in late November, I believe, and then I only had to wait about a month. Or, I guess less than a month, because I got my decision on December 15th. It was either the day before or the last day of the first semester of senior year, so we were going on Christmas break at that point. But, I decided that I wanted to go to NYU pretty early on. I think it was either my freshman or sophomore year of high school. I had a really good friend in high school. We always played opposite each other in shows, we were in a lot of different extracurriculars together, and NYU was both our dream schools. So, we kinda did all the research on it together. We came and auditioned together actually.
Dillon: Our audition times were at the exact same slot. We were with each other the whole time. We stayed with her sister when we auditioned and everything. I’m from Texas, a suburb in Texas, and so I think NYU for me was just kind of the perfect mixture of a new environment along with a place that I thought I’d get really good training in. I feel like, for acting, New York makes sense obviously.
Will: Yeah, yeah.
Dillon: I also liked that NYU had the 50/50 ratio deal for how they consider your academics and your audition. I just really wanted a good solid academic base along with acting training and that’s what led me to NYU!
Will: Love it!
Will: What about you, Alyssa?
Alyssa: I think mine was a bit different. Because I come from London, so it was quite a big decision to apply to American universities in general.
Alyssa: But I also really didn’t want to go to university for a really long time, and I only applied because my sister’s two years older than me, and she was like, “You’re gonna regret it if you decide next year and you have to go through all the applications again, whereas this year you can do it while all your friends are doing it.
Will: Well, can I ask a question off that?
Will: When you’re saying you didn’t want to go to university, did you mean, like, you wanted to go to drama school instead of university, or like, nothing?
Alyssa: No, I just wanted to become an actor, go out into the world, because I had been doing auditions for a little while just finding them online and turning up. Which is very dangerous, I don’t advise doing that – and just, like, doing that while I was in school.
Alyssa: And I thought, “Wow, this is how I can live my life for the rest of my life!” And so, I applied to NYU because I was quite academic in school, but I wanted to act. I wanted to go to New York and I thought I would have to audition in New York. Turns out they do auditions in London, so I just went to my audition in London.
Will: Do we?
Will: Yes, I guess we do, yeah.
Alyssa: It was truly like a big plan for me to just get to go to New York, but my parents would never let me go to New York for an audition.
Alyssa: But I went and did an audition, and I loved the person who auditioned me. They genuinely convinced me to go to NYU. Barely anyone applies in London. The auditions here… usually there are, like, 60 kids in a slot.
Sam: Whereas if they do musical theater it’s a longer process and a lot more kids.
Will: See, I actually remember on my day being around 20-ish people there, almost no one.
Dillon: For my early decision slot, there were about 50 kids. But that was including just drama auditions and musical theater auditions.
Sam: I auditioned as a transfer, I transferred my junior year to NYU, so we only had 3 or 4 days to audition and there was about…
Will: A jam-packed load of people.
Sam: Yeah, it was a lot.
Will: I auditioned regular decision in January of my senior year, and I auditioned musical theater and I only remember there only being 16-20 people there.
Alyssa: Maybe musical theater is smaller because they need to see you in more things.
Will: More things, maybe. That’s very possible.
Alyssa: There were literally maybe 7 people, including myself, in mine.
Sam: In London?
Alyssa: They said “You’re only going to be in for 15 minutes.” I talked to my auditioner for over an hour.
Alyssa: Just chatting about life and I was like giving him theater recommendations because he was in London for the week.
Will: Do you remember who it was?
Alyssa: Yes, his name is Chris and he was one of the Deans at NYU, but I’ve never gone up to him because I’m too scared to be, like, “Thank you for changing my life.”
Will: You should go up to him!
Sam: Was it Chris Anderson?
Alyssa: He’s very nice! I don’t know his last name!
Sam: It could be Chris Anderson.
Will: It could be Chris Anderson. It probably is!
Alyssa: He was so friendly and so sweet.
Will: Mine was Tim Crouse.
Dillon: Was it?
Alyssa: Oh nice!
Sam: Mine was not, I think mine was an ETW lady based on the suggestions.
Will: Didn’t you say her name was Rosemary?
Alyssa: I LOVE Rosemary! She was my improv teacher!
Sam: Because we talked about the Cape longer, like, I did my…
Will: Like, Cape Cod?
Sam: Yes. I did my thing, and she was like “That’s good, so did you say you were from Massachusetts?” And I was like, “mhm,” so we just talked about the beach for a very, very long time, which kind of worked to my benefit because I can talk a lot about that, so it was good.
Will: Well, I have this big theory that everyone in their NYU interview who says something that just feels really honest has like –
Will: Because, Tim asked me, “What shows have you been watching lately?” And 17-year-old me was like, “I gotta be real; Gossip Girl.” And he was like, “Thank you for telling the truth.”
Alyssa: My friend had Tim as her auditioner, and she told him she hated reading plays. He was like, “What else have you read?” And she was like, “I’m not gonna lie, I really don’t like reading plays,” and she’s here!
Sam: That’s amazing!
Alyssa: She did it!
Sam: Tim is all about reading plays. He still reads a play a week, I’m pretty sure.
Will: Yeah. He does.
Sam: So probably, you going in there and talking for so long and connecting with Chris, possibly Chris Anderson, was super helpful in your application.
Alyssa: It was so great. He convinced me to go to university.
Will: That’s, I think, one of the things that sets the NYU audition apart. Because one thing that we get a lot is questions about is the Tisch audition. Whether it’s just from people in our life, in the streets, wherever.
Sam: In the streets?
Will: People just walk up to me going “Hey, you went to Tisch? What happened?” Just yelling at me. But the interview is a huge thing that is, I think, a really valuable thing. It makes you understand what happens here a little bit better because you have the opportunity to ask questions and talk with someone who knows the environment. I’m also a big believer in that when you’re in an audition, whether it’s for a rep theatre, a school, a commercial, whatever, you get the vibe the minute you walk into the room, and you know if you want to be a part of this project or this school or not from the get-go.
Will: That’s the vibe I got while working at Tisch that was unlike what I got from all my other schools. I only auditioned at a few schools but I almost went to Emerson for musical theatre, which would’ve been a very different experience.
Sam: It would’ve been a different experience.
Will: I mean, no hate on Emerson, but like –
Sam: No. It’s a great school, it just would’ve been a very different.
Will: A great school. I’m not a very traditional MT track person. I consider myself more of an actor who can sing, not really like a musical theatre performer. I think it would’ve changed my career trajectory. Yeah, the interview is just so helpful in discerning whether you want to go here and if they want you there.
Dillon: I think that’s a really good point that a lot of people are super curious about what the Tisch audition is like. Like I said, I wanted to go to NYU since freshman or sophomore year of high school. So I’m sure like a lot of other high schoolers, I was going on College Confidential forums and seeing as much as I could find out about the auditions and stuff. It was just this super elusive, mysterious thing. But, like I was saying earlier, I did early decision and so I didn’t actually audition for any other schools. NYU is technically the only audition I went on. You were talking about how you can walk in and feel a vibe and, I will say, the NYU audition is actually so pleasant, I feel.
Will: Yes! Yes. It’s really calm!
Dillon: I mean, I feel like ‘cause it’s NYU, you kinda create all this build-up in your head toward it and you get super anxious and you’re anticipating it so hard and then you get there and everyone’s just so surprisingly nice!
Sam: And you talk about the beach!
Dillon: Yeah, exactly! And I remember they do the group warm-up and then they leave us alone for a while, and we all just got to talk to each other. There are several people from my audition that I remember and am, like, friends with now here. Sarah Morgan, actually, was in my audition. Apparently Megan Michigan was too.
Alyssa: I tried to find someone from mine, and I didn’t find one.
Sam: You were the one out of the seven!
Dillon: Yeah, I mean, during my audition, everyone at one point circled up and was going around. We just kinda had this student audition, or facilitated thing, going around and saying where we’re from, what our names are, what our favorite snacks are, just random things – meeting each other and becoming friends. The only other auditions I did go on were – did y’all’s states have International Thespian Society?
Will: Yeah, of course.
Dillon: Did you all do that? Did you all go to ThesFest?
Will: Oh please, I went to State Thespian Festival, I went to International in Lincoln, Nebraska, what memories!
Dillon: Nebraska, yes! Did you ever touch the Elephant statue there?
Will: Of course I did!
Sam: Shoutout to ThesFest!
Alyssa: I wish they could see that action!
Dillon: But – it’s so embarrassing, but the only other auditions I went on were – I did the mass callbacks at this state ThesFest. It was such a weird, different vibe. NYU is such a highly acclaimed, highly sought after drama school, and is so friendly. It just seemed to really understand that students would perform better if students felt welcomed.
Will: Right, right.
Dillon: Y’know, they didn’t want to scare them and be like “You are auditioning for us, for NYU,” because they knew it’d through everyone off and they’d get nervous. At the Texas [ThesFest] auditions, it was strange because it was such a cattle-call type feel, obviously, as most of those kind of things feel. But they all kind of had this sense of “You’re really lucky to be auditioning for us right now” and was kinda just like they wanted us to be intimidated by the fact that we were auditioning for colleges. You know what I mean?
Will: I think I blocked this out, but this just jogged my memory. When I did the mass auditions in Nebraska, there was a certain school that I’m not going to name in the great state of Connecticut that called me back, that wanted to talk to me, that were like, “We like what you did. You definitely wouldn’t get in if you auditioned right now, but you have so much work to do. You can definitely be good enough one day.” And I remember being like, “Who are you right now?”
Sam: It would’ve been better if they had said nothing.
Will: Or like, not called me back!
Sam: Not been so condescending!
Will: Oh, it was so condescending. But there’s just those kinds of schools out there that produce this one-dimensional figure because they all have this idea of what is going to “work” in the real world – that is not necessarily true at all. There is a vastly changing landscape of musical theatre, theatre, film, commercial work, whatever, that a lot of schools have not caught up with. I feel like NYU is really good in being like, “We have a vast range of students who study here because there is a vast range of people that need to be represented in a changing industry that is slowly but surely trying to catch up to what life actually looks like,” and part of that is because we have such a large department.
Alyssa: Off that, I think that is reflected in what they ask you to do in the audition. I only auditioned for one other drama school and it was in England. I had to do contrasting monologues, but one had to be Shakespeare and one modern, whereas for NYU it’s just two modern monologues and they have to be contrasting but they’re from this century. And I think, thinking back on that, I’m like, “Oh wow, it really reflects how you’re taught here and that you’re taught how to be an actor for this generation.”
Will: Right. And, I mean, I studied classical acting while I was here. But I –
Sam: But you can choose to.
Will: Right, but my point was I think most studios don’t attack classical acting until at least third year. Or if you do before, it’s very lightly. Very very, lightly. Not in the sense of “we’re doing only Shakespeare scenes for a semester” – like they do it in some other schools – but lightly like “Oh, you want to work on…” Sophomore year I did, I think, a scene from Measure for Measure or something. But it was like three weeks out of my life, it wasn’t like it was a full 12-week semester.
Sam: That’s what I really loved about Strasberg. It’s so on you. You can kinda choose the type of work you want to do. If you bring in a Shakespeare scene, they’re not going to say “no, you’re not ready” or “no, we need to do this, this, and this before…” We’ll just do it, and see what happens, and you can bring in whatever type of material you want, which is really great.
Sam: And the same goes for modern scenes, I’m always surprised at how open our teachers are to like, our actors being like “Oh, I read this play the other night, I really want to do something from it,” and they’re like “Okay, go for it.”
Will: Well, I think here at Strasberg specifically, what we’re really good at is understanding that you don’t know what role is right for someone until you start reading it, or putting the text in your body in some way and start inhabiting that life. There are so many trivial superficial characteristics that could turn you off from attempting to approach a certain role that could actually be super right for you. You don’t know what is right for you because you all have ineffable, intrinsic qualities, that you don’t have to try to bring to the work, that you don’t have to try and be, that are just inside you.Until you start reading something that wells something up in you, you have no way of knowing what’s right for you. I think, y’know, we really don’t believe in “typing” at all.
Sam: No, I totally agree. I was just laughing because any time I was assigned a scene from a teacher, I would get a particularly sexy or promiscuous character. Knowing myself and seeing myself, that’s not really how I present myself and any time I’d get that scene I’d be totally turned off by it. And then I’d do it and I’d be like, “Wait, can I actually do this? I’m good at this, I can be this person.” So, that’s why I was laughing.
Will: Well, ‘cause there’s like, shadow selves that we all have.
Sam: Yeah, that’s my shadow self. All Tennessee Williams female characters, I got you!
Will: So, back to the audition process for just a half more second. After the audition was done and you got your acceptances, what happened? Just bring me through what was going through your mind at that time, and Dillon, you auditioned early decision so you were kind of bound to go here.
Will: Right. What really, beyond that, cemented the fact that you did want to go here?
Alyssa: Mine was, like, my family just being them. They’re actually really nice, it’s going to make me sound so horrible. They didn’t think I was gonna get in anywhere. Because, like, I had applied to university in Canada, because the application was super easy.
Will: Where in Canada?
Alyssa: I applied to McGill.
Alyssa: It’s literally a form. It’s so easy, the application. So, advice if you don’t know what to do with your life. I applied in England to university for just academics, and then I applied to NYU. And I just got in some acceptances pre-NYU, but I was waiting on NYU – and I got in. I was screaming, so happy. But I was like, “I’m not going to go unless I get Strasberg,” ‘cause I really wanted to go to Strasberg.
Alyssa: So I was like, “I will not go to NYU because it’s such a big change in my life unless I get Strasberg”. And it sounds like I’m making it up, because I got placed in Strasberg, but I truly was only going to come if I got into Strasberg. And then a month later I found out I was placed in Strasberg and I was like, “Great! I know what I’m doing!”
Sam: Wow, I didn’t know anything about the individual – this is a testament to who I am as a person – I didn’t know anything about the individual schools, so I was like “wherever I am put, that is where I’m supposed to be.” But that’s amazing.
Dillon: Well, I had kind of a tricky process after I got accepted, because it was a very similar sort of situation to your parents. My mom was very encouraging of me auditioning for NYU because she… y’know it’s NYU, she didn’t think I was going to get in.
Sam: Yeah, it’s a reach.
Dillon: Yeah, it’s a reach. And I mean, in middle school and high school. I’d always done fine in school, but I was never, I would say, an academically exceptional student. And I mean, my school district back home – no hate to Carrollton, Texas – but it wasn’t an awesome school district, didn’t put much funding into the arts. I was actually looking up my high school’s statistics on some national high school ranking website because two of my roommates went to Masterman in Philadelphia which was, on that website, ranked the number one school in Pennsylvania. So that just kinda sparked the interest initially and we just started looking through their stats. That led me to looking at mine and… we had a 35% college readiness rate at my high school. Our graduation rates were in the 70-percents, so it was just not a great school. And so my mom didn’t have, y’know, that solid faith in me that I would actually get into NYU. But then when I did get in, she was like “oh… okay.” We saw how much it cost and I actually declined my acceptance initially.
Dillon: Yeah, I had to accept or decline by January 9th, and I declined it. By that time, since I had done early decision, I had already withdrawn all my other applications. I was also thinking about applying for USC, Carnegie-Mellon, and UT but I had withdrawn all of them. And then, like 2 days after I withdrew, my mom was like, “Yeah, Dillon, I think you’re going to have to decline this. We cannot pay for that by any means.” So, for about three and a half months, I thought I wasn’t going to college the next year.
Sam: Oh my God, so you withdrew all of your applications to the schools?
Dillon: Yes, yes.
Dillon: I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to go to community college this semester and then transfer to a university after.” And then one day, it was during lunch, and my drama teacher sat me down because my friend that I had auditioned with, she did not get in. She and I were both very close with our director and he was very invested in both of our audition processes. So he sat me down one day at lunch and was like, “Dillon, not a lot of people get into NYU, y’know, very small acceptance rate, and you’d be stupid to not go. You’ll regret it the rest of your life.” And I was like, “Well, I already declined it. What do you want me to do?” and he was like, “Call someone, I don’t know, do something!”
Sam: Call them!
Dillon: He’s literally like “Do something, like, try!” And so I literally left his office that instant and went into one of the practice rooms and called the Dean of admissions. They answered and I just told them, “Hi, I was recently accepted to Tisch Drama, but declined my acceptance in January.” I just kinda lied and said that some things had changed with the financial situation and that I could now attend. And they were like, “Okay, yeah, we can go back into your Albert and reopen to accept or decline, but -” This was on a Wednesday, this was on a Wednesday.
Dillon: They were like “But – both the housing and tuition deposits are due on Friday.”
Sam: Oh stop.
Dillon: So you have to have both those paid. And I, for some reason, had barely enough money in my bank account to cover both those deposits. And so I went in and paid them! And then I called my mom, like a day later, and said, “Hey Mom… I’m going to NYU.”
Will: Oh my god! I’m gagging!
Sam: If you could see this room, we’re all –
Dillon: My mom obviously –
Sam: Probably freaked out!
Dillon: Probably freaked out for a bit. But she ended up later telling me that she was happy that I kinda put her in a corner like that. I mean, neither of my parents went to college and so they obviously really wanted me to go to NYU. They know NYU is an amazing school. They support me wanting to be an actor, so they know how great of an acting school it is and they wanted me to go. But my mom was a single mom for 8 or 9 years and so just kinda trying to recover from that is still kinda an uphill battle. It was just a very scary thing – the idea for her, of me, taking on all those student loans.
Dillon: But she ended up saying, after I did it, that she was happy that I kinda forced her to support me basically. Like I said, she really wanted me to go to NYU. She just, in her good conscience, couldn’t willingly advise me to take out those loans but, if I did it on my own, she was gonna be in my corner. So that’s where we’ve been ever since.
Sam: She knew you really wanted it.
Will: Well, I don’t know about you but, after that dramatic story, I need a break.
Will: We will be back shortly.
Strasberg’s spring musical is Spring Awakening. Directed by Theresa Burns and Sam Berkley with musical direction by Bruce Ballmer, this collaboration between both NYU and Institute students runs from March 6-9th. Tickets will be available soon on Eventbrite. Stay on the lookout!
Will: Hi everyone, we are back from our break!
Sam: It was a good break. We talked about elves.
Will: We did.
Sam: And dance calls.
Will: And…that was pretty much it.
Sam: That was pretty much it. You didn’t miss much.
Will: But we are here to talk about Strasberg.
Sam: Yes, and your first year experience.
Will: And your second year experience.
Sam: And your second year experience.
Will: So far, so far. So, you guys are now both in your fourth semester at Tisch.
Will: So, I wanna hear whatever you have to say about it. Whether it’s about Strasberg, NYU in general, whether it’s academic classes, living here –
Sam: Moving to New York.
Will: – living New York, yeah, totally.
Sam: Dealing with roommates.
Will: Interacting with other Tisch students.
Sam: Interacting with people in general – no, just kidding.
Will: The waffles at 3rd North.
Sam: I never, oh! I never lived in a dorm.
Dillon: I did eat some 3rd North waffles, I will say.
Alyssa: I’m scared of the machines.
Sam: Let’s unpack that!
Dillon: Okay, so, just how we feel about NYU?
Alyssa: I love it!
Will: Good to hear!
Sam: Thank you so much.
Will: And goodnight!
Dillon: And that is the tea!
Alyssa: I’m generally one of those people who’s like “Oh my God, everything about this is amazing!” from like, the minute-go. Except – I will give warning to anyone who comes to Strasberg: the first two weeks will be weird. You’ll be like – everyone lies that they feel something in sensory. Everyone’s like, “I felt so at one with my morning beverage.” Don’t worry if you don’t. It took me, like, 3-4 weeks and no one tells you that. So just get through the first three weeks, and then it’s amazing.
Dillon: My first year experience was definitely a big, big learning curve, as I’m sure most Tisch students can probably say. NYU definitely is not a school for people who are faint of heart, if that makes sense. I know that sounds dramatic.
Sam: Well, you’re literally thrown in the middle of New York City. There’s not much of a campus, it’s hard to get to know people sometimes.
Dillon: It’s a rough school.
Sam: You’re on your own.
Dillon: NYU does offer you a lot. They do a lot for you, but it’s still very hard.
Will: I was thinking on the train here – I was just, in my mind’s eye, going back to who I was at 18 years old as a freshman. I was like, “I was so weird, and so socially awkward, and such like a child”. Do you know what I mean? I think going to NYU changes you for the better, because it forces you to not be afraid of a lot of things.
I went to Catholic school from when I was in preschool to senior year of high school, so that was a very insular experience. I lived in suburban New Jersey, which is a very insular protective bubble. It’s a shock to live on your own in this kind of environment – where you still have a safety net but you grow up so fast. So fast! If I think back to just four short years ago – or five… no, four, four, four, I’m bad at math – I was such a different person. First year is the biggest jump because first year’s a learning curve.
Sam: I literally found roommates off of Facebook when I transferred.
Alyssa: I did that this year. I found them on the app. I went home and – I was supposed to live with two of my friends and it was just so hard to organize from the other side of the planet –
Alyssa: – that I just sort of went on an app and this girl messaged me and now I live with her.
Will: That’s amazing! Yeah, legit.
Sam: Thank God for it.
Will: So I would love to hear from both of you about your experience taking classes here. I know you touched a little bit on sensory, Alyssa, so I would love to hear what training in The Method has been like for both of you.
Alyssa: It’s a journey, because you go from 0 to 50 to 1000, I think. The first semester you go very slow when you’re at Strasberg: it’s like, you go to a dream, you go to a weather condition, and then by the end of the semester you’re touching onto deeper emotions. Then I think you come back in second semester and you’re expected to do everything with the emotions. It goes a lot deeper a lot quicker. Then in second year, you’re just expected to be there all the time. Like, if we tell you to use sensory – you learned it last year, do it.
I personally like that because I think the slow foundation really lays the ground. Now when I think about doing a simple sensory, I think “Wow, I used to take an hour to do that, and now it takes… five minutes? Ten minutes?” And it’s so innate – before you’ve even done anything, you’ve already created place or the sunshine. But it’s definitely a journey; you have to get used to it at the beginning and it feels very odd. It’s not like any acting technique, at least that I experienced.
Dillon: Well, that’s the thing, too. I don’t feel like most high schools really teach any sort of acting techniques that align very much with the Method, you know what I mean?
Will: I know of one – a very random occurrence in Wayland, Massachusetts – because of my friend Julia, so it’s a very random thing.
Alyssa: A lot of people who came from LA have done some classes in Strasberg, because it’s such a big thing there in the film industry. But other than that… I mean, I did physical theatre so I was way off the other side.
Dillon: No, my high school teacher was trained in Meisner, so that’s what we learned. And so, Strasberg and the Method felt very opposite to everything I had ever learned before. In my audition, they asked me what studio I wanted to be placed in. I said Meisner, but they put me in Strasberg anyway. When I first came here, I think first semester freshman year was just me trying to not unlearn what I learned before but just convince myself that it was okay to learn something new that contradicted what I had learned before. You know what I mean?
Will: Totally. I would just like to take a hot second for some of our listeners who aren’t so familiar with The Method to explain what sensory is. I think that might be helpful for some people who haven’t been through the red doors. Does anyone wanna take it away?
Will: I’ll take it away! So, sensory is sense memory in that you recall past experiences, objects, people that you have come in contact with throughout your lifetime and you use the actual five senses to re-experience it. It’s not about imagining something that didn’t happen, it’s about using your real life experiences and the tangible sensations that come along with it, whether it’s sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, to recreate it, because there’s truth in touching something and seeing something, instead of just seeing it through your mind’s eye. It’s a very different thing to say “I’m thinking about something,” but how does the grain of the wood of the coffee table in my childhood home feel? That’s a very different thing, and when you learn to start re-experiencing instead of just thinking about something and personalizing something, I think your work becomes a lot deeper.
Alyssa, something you touched on that I thought was really interesting was in second year about the integration of sensory into scene work. That’s the big thing of second year, is the application. The thing with sensory is that there is always more to learn, there’s ALWAYS more to learn.
Alyssa: Things you’ve forgotten that you didn’t know could be helpful. I think that’s the fun-est bit for me, that some days I’ll chose to do a sensory just because I’ve been lazy and I haven’t thought of a better one to do and it’ll be absolute gold because I never knew it meant so much to me until I did the sensory, and now I have a whole mindfield to explore again. It’s the best thing in the world when I find those.
Dillon: Something that I really enjoy about sensory, and something that I learned freshman year from Ron, our Tai Chi teacher –
Will: Love Ron!
Dillon: He was giving us a sort of lecture-type thing one day, and basically the moral of the story he was telling us was that every experience that we’ve had in our lives we own, they belong to us. And we shouldn’t try and forget those experiences or run away from them, but rather to own the fact that they’re yours. They did happen to you in reality, so those memories are things that you own and you can use to your advantage if you need to. I think – like you were saying, Alyssa – getting to the point where sensory takes less time has given me an increased sense of ownership over my experiences. I feel like I can recount them better, I feel like I have more access to them in terms of details. It makes me think of things that sometimes I haven’t thought of in a long time. I feel like every time a new sensory is proposed and we have to have something prepared, I start going through a list of things that I can remember happening to me. Sometimes, it’ll be something I haven’t thought of in a long time, and maybe I’ve forgotten some details of it, and then through sensory I will have to totally remember it and I haven’t thought of it in forever. It’s just a very cool experience that almost makes you feel like you’re getting to know yourself better through it.
Sam: Totally. It’s really is a journey, like Alyssa was saying. It’s super personal, which is why I love it because no performance will ever be cookie-cutter reactions. When you watch someone doing this type of work, it’s always very honest and very visceral.
Will: One thing I was thinking about the other day, that studying here has made me realize or appreciate is something that’s kind of hard to wrap your head around. Humans are very selfish beings. So, we see the world through our perspective. We see it through first person. But the fact of the matter is however many people there are on Earth – 8 billion of us – all have these intense rich profound lives that are as rich and profound as the next person’s, and we all have these thousands and thousands of experiences that we can bring to the table. When you start to harness those and you see someone else on stage beginning to use theirs, even though they aren’t telling you the specifics of what they’re using, you see the results of the technique. You don’t see the technique in action, you see what they’re working on through their performance.
I think my main point is that it’s so beautiful to think that we all have, I don’t know, such rich lives! Because it’s that shared humanity that we all have – that we’ll all leave this room today and go about our days and have a gazillion different things that’ll happen to all of us. Who knows what’s going to happen that’s going to be so interesting in our futures that it can then be used for other stuff? I don’t know! I don’t know how to put my finger on it, but there’s something that is so unique about that.
Alyssa: I think our teacher Geoffrey Horne really, really teaches you about that because he’s all about just being yourself. And sometimes you’ll read something and he’ll say “No, no. You were acting.” Well isn’t that what I’m supposed to do? But he really hits on the fact that there’s being a character, but there’s also you. You have to make sure everything that you read, everything that you say comes from a true place. Because even though it might seem silly or superficial how you feel, to someone else – they’re also feeling that. You need to make sure it shines through.
Will: Yeah. So the last thing I wanted to touch on before we leave, was any struggles that you guys may or may not have had? Because I think we touched a bit on struggles you had moving to New York, moving to NYU. But what has been challenging? Because there are always challenges and stuff about training that are not meant to be easy. It’s not meant to be a smooth journey; if it’s a smooth journey, you’re probably doing something wrong. So, if you can talk a little bit about that, that’s something I would love to hear about.
Dillon: I think that most actors can agree that one of the biggest struggles in learning this craft is just learning how to be as emotionally vulnerable as you need to be. I will say, I think that’s not necessarily something that studio teachers at NYU teach you in a direct way, if that makes sense. I think through the process of doing scenes continuously, doing so many different exercises, you start to just instinctually get into a more centered place that is conducive for letting out more emotion than you normally would. But I definitely don’t think it’s easy. I think that a lot of people that we know in our groups… we see plenty of people struggle with it, and it’s definitely something that you kinda have to learn for yourself, I think. Something with NYU is definitely that you only get out of it what you put into it, which I know is a pretty cliché term.
One of the big differences between NYU and conservatory style school is that while we are split up into groups within our studios, we’re not necessarily confined to them. I mean, that’s who we take classes with, but as a whole we’re part of this bigger Tisch drama community. Because of that, I feel like NYU’s very good about putting emphasis on the actors’ process as an individual and learning how to become your own artist and developing your own sense of artistic license, because you’re not always working with the same people. I mean, Alyssa and I both just auditioned for the Playwright Horizons open calls, and there were hundreds of kids who auditioned from all sorts of different studios. Because we’re not attached to having a specific process with a specific group of people, it doesn’t feel like a company-style thing. You really do learn how to cultivate your own artistic presence. You figure out who you are as an artist, so that you can bring yourself to any room of people you either know or don’t know, that you’re comfortable with or not comfortable with, and you can say: “This is who I still am as an artist, and this is who I will be as an artist, and this is what I have to contribute.”
Will: I think that’s a really good description of what Tisch is like, because it’s kind of a microcosm of what the real world is; that Sam and I are still finding out about. I think that was a really good note to end on, so we’ll be right back after this short break.
Will: “British television personality Susan Ausman is hosting a master class at Strasberg on finding your authentic voice. This class is open to all current LSTFI and NYU Tisch at Strasberg students, and will be chosen by lottery. The class will be held on February 28th from 10:00 AM – 12:00PM, and the deadline for submission is February 21st. Email Dori at strasberg.com to enter. That’s [email protected].”
Will: Here we are, back again.
Sam: Doing your favorite segment: The Long, Loud Sound Segment!
Will: Where we just give up to the heavens something that we’re over, something that we don’t need in our instrument today.
Sam: I love the usage of the word “instrument.” Thank you for that.
Will: I am my own instrument!
Sam: So, on that note, I’m giving a long, loud sound to people on planes that put their seat backs down.
Will: Oh my god, I hate that!
Sam: I mean, this might be personal, I just have this thing about not being able to take up space anywhere ever. It might have to do with being a female, it might not. But, I just would never do that to someone. I don’t know, if I knew that there was someone behind me, I wouldn’t do that. On both my flights, to and from California, somebody did that to me. I watched Beautiful Boy an inch from my face. It was a lot.
Will: I am giving my long, loud sound this week to Ariana Grande, whose new album Thank U Next, is arguably wonderful. I personally really like it, I think it’s way better than Sweetener. Sweetener is almost unlistenable, don’t @ me.
Sam: I’m @ing you, but okay!
Will: Sweetener is unlistenable except for the title song.
Sam: No, “Breath In” is good!
Dillon: “Breath In”! I like “Breath In”!
Will: “Breath In” is fine, but it’s on the radio so much.
Alyssa: I like the one before “Sweetener”, that had like a –
Dillon: “Dangerous Woman?”
Will: “Goddess of Women?”
Alyssa: Yeah, “Dangerous Woman.”
Sam: I liked “Goddess of Women.”
Will: Yeah, “Dangerous Woman” was great.
Alyssa: So good!
Will: But, here’s why I’m giving my long loud sound to Ariana Grande.
Sam: Because she’s a small baby with a big ponytail?
Will: No, because I would never judge someone for their hairstyle. I’ve gone through some rough hairstyle phases.
Sam: Me too, look at this!
Will: No, I’m giving her my long, loud sound because I don’t know if you guys have seen the video for “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored,” but it is just a little insensitive to queer people everywhere.
Sam: I gotta go watch it now!
Will: The plot twist is that she wants this guy to break up with his girlfriend so that she could be with his girlfriend, but the whole video is so presented through the male gaze. It’s not anything that looks like actual queer people falling in love, or having a romantic encounter, or some sort of rendezvous. It literally looks like she is getting with this girl to get a guy off. Like, it is so blatantly through the male gaze, and it just sickens me because being gay is not a plot twist, being gay is someone’s identity.
Sam: Can that be the title of the episode?
Will: Yeah, probably, I –
Sam: “Being Gay is Not a Plot Twist!”
Will: I don’t have any proof either way, of any way that Ariana Grande sexually identifies, so I don’t want to try and put that on her, but I would just like better representation in media.
Alyssa: Is the guy from Riverdale in the video?
Will: I don’t watch Riverdale, but I’ve heard things. I’ve heard that.
Alyssa: But I didn’t watch it either, but I’m almost certain he is. But I just saw a clip on Instagram and –
Will: Yeah, he is. I think he is.
Sam: He’s famous! I’m gonna have to watch that.
Will: So, Alyssa, what are you giving your long loud sound to?
Alyssa: My bedroom door doesn’t close properly at the moment, so I have to shove a shoe under it every day. It’s only since I came back, ‘cause I think I had it closed for so long that it got tired over break and it gave up. So, now I have to shove a shoe under it every time I want some privacy, which is not great.
Will: No, that is annoying. Dillon?
Dillon: I’m giving my long, loud sound to loud chewers everywhere. It’s something I can’t stand, ever. I’ve never been able to, especially if I’m in a movie theatre. Whoever decided that popcorn was the snack that you should eat while watching a movie, I think, wanted to see humanity burn to the ground. Because it’s so loud and it distracts me so much, and I hate going to movie theatres with friends and family. I love going by myself.
Will: I do too!
Dillon: No, but if I go with my friends and family and eat popcorn, I will get so mad and I won’t be able to say anything.
Will: But isn’t it so nice going to the movies by yourself?
Dillon: Oh, my God…
Will: I’m gonna say this, and then we’re gonna do a long loud sound. Because we’ve mentioned this film on every episode so far, so watch me stop. I saw A Star is Born in IMAX – in IMAX ladies – by myself at like 11:00PM at an AMC in New Jersey, and it was the best experience of my life. I sobbed! I sobbed!
Will: Anyway, I think it’s time for us to do a long, loud sound.
Will: I feel better.
Sam: That was a good one!
Will: That was a great one.
Dillon: That took a lot out of me.
Sam: We need to do that more often.
Will: Well, thank you guys for being here, this has been truly a great conversation. We will be back next week with Part 2 of our NYU Tisch series with Advanced guests! Bye guys!
Alyssa: Thank you!
Dillon: “…He had to put her paw up like the little monsters do, and scream ‘YES! GAGA!’ while we’re crying…”
Sam: “Oh my god, in the theatre?”
Transcript edited for clarity and readability.