The National Theater Institute, held each fall and spring semester at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, in Waterford, Conn., is a "college" unlike any other. Housed in the O'Neill Center (which in summertime plays host to the prestigious National Playwrights Conference, and several like events), about 35 students each semester work together almost round-the-clock for 12 weeks. Their five required courses are Directing, Playwriting, Design, Acting, and Movement/Voice. If anyone has energy left over, there are electives in Screenwriting and Acting for the Camera. And there's a casting workshop, and a final project which is shown to the public. And‹oh, yes‹the whole thing starts off with two weeks in either London or Moscow, before you even get to Connecticut.
Founded in 1970, N.T.I. states that its mission is to expose young theatre artists to intensive, conservatory-based theatre training, and to provide an orientation into the professional theatre. Director David Jaffee‹himself an N.T.I. alum before receiving his M.F.A. in Acting from Yale and working in regional and New York theatres‹explains that the foundation of N.T.I. is this glimpse (and experience) of the commitment necessary for a life in the theatre: "There's no other program like it in the U.S., in its incredibly intensive schedule, and its immersion in the world of theatre‹not only for acting, but also for design, playwriting, directing, and voice and movement.
When N.T.I. was formed, it was brought into a consortium called the "twelve college exchange," consisting of Amherst, Bowdoin, Connecticut, Dartmouth, Mt. Holyoke, Smith, Trinity, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Wheaton, and Williams. The concept allows a student at any one college to spend a semester at any other, and to freely transfer credits to his home school. N.T.I. is the only institution that is not actually a college, but is part of that program. Students from any of the 12 colleges have their application process streamlined, and there's no impediment to receiving full credit for the semester. But students from other colleges around the country make the pilgrimage to N.T.I. as well, as do many applicants who are not enrolled in schools. While the typical N.T.I. attendee is between 19 and 25 years old, applicants in their 30s are not uncommon.
The application consists of an interview and recommendations, but no audition. The rationale is that if you're not good at auditioning, that's fine, because it's one of the skills you'll learn during your semester at N.T.I.
In addition to the Waterford-based program, N.T.I. sponsors an entire semester-long program in Moscow. (A similar program run through A.R.T. in Boston is a post-graduate experience.) N.T.I.'s Moscow program is the only opportunity for U.S. undergraduate students to study with master teachers from the Moscow Art Theatre School.
More than 1,500 students have passed through N.T.I.'s Waterford program, from B.A. programs at more than 100 different liberal arts schools. The core faculty, and a wide variety of guest artists, are professionals from New York, L.A., London, and Europe. The O'Neill family seaside mansion‹filled with O'Neill memorabilia and posters from the summer conferences‹plus the carriage barn theatre and the various outbuildings‹creates a unique environment which is bound to inspire its residents.