I am in the process of building my new school–Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts.
It got me to thinking about transitional moments—those meaningful moments in our lives, where we change.
Each of us is a product of our accumulative experiences and influences (including biological). The experiences we choose to engage in, shape us. How we are to be shaped, however, is largely beyond our control. We bump up against stimuli and have experience. What environments do you believe have shaped who you are today? What life moments are the pillars of your personality?
There are five pivotal experiences I have had, which lead me to build ACPA.
YALE / RUSSIA
I attended Yale School of Drama, where I received my Masters Degree in Acting. In my first year in graduate school, my whole class and I were flown to St. Petersburg, Russia, where we studied with a premiere Russian theatre school and its students for five weeks. We re-staged Meyerhold’s version of Gogol’s “The Inspector General” and performed the piece in the heightened theatrical aesthetic of Biomechanics. Being a part of that production taught me that there are more theatrical aesthetics than just Realism.
Prior to graduation from Yale, I was awarded a Fox Fellowship, a grant to “Study Ritualistic Mask Dancing with Master Teachers in Bali and India”. I left for Asia, imagining I would be gone for a month and stayed for a year. Asia further broadened my perspective as to what theatre is (around the world), what is has been (forever) and what its potential might be. There, I witnessed many heightened theatrical forms, which were more about spiritual expression, teaching cultural identity and enacting ritual than the theatre I had always seen in the states, which was almost entirely a theatre of entertainment. In Asia, I witnessed theatre of necessity.
I have, since the first visit, return to Bali and Taiwan.
It was in New York that I committed to live by a creative income alone. I refused to have a survival job and made a leap of faith and effort. That leap into adventure, into self-imposed pressure taught me that I have more strength, resourcefulness and luck than I ever had known before. This leap was at times utterly terrifying and at others totally liberating. I learned to be self-sufficient and to create opportunities for myself and others. I built a popular workshop series, taught at universities all over the country and world, wrote, directed some Tony award winning actors, acted with some amazing actors and began building my animated labor of love: The Story of a Mother.
My wife helps me be the best me I can be. Her support and love keeps me waiving my freaky flag and helps give me the courage to take necessary risks and make bold strides in my life.
While in NY, my wife and I found ourselves in a transitional moment. Her company (Doug Elkins Dance Company) folded and I was in between opportunities as well. Suddenly, we had the opportunity to take ownership of a renowned 50-year-old ballet school with 500 students. We jumped at the opportunity and committed to the adventure. With my background being theatre, and coming into ownership of a school and space, caused me to wonder what type of theatre school I might create, if I were to build my dream school, the school that I, in some ways, wish I had gone to. I knew I wanted to create a school that aimed to fill a gap that I perceived in American theatre training and I knew that I wanted to explore theatrical aesthetics and teach others how they might create original heightened theatrical aesthetics. I built The International Theatre Academy Norway, an accredited two-year professional theatre-training program with an emphasis on experiential learning and entrepreneurship. TITAN enteres its 7th year this year.
I have heard that everyone goes through seven stages in life. First our world is about mommy. Then our world shifts to being about mommy and daddy. Then all is about oneself. Then the focus turns to career and then family. Next is community and finally, before death, God.
When my wife and I had our daughter, we were living in Norway. Both of us, to this day, swear that upon receiving our newborn daughter, we both felt a chemical shift in our bodies. That shift lead both of us to…not just crave, but pine for our friends and family. We wanted to be a part of a community and knew very well that neither of us was ever going to be Norwegian. We are American and after having lived outside of the US for nearly 6 years in total, we wanted to go home.
Norway is all about community. A Norwegian man on a plane once asked me what I had learned about Norway. I said, “Well, everything is of the community, by the community and for the community”. He said I had a learned a lot.
Norway turned our eyes towards the value of community, a value that is present in the US, but which I had yet to experience.
I work to inspire in my students, a desire to be active members, regular participants and voices in their respective communties and to serve the needs of those communities and select groups within.
After several years of running our schools in Norway, we returned to the US, largely because we wanted to invest in our community, which happens to be in Austin, TX. Our schools are still running and TITAN, my first conservatory, is growing leaps and bounds.
Every adventure is about going and returning…and returning with something to aide others.
The Hero journey is about perceiving a gap, going into the unkonwn land to find that which will fill the gap. The hero, upon obtaining the treasure, whatever it be, is bound to return to their community and fill the gap. I feel that I have gone on some great adventures and the accumulative and individual experiences afforded, as a result of committing to these adventures, has lead to me the perspective I have today.
I am now home and my eye is upon my community. What better way to invest in one’s community, than to create an environment for learning, which will inspire numerous people within (and without) the community to build vision? I plan to create an environment, in which, students will be inspired to lead and to fill cultural gaps, to build their original visions and, in their process of creating opportunities for themselves, provide jobs for others.
I hope you follow our progress in building Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts. No doubt we are in for an epic new adventure.
Jim Hart is the founder of Austin Conservatory of Professional Arts and The International Theatre Academy Norway.