Tom White is shooting for a role in a Broadway hit. He plans to reach that goal with the apprenticeship training he will begin this fall through the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Play House M.F.A. Acting Program, a three-year immersion in theater and acting.
Case Western Reserve and the Cleveland Play House have launched a $10-million fundraising campaign to sustain the Case/Cleveland Play House M.F.A. Acting Program. The organizations have turned to the Cleveland Foundation, with its 93 years of expertise in philanthropy, to manage the newly established Case/Cleveland Play House M.F.A. Endowment Fund.
The education for White and seven other aspiring actors in the Class of 2010 will cost $250,000 in annual collaboration expenses. Students also receive tuition waivers and $11,000 stipends that allow those in the highly competitive and selective program to live and think theater day in and day out for the next three years.
The Case and Cleveland Play House collaboration began in 1996, when the oldest Cleveland theater group (the Eldred Theater at Case) and one of the leading regional theaters combined their organizational strengths to provide a new theater training program.
The immersion in acting involves classes and experiences through M.F.A. ensemble performances and roles in the Cleveland Play House's main stage productions alongside professional equity actors.
When fully endowed, this fund will support and sustain this training that was the springboard to the careers of such graduates as Rich Sommer (GRS '04, theater). Sommer has a leading role in the new AMC series, Mad Men, about the Madison Avenue ad men of the 1950s, and who also appeared in four national commercials last year. Since completing the program, he also has had a role as Anne Hathaway's friend in the major motion picture, The Devil Wears Prada.
The program developed stage presence for alumna and former Miss Ohio Elizabeth Davis (GRS '06, theater) that garnered recent attention from the theater press for her performance in Mice and Men at Urban Stages in New York City.
This third-party type of fund is called an organizational endowment fund that is held by the Cleveland Foundation for the benefit of the organizations that each have development efforts to meet their different organizational missions.
As the third-party manager, the foundation will provide administrative support and accounting of the fund, acknowledge and receive gifts, issue reports and handle fund investment oversight.
"Our goal is to sustain this program that allows our students the freedom to spend their day in classes and then continue their acting training in evening rehearsals," said Ron Wilson, director of the acting program and chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at Case.
"What I love most about the Cleveland Foundation fund is that they stepped up to start this program, and it seems fitting to house the endowment there -- it is like going home," said Mark Alan Gordon, the associate director of the acting program and associate director of the Cleveland Play House.
The foundation assisted the program with $750,000 grant to move the program in 2003 from its first two years on campus to a total three-year theater immersion and apprenticeship. The theater grant came through the Foundation's $3 million gift to Case's President's Initiative Fund.
Wilson now likens this type of training to the kind that interns and resident doctors receive in the medical community where the profession is learned through experience and observations of seasoned professionals in their working environments.
Upon completion of the program, students launch professional acting careers with the acting skills and the key to major auditions -- their equity cards. That card, along with their M.F.A. diploma and acting credits with one of the country's oldest regional theaters, makes the Cleveland program one of the most elite in the country.
The program also culminates in a New York City showcase before a host of talent agents, of which every member from the latest graduating class in 2006 walked away with a signed contract.
"Agents now wait for our save-the-date showcase announcement," said Gordon, adding that many students are not just picking up representation from one agent but multiple agents for stage, television and commercial work.
"This is a hallmark of our program. We are not just graduating students for the stage but artists in the field of acting," said Gordon.
"My M.F.A. experience has given me such a bedrock understanding that this work is a process; it is a labor of love; it is subjective at best; and political without fail," said Davis from New York City.
White, who will be the first Case undergraduate alumnus to make it into the program, has been working in theater around Northeast Ohio since his graduation in 2004. His work with Dobama Theater won him the "Bright New Face" award from the arts magazine, Angle.
As an undergraduate, he watched the M.F.A. program grow and develop from its original base at Case to its full move into the Cleveland Play House. He also acted alongside the M.F.A. students from four classes and had the opportunity to act in Cleveland Play House M.F.A. productions of Heartbreak House and Midsummer Night's Dream.
White found since graduating in 2004 that it was hard to develop all of the necessary skill sets of his craft: "It gets hard to take voice or movement classes when you are working an eight-hour shift at some day job, then jumping right into rehearsal at night," he said.
Reaching a point where White felt he was ready for the challenges of rigorous theater program, he surveyed acting programs around the country before he decided to apply. He was invited to be one of the 300 candidates who were selected to audition for the eight seats in the 2010 class.
"I didn't find what Case has to offer at the other schools," White said. "There is a notable difference in how serious Case students take their work."