From J. Michael Miller, Founder
Formed in 1996, The Actors Center was going to be my retirement project. I had been one of the leaders of the actor training movement, which began 30 years earlier, to prepare classically trained actors for the acting companies of a burgeoning regional theater. Those not-for-profit, tax-payer supported theaters soon chose to abandon acting companies in favor of “play by play” casting, the commercial theater model. When this happened, a slow erosion of the actor’s place in our theater followed. Actors are essential artists in any society. They help us understand ourselves. I have always believed that their ability to expose their understanding of our deepest fears and desires makes them the most essential of all the artists who serve us. When that artist is no longer the focus of the theater’s reason for being, the theater and the actor lose cultural relevance.
I retired from the major acting school I helped found and guide for over thirty years, to work with the alumni. Not just the actors from my school, but with all of those actors, two generations, who trained to play major roles in classic plays during that time. There is less and less possibility for them to do that now, and our nation is the poorer for it. The talent level is probably higher and more diverse now than ever. Yet the opportunity for the actor to serve our society as an artist, through the theater, diminishes year by year. We were then and are now wasting a precious resource. Imagine, if you will, Meryl Streep (or your actor of choice) taking on a major role in the theater fifteen times over the last thirty years. We would have grown up with her, seen many of our dilemmas exposed and challenged by a most generous human being, and deeply benefited from it. Actors of that caliber are a precious resource.
From day one, The Actors Center has seen this issue as its core purpose. It has built a Workshop Company, a group of more than 100 established actors. This company does not produce plays. These actors work with each other, challenging themselves to reach for a higher level of artistry their profession no longer challenges them to achieve. They prepare to play the Cleopatras and the Lears, the Blanches and the Willy Lomans, the Aunt Esters and the Othellos—those iconic, fictional men and women who are at once larger than life, but exquisitely define our individual humanity. These actors know that there is no one Cleopatra or one Othello. A huge part of those larger-than-life human figures lies within the specific humanity of the human being portraying them. Pursuing those discoveries and the mastery of sharing them in a deep and generous way with an audience is The Actors Center’s mission.
I no longer see The Actors Center as my retirement project, as a “personal commitment to the artists I revere.” I see it as an agent for cultural renewal by the artists themselves. Just give them an opportunity to do their work, and the rest of us will grow and prosper.
Please join me in this effort. No donation is too large or too small. Your stated commitment to the cause is what will win the day.
J. Michael Miller