Three years after the reintroduction of acting courses at
Johns Hopkins, undergraduates may now pursue a minor in the
Writing Seminars with a
concentration in drama.
The creation of the concentration in drama is in direct
response to student enthusiasm for acting and directing
workshops instituted by actor-director John Astin, an
alumnus and a visiting professor of dramatic arts in the
Writing Seminars. Astin returned to his alma mater three
years ago with the hope of bolstering interest in drama on
the university's Homewood campus. His plan worked; last
month's Theatre Hopkins production
of Our Town featuring Astin and several of his
students played to rave reviews and a sold-out run.
"My main reason for being here is that ever since I
graduated I've had a sense of appreciation and gratitude
toward this school," said Astin, a member of the class of
1952. "I feel that the school — as great as it is
— needs this sort of thing. And the fact that I'm
doing this at Johns Hopkins rather than another university
makes a major difference for me."
Currently there are 77 students studying acting with Astin
at varying levels of difficulty. His courses draw students
from diverse disciplines, including biomedical engineering,
public health, political science and math, Astin's own
major before transferring to the program that was the
precursor to the Writing Seminars.
"Because each student, and each section of students, is
different, I have to dip into my 50 years of working with
people," Astin said. His teaching technique is drawn from
his own early experiences as a stage actor in New York City
theaters, where he learned to tap into his own personality
while assuming roles, and from his five years of study with
Harold Clurman, the late American theater master and
founder of the Group Theatre.
"I use an approach I call 'the Process,' which contains a
great deal of flexibility," Astin said. "It encourages
freedom and the courage to expand, hopefully broadening the
perspective of the student. One can't simply apply a rigid
formula to teach acting because good, credible acting comes
from the treasure that lies within the actor. Understanding
and experiencing that principle has a usefulness that
extends beyond acting."
Former students have gone on to careers in film and
theater, but Astin said that even those who went on to be
teachers, medical school students or scientists have told
him that the workshops have had an impact on their
"They tell me that they feel they see more of what is going
on around them and that they have a better idea of who they
are because of these classes," Astin said.
The requirements for the minor in Writing Seminars with a
concentration in drama are two semesters of Introduction to
Fiction and Poetry, one course from the English Department (Shakespeare is
recommended), one course from the
Department of History, one course from the Department of Philosophy, one advanced
course in the humanities, two courses of a foreign language
at the intermediate level and five advanced courses in the
Writing Seminars, such as the acting and directing
workshops, which are focused on Chekhov and O'Neill, or
Projects in Theater, special projects created for and
tailored to the individual theater student. The acting and
directing courses introduce fundamental techniques,
improvisations and scene work.
"I also stress [to the students] the importance of keeping
a journal so they can track their progress," Astin said.
"Some do it and some don't, but it keeps them from
repeating techniques that didn't work."