The relationship between Studio Theatre and its acting school — a program that has trained thousands of performers and directors and is older than the theater company itself — is about to end.
Studio’s artistic director, David Muse, has said that there is no longer room in the theater complex for the school. As a result, Joy Zinoman, who has continued running the Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory after leaving as founding artistic director nine years ago, is taking independent control of a title-shortened Studio Acting Conservatory and seeking to reopen it at a new location. Zinoman said she has already raised $784,000 to move the 43-year-old training ground for generations of accomplished Washington actors and directors, including artistic directors such as Molly Smith and Michael Bobbitt and well-known local actors such as Nancy Robinette and Sarah Marshall.
“On August 4th, we are leaving that space that we loved and designed, and I can’t say I’m happy about that,” Zinoman said. “But every single person, all the teachers, all the staff, is coming with us. It’s pretty gratifying and pretty thrilling.”
Behind the encouraging words, though, there is some sadness, and a bit of acrimony. Zinoman said she was stunned by Muse’s decision to push out a trademark branch of the company she co-founded. She was invited to a meeting in late May, and Muse read her a statement about how it was time for a “divorce.”
For his part, Muse, who succeeded Zinoman as Studio’s head in 2010, said in an interview that severing ties to the conservatory grew out of the shifting of the company’s needs and what it wants to do inside its four-theater complex near Logan Circle. “It was a difficult decision based on conversations about strategic priorities and looking to the future,” he said. Among those priorities is a major renovation of the facility, with plans for changes to its facade and new hospitality and audience gathering places.
The school is not a financial burden on the theater; in the early days of Studio, Zinoman noted, the revenue from the education program largely underwrote the stage productions. Today, in the theater’s $6.5 million yearly budget, the school costs about $300,000 and, Muse said, brings in about $300,000 through tuition, though Zinoman said the revenue should also include the grants the school attracts.
Under Zinoman’s stewardship, the conservatory — which trains upward of 500 students a year and annually runs 62 classes over the course of three semesters — had long been a reliable in-house source for spotting talent and casting shows at Studio and even at other Washington companies. But in the Muse years, the artistic director said, the school has not had quite the impact on Studio’s roster of productions.
“The theater and the conservatory,” he said, “aren’t as mutually reinforcing as they once were.”
It seems there was also the issue of the chain of command. “Everybody was made to understand that Joy was continuing to lead the conservatory and the artistic director had little or nothing to do with its education program,” he said, “which is eyebrow-raising for some people. This is my ninth season.”
Zinoman broke the news of what she described as the school’s “eviction” in a blog post earlier this week on Medium. In an interview, she stressed some of the upsides: “I embrace risk, and in a certain way, we’re freed. No one is going to say, ‘You’re making too much noise’ ” in a new self-contained facility, she said, adding that she is in talks for a new location for the fall. (The spring and summer sessions will continue as planned at Studio.)
“Keeping the work going is the most important thing,” she said.