Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The American Academy of Dramatic Arts

by Valerie Gladstone

Roger Croucher
3/21/07 - “This is a fantastic institution,” says theater director Roger Croucher, President and CEO of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which, at 123 years of age, is the oldest acting school in the English-speaking world. “It consistently produces stars and fine working actors in every theatrical discipline, people like Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Robert Redford, Spencer Tracy, and Grace Kelly. My job is maintain its high artistic standards.”

Three alumni who exemplify those standards will be honored during a gala evening of entertainment on March 26 at the Hudson Theater in New York. Called Legends of the Academy-Class of 2007, the lavish event includes cocktails, dinner and an awards ceremony, which will include tributes to Charles Durning, Gena Rowlands and the late Anne Bancroft.
Sam Gores,
Chairman and CEO of Paradigm Talent Agency, is the Gala Chairman

Anne Bancroft
Gena Rowlands
Sam Gores
Charles Durning
Durning, among his many achievements, won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams' “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and an Academy Award nomination for his role in the film “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” Rowlands, who recently starred in the film “The Notebook,” won fame for her performance in “Woman Under the Influence.” After becoming a star with “The Miracle Worker,” Bancroft went on to earn an Oscar, Tony and Emmy awards.

“I can’t think of a better way of getting across what we’re about than celebrating these three great actors,” Croucher says. “It’s going to be an amazing and very moving evening.”

Coming from Croucher, who has led a long, distinguished life in the theater, that prophecy has particular weight. An Englishman with degrees from Oxford University, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company when it was under the direction of Peter Hall, one of his first directing jobs Joe Orton’s formidable “Entertaining Mr. Sloane,” with Malcolm McDowell. He also appeared in many BBC Masterpiece Theater productions, later becoming Artistic Director of London’s Royal Court Theater Upstairs. In recent years, he has been involved in theater schools and directed at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Connecticut and the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, among several others.

“As you can imagine,” Croucher says, “it wouldn’t be an Academy event without performances. And of course, we have terrific presenters, like Julie White, who was in `The Nanny Diaries,’ Denis Leary, who starred in `Rescue Me’ and Alexa Vega who is currently in `Hairspray.’ Michael Arden and Penny Fuller will perform and more will soon be announced. We expect at least 75 alumni among the 400 guests. And there will be video presentations of the lives of the honorees.”

When Croucher isn’t at his Manhattan office or visiting the Los Angeles headquarters of the Academy, he is often auditioning students around the world. He remarked on the changes he has noticed since starting out in theater. “Young people are far more knowledgeable today, of theater, film and television,” he says, “and their backgrounds in performing are much stronger. They are really hungry to learn.”

The Academy usually enrolls about 250 students, many from foreign countries. If they aren’t fluent in English, the teachers help them improve their speech. “We want the best people,” Croucher says, ”we don’t want to turn anyone away for economic reasons. That’s why we give as many scholarships as possible. Last year as many as 50% of our students received some degree of financial aid.”

But while the students’ level of sophistication has grown immeasurably, Croucher says, “It has also become much harder to make a career as an actor. There simply are fewer jobs. We do want them to succeed but we also offer advice for broad based careers. We have at least a couple alumni who did well in other fields, Jennifer Graham, the Governor of Michigan, and Dale Carnegie.”

Croucher doesn’t have to worry that he is out of touch with the students. “My son graduated from the Academy last year,” he says. “I not only learn from the young people here. I know from him. I also still will never forget what it’s like to have your number one dream to be an actor.”

Click here to buy tickets for A Gala evening of entertainment saluting the remarkable achievements of three distinguished alumni of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts: Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning and Gena Rowlands to take place on Monday March 26, 2007 at The Hudson Theater.

For additional information please call Jill Van Hee at 212.686.9244, ext. 352
Or email development@ny.aada.org.