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  • Paul Noble

    Denzel Washington told this story during his commencement speech at ACT in 1996: He was making soup at the legendary Salmagundi lunch joint across the street from ACT when he decided to apply for the ATP (Actor Training Program) in 1976. It was a 2-year program at the time (and remained so, long after every other major program had gone to 3 years, until the year after I graduated, in 1997, when they realized 2 years was OBVIOUSLY not enough).

    In those early years, they accepted about 50 first-years, who all paid, and then cut half of them for the second year, which ACT offered gratis. Believe it or not, Denzel didn’t make the cut. (Let THAT be a boon to all the actors whose talent is not quickly recognized!) Still, he vividly recalled his time there, particularly his first day, when he feared he may have run afoul of the unflappable Artistic Director, Bill Ball. The motto of the school was “Forward and Up,” a nod, in part to the school’s heavy emphasis on the posture-focused Alexander Technique, taught by Frank Ottiwell, an Alexander Yoda who’d been with ACT since its Pittsburgh days.

    Ball, whose personal proclivities were most definitely better attuned to San Francisco’s late-60s ethos than Chicago’s, was explaining to the entire staff of the school, and all 50 first-years, why he thought the words “Forward” and “Up” were so important to the craft of acting. “Take ‘up,’ for example,” he preached. “So many connotations, and all of them positive. I defy you to think of a single usage of the word that doesn’t put a smile on your face.” Denzel couldn’t help himself. “Up YOURS!” he shouted from the back. The room went silent … audible pin drops, etc. Ball turned to Denzel with a flamboyant flourish and a devilish smile, and said, “Oh, I don’t know….”

  • Paul Noble

    Denzel Washington told this story during his commencement speech at ACT in 1996: He was making soup at the legendary Salmagundi lunch joint across the street from ACT when he decided to apply for the ATP (Actor Training Program) in 1976. It was a 2-year program at the time (and remained so, long after every other major program had gone to 3 years, until the year after I graduated, in 1997, when they realized 2 years was OBVIOUSLY not enough).

    In those early years, they accepted about 50 first-years, who all paid, and then cut half of them for the second year, which ACT offered gratis. Believe it or not, Denzel didn’t make the cut. (Let THAT be a boon to all the actors whose talent is not quickly recognized!) Still, he vividly recalled his time there, particularly his first day, when he feared he may have run afoul of the unflappable Artistic Director, Bill Ball. The motto of the school was “Forward and Up,” a nod, in part to the school’s heavy emphasis on the posture-focused Alexander Technique, taught by Frank Ottiwell, an Alexander Yoda who’d been with ACT since its Pittsburgh days.

    Ball, whose personal proclivities were most definitely better attuned to San Francisco’s late-60s ethos than Chicago’s, was explaining to the entire staff of the school, and all 50 first-years, why he thought the words “Forward” and “Up” were so important to the craft of acting. “Take ‘up,’ for example,” he preached. “So many connotations, and all of them positive. I defy you to think of a single usage of the word that doesn’t put a smile on your face.” Denzel couldn’t help himself. “Up YOURS!” he shouted from the back. The room went silent … audible pin drops, etc. Ball turned to Denzel with a flamboyant flourish and a devilish smile, and said, “Oh, I don’t know….”

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