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Conservatory Director Melissa Smith to Leave American Conservatory Theater

Peter J. Kuo and Danyon Davis will step in for Smith, who has led the conservatory for 25 years.

SAN FRANCISCO: American Conservatory Theater (ACT) has announced that conservatory director Melissa Smith will be leaving the organization on Dec. 31. The company has indicated that current associate conservatory director Peter J. Kuo will become the director of the conservatory, overseeing all conservatory programs, and current head of movement Danyon Davis will become the director of the MFA program, overseeing faculty, production, and the program’s curriculum.

Melissa Smith.

“For 25 years it has been my privilege to oversee ACT’s conservatory,” said Smith in a statement. “Through all this time I have had the good fortune to work with dedicated staff, brilliant faculty, and gifted, ambitious students. There have been many challenges; there have been many more rewards. As I step away, it gives me great joy to see my colleagues Danyon Davis and Peter Kuo assume leadership of the school. They are two exceptional artist/educators who will lead the programs in new, exciting directions.”

Smith has served as conservatory director and head of acting in the MFA program at ACT since 1995. Since then, she has overseen the expansion of the MFA program to a three-year program and furthered the integration of the MFA program’s faculty and students with ACT’s artistic wing. Smith’s accomplishments also include launching ACT’s San Francisco semester, an intensive that deepens students’ acting experience, broadens their knowledge of dramatic literature, and sharpens their technical skills. Prior to joining ACT’s conservatory, Smith was the director of the program in theatre and dance at Princeton University. She has taught acting to students across the continental United States, at the Mid Pacific Institute in Hawaii, NYU’s La Pietra campus in Florence, and the Teatro di Pisa in San Miniato, Italy. As an actor, Smith has performed at the Hangar Theatre, ACT, the California Shakespeare Festival, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Primary Stages, and Soho Rep, as well as at the Barbican Theater in London, and Birmingham Rep in Birmingham. Smith holds a B.A. from Yale College and an MFA in acting from the Yale School of Drama.

“I feel so grateful to have worked side-by-side with Melissa these last two years,” said artistic director Pam MacKinnon in a statement. “She is an amazing educator, a real artist, value colleague, and friend. Her legacy at the conservatory—building a celebrated program of rigorous professional actor training—is large and true.”

Danyon Davis.

Danyon Davis is the former head of movement at Stella Adler Studio. Davis has performed in classical, contemporary, and experimental plays throughout the U.S. and Europe. A former associate with Bill T. Jones and with the SITI Co., Davis also performed, taught, and directed for many years with the Guthrie Theater. A decade ago, Davis was invited to return to his alma mater, the Juilliard Drama Division, by the late Jim Houghton to receive Moni Yakim’s Movement/ Physical Acting methodology. Davis has adapted Mr. Yakim’s approach while serving as a faculty member at the Neighborhood Playhouse, Circle in the Square Theatre School, and HB Studio’s one-year Hagen Core Training Program. Davis has taught movement in many workshop intensive settings, including community and arts-in-education based work with Stephen DiMenna, as well as workshop intensives with the Bill Reed Voice Studio, Middlebury College, and the Public Theater.

Peter J. Kuo.

Peter J. Kuo is a director, producer, writer, and educator focused on raising the visibility of marginalized communities. For the past two years, he has served as ACT’s associate conservatory director. He has worked on numerous EDI initiatives at institutions including the New School, TCG, and Intimacy Directors of Color. Kuo previously worked as an art administrator at South Coast Repertory, East West Players, Soho Rep, and LA STAGE Alliance. He has taught for HB Studio, Perseverance Theatre, Redhouse Arts Center, and University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. He is the co-founder of Artists at Play, a Los Angeles Asian American Theatre Collective. As a director and assistant director, he has worked at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Play Company, Weston Playhouse, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, East West Players, South Coast Repertory, Geffen Playhouse, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, Leviathan Lab, Ma-Yi Theater Company, and Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, among others. He holds a BA in drama with a minor in business management from UC Irvine and an MFA in directing from The New School’s School for Drama.

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