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Shelby Anderson

Shelby Anderson PerformingProgram: O’Niell Theatre Center/National Theatre Institute
Semester Abroad: Spring 2012
Major: Theatre
Minors: Sociology & Communication Studies

Russia and Connecticut…wait, what? Study abroad in Connecticut? That’s right. For the spring semester of 2012 I decided to study at the “exotic” National Theater Institute in Waterford, Connecticut with two weeks abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. As a Dance and Theater major at a liberal arts school, I wanted to take the next level into a more intense program of study—to find out what my real passions and talents are in my field of study. When I asked my teachers and peers, the best place everyone recommended was the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. I couldn’t agree more.

The National Theater Institute is a one semester program for serious theater students who want to push themselves to the limit artistically, physically and emotionally. For a whole semester I vigorously trained in contemporary and classical acting, voice, movement, directing, and design. To be completely honest, I had a very small idea of what I was going to be doing before I went on this adventure. The program is very quiet about everything that the program entails, as rest as the students who have gone there prior to new students. When I arrived, it was a completely new world surrounded by new people. I lived on the beautiful campus filled with playwriting history. With the play library right next to my room and the beach ten minutes away from the buildings I trained in, I was able to be one with nature and theatre.

Though I was in Connecticut for most of my time, I barely know the state. With a few exceptions of seeing a few shows in New York City and our two week trip to Russia, my class stayed exclusively on the campus for 24/7 training. We’d wake up, warm up, and train until ten every night. When that was over, we would do homework into the wee hours of the night. With a class of 26 students, we quickly bonded together and I left my program with a brand new family. I still remain in contact with my teachers and all the friends who were working alongside me for this very special semester.

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Studying in Russia was a whole new experience. We trained at the Arts Academy of St. Petersburg and worked closely with serious directors and actors at the academy. All of our classes were in Russian, and had to be translated for us to understand. Everything was different there—the language, food, the plays, people and the fashion. It was also amazing to see how seriously people took theater there. Russian theater is taken very seriously, and the actors are well respected. People go to the theater every night there—sort of like how we go to the movies constantly here. It was a culture shock that happened in an instant. We came back to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and we used all of the skills we learned that semester and ended our semester with Playwrights week, where we put on 15 of the 26 plays we wrote in a week. Our final project was our adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekov.

My journey at the National Theater Institute was challenging every day. I had goals, and I had to work extremely hard to meet them. I was physically sore, emotionally drained—but artistically inspired every day. I did things I never thought I could do. I gained a confidence that I did not have before. I know with every fiber of my being that the National Theater Institute was the right choice for me for study abroad. Though I wasn’t completely immersed in a brand new culture for the whole time—I was completely immersed in my craft, which was the exact thing I was looking for. I walked in as a theater student; I walked out as an artist.