In 1975, a theater director, a gallery owner, and a choreographer rented a townhouse on Rhode Island Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets NW. To call the area at the time rough is charitable. Still, the townhouse served as a hub for Margery Goldberg’s Zenith Gallery, Liz Lerman’s modern dance company, and an acting conservatory helmed by a woman who would later become a legend — and an unstoppable propellant for artistic growth — in the local theater community.
“It was called the Joy Zinoman Studio,” recalls its founder. Three years later, history was made when Zinoman, with her friend, designer Russell Metheny, converted a nearby hot dog vendors’ warehouse into what would become the first location for the Studio Theatre.
The acting school was critical in helping fund the theater in those early days. “All the profits of the school went to the theater,” says Zinoman, who stepped down as Studio’s artistic director in September of 2010. “While I was there, the school was the intellectual foundation of the theater,” she says, noting that her roster of students over the years has included such local powerhouses as Sarah Marshall, Nancy Robinette, Kimberly Schraf, Tom Story, and Holly Twyford.
The 43-year-old conservatory still exists as part of the current Studio Theater complex, situated at the corner of 14th and P Streets NW. “An entire floor of that building is the school,” says Zinoman, “with six classrooms designed by Russell that are very specific. They’ve got curtains and lights. There’s even a lounge for the students.”
The Acting Conservatory is currently enrolling for its spring semester, which starts on Feb. 5. “There are two entry points to our three-year program,” says Zinoman. “One is called ‘Actor’s Process,’ which is about the actor and themselves, their body, their concentration. The other is called ‘Principles of Realism,’ which is the first class that begins with text. There are eight entry level classes every semester but in the second year there are only four. In the third year, there are only two classes. There are no auditions to enter but you can’t continue from one class to the next unless you’re, you know, recommended. Anybody can come. But not everybody can continue.”
The conservatory offers side classes in Alexander Technique, musical theater, movement, voice, dialect, auditioning, directing, and “improvisation for the actor.” Zinoman encourages anyone with a passing interest in exploring acting to apply. “Maybe you just graduated from college and want to get a foothold in Washington and find some community. Or maybe you have a straight job and always wanted to try acting — you know, you have a dream. Or maybe you’re someone who acted in high school or college and were pulled away by life and now want to come back.”
Primary acting classes cost $550, and meet once a week for four months. “It’s pretty cheap,” says Zinoman. Ancillary classes, such as voice and movement, cost less and can be discounted further when partnered with an acting class.
Zinoman, who classifies her style as “Stanislavski-based realism mixed with my profound interesting style” gets tremendous satisfaction out of seeding the Washington acting community.
“It’s a meaningful thing for me,” says the 75-year-old powerhouse. “And I still love to teach. So I keep doing it.”
To learn more about The Studio Theatre Acting Conservatory and its spring classes, or to register, call 202-232-0714 or visit studiotheatre.org/acting-conservatory.
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