Boot Camp for MFA Theater Auditions

By Barbara Fischkin

FOUR RECENT Queens College theater graduates sat chatting with instructor Claudia Feldstein about the Capulets, the Montagues and the major Shakespearian roles they would soon play at Flushing Town Hall.

And then the talk turned to boot camp.

Claudia Feldstein, center, with former students, from left, Rosanny Zayas, Shaunette Wilson, Gabrielle Georgescu and Thomas Stagnitta.

Claudia Feldstein, center, with former students, from left, Rosanny Zayas, Shaunette Wilson, Gabrielle Georgescu and Thomas Stagnitta.

For the college’s drama students, “boot camp” is not a military requirement or an exercise program but rather a nickname for a free, three-year-old, intensive — and successful — MFA preparatory course.

It was conceived by Feldstein with professor Susan Einhorn, who had chaired the theater department, and Charles Repole, the current chair. Feldstein teaches the course, directing a small group of graduating seniors to identify, probe and rehearse the modern and classic monologues that they perform to audition for graduate drama programs.

This year the four students who chatted with Feldstein made up the entire class. And all were accepted into prestigious programs.

Gabrielle Georgescu to the London Conservatory of Music and Dramatic Arts; Thomas Stagnitta to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater; Shaunette Wilson to the Yale School of Drama; and Rosanny Zayas to Julliard.

Each student had a different story to tell about choosing acting. Stagnitta, for example, originally came to Queens to study physics and mathematics, while Georgescu says she can’t remember a time when she didn’t want to act.

Over the past four years, six other boot camp students have attended MFA programs at the American Conservatory Theater, the American Repertory Theater at Harvard, Rutgers, NYU and Yale.

Feldstein agrees that there are many routes for actors. But as a Queens College alum who also went on to the Yale School of Drama, she believes that actors should have graduate school training, specifically in theater.

“It makes them greater at what they do,” she says, emphasizing the importance some schools put on having students collaborate with their teachers and other professionals. “It shows them what it takes to be a theater actor … and if you are trained as a theater actor, you can do anything. You can do film. You can do television.”

Feldstein encourages her students to try the very monologues that challenge them in order to show the breadth of their talent. “I also ask them to find stuff that moves them emotionally. Something they would like to spend a few months working on, something they believe in.”

Zayas says Feldstein builds confidence. By the time she entered the graduate audition rooms, she says, “I knew I was good enough … . There is a little switch in your belly and Claudia is the one who gets it to turn on.”

After Yale, Feldstein had a bustling career in theater and television. But she was traveling a lot for regional theater roles and when she became a mother — her son Ethan is 8 — she began to concentrate more on the teaching she had been doing and loved before he was born. An adjunct for 20 years, who often directed plays in her spare time, she became a full-time lecturer in September 2012.