Believe it or not, Hollywood is a college town. Every year the best and bravest from around the world arrive on its starry sidewalks, eager to learn and ready to work. Take your pick–acting, filmmaking, comedy, make-up, music, cooking, travel – Hollywood has a school for almost every craft.
Hollywood is an actors’ mecca. Faced with ferocious competition—the employment rate in the acting profession is typically less than 20 percent—performers know that solid training is a valuable tool. “Your training is what separates you from the rest of the pack,” says actress Rebecca Metz, who recently landed her first major guest-starring role in the F/X television series Nip/Tuck. “When you get on the set, it makes all the difference.”
To break into acting or sharpen their skills, actors have a variety of schools from which to choose. The Stella Adler Academy of Acting (6773 Hollywood Blvd, 323-465-4446, www.stellaadler-la.com) was launched by its namesake, a film and Broadway star, in 1949. During its six decades of teaching, the Academy has adapted with the times. “We’re constantly expanding and teaching new classes such as Physical Theatre, Yoga and Voiceover in combination with our traditional acting technique,” notes Alex Aves of the school’s admissions office. Students at the Adler Academy are grouped into classes of four to 12 and train in the school’s three theatres and five studios. Famous alumni include Sean Astin, Warren Beatty, Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro, Salma Hayek, Harvey Keitel, Kim Basinger, Chris Cooper and Benicio del Toro.
A short distance away is another school founded by an industry legend. The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute (7936 Santa Monica Blvd, 323-650-7777, www.strasberg.com) dates back to 1969 and sponsors acting classes, a digital film school and a Young Actors Program for thespians aged seven to 17. “The human being who acts is the human being who lives,” Strasberg once said. A predecessor to the Adler and Strasberg schools, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (1336 N. La Brea Ave, 800-222-2867, www.aada.org) bills itself as “the first drama school in the English-speaking world.” Founded in 1884, the Academy stands on the former grounds of the Charlie Chaplin Studios and lists among its graduates popular stars like Robert Redford, Lauren Bacall, Kirk Douglas, Dennis Haysbert of television’s 24 and Carrie-Anne Moss of the Matrix films.
Located near the famous Capitol Records Building, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (6305 Yucca St, 323-469-3300, www.amda.edu) prides itself on its talented faculty of actors, directors, designers, dancers, singers and choreographers. The Theatre Academy at Los Angeles City College (855 N. Vermont Ave, 323-953-4000 x2971, http://theatreacademy.lacitycollege.edu) taught Oscar-winning actors like Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman and also trains costume designers and stage technicians. The school calls itself “the best kept secret in Southern California” due to its quality instruction and moderate tuition fees.
Where would actors be without their make-up artists to keep them looking good? The Joe Blasco Make-up Center (1670 Hillhurst Ave, 323-467-4949, www.joeblasco.com) is now in its third decade of teaching. During the 1960s, founder Joe Blasco left the Max Factor Cosmetics Company with just $50 in his wallet and eventually became a sought-after make-up artist for film, television and celebrities like Bette Midler, Carol Burnett and Olivia Newton-John. He opened his school in 1976. Blasco also sells his own products through his company Joe Blasco Cosmetics.
Another popular training center for make-up artists is located at Campus Hollywood, which groups three disciplines under one umbrella: make-up, music and acting. America’s first accredited make-up school, Elegance International (1622 N. Highland Ave, 323-871-8318, www.ei.edu) was founded in 1966 and offers one-year programs for the theatre, salons, film, television, prosthetics and fashion photography. The Musicians Institute (1655 N. McCadden Place, 800-255-7529, www.mi.edu) was originally established as the Guitar Institute of Technology and today offers degree and certificate programs for performers, recording artists, sound engineers and others. The final school in the Campus Hollywood trio is the Theatre of Arts Performing Arts Academy (1622 N. Highland Ave, 323-463-2500, www.toahollywood.com), which offers classes in acting, music and dance.
On a humorous note, Hollywood is chock full of schools eager to develop the budding comedian’s funny bone. The nonprofit Groundlings School of Improvisation (7307 Melrose Ave, 323-934-4747, www.groundlings.com), founded in 1979 with barely 20 students on its roster, now boasts over 300 participants in its day and evening comedy classes. All of the school’s instructors are present or former members of the company. The Groundlings’ alumni roster includes Will Ferrell, Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow, Chris Kattan, and Cheryl Hines of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Long-form improvisation and sketch writing are the hallmarks of the training program at the Improv Olympic Training Center West (6366 Hollywood Blvd, 323-962-7560, www.iowest.com). Comedians Tina Fey, Andy Dick, Andy Richter and Mike Myers all hail from IO West. Just a few miles away, the Acme Comedy Theatre (135 N. La Brea Ave, 323-525-0202, www.acmecomedy.com) and Bang Improv Studios (457 N. Fairfax Ave, 323-653-6886, www.bangstudio.com) also offer classes and workshops in writing and performing.
Hollywood has long been recognized as the filmmaking capital of the world, so naturally the town is peppered with top-notch schools for the wizards who work behind the camera. The dean of Hollywood film schools, the American Film Institute (2021 N. Western Ave, 323-856-7600, www.afi.com) was founded in 1967 and prides itself on training “the next generation of filmmakers.” Hollywood luminaries like producer Marshall Herskovitz (The Last Samurai) and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Passion of the Christ) graduated from the AFI program, and director George Lucas was recently awarded the organization’s 33rd annual Life Achievement Award. Perched atop the hills overlooking Los Angeles, the AFI Conservatory offers a Master of Fine Arts degree in one of six areas: cinematography, directing, editing, producing, production design and screenwriting. Meanwhile, near the Paramount Studios lot, the Los Angeles Film School (6363 Sunset Blvd, 877-952-3456, www.lafilm.com) jumps right into the action by putting its students behind the camera during their first week of instruction. Not all schools in Hollywood cater to the film industry or the comedy circuit. Audio engineers can learn their trade in one of 15 studios at the Los Angeles Recording School (6690 Sunset Blvd, 888-688-5277, www.recordingcareer.com). The Academy Pacific Travel College (1777 North Vine Street, 866-344-3211, www.academypacific.edu) offers training for airline flight attendants, travel agents, hotel staff and ticket agents.For the chefs of tomorrow, the brand-new Kitchen Academy (6370 West Sunset Blvd, 866-548-2223, www.kitchenacademy.com) hones cooking and baking skills so its students can join the ranks of the more than 12 million people who work in the culinary arts. “The food industry is the largest employer besides the government,” says Christopher Becker, the founder of Kitchen Academy.
What if students are juggling a day job and trying to attend school at the same time? Many of Hollywood’s schools offer daytime and evening classes to fit their students’ busy schedules. This flexibility is critical for anyone who is tackling a new profession. “The day I arrived in Hollywood was the first time I’d ever been here,” notes Jimmy Kieffer, an actor who doubles as a technician and graphic designer. “It was daunting.” Fortunately, with so many training schools ready to provide guidance, breaking into a new Hollywood career is just a phone call away.
1. Strasberg Academy's director, David Strasberg, with student
2. Lee Strasberg Academy
3. Pointing the way at American Film Institute
4. Rebecca Metz of Nip/Tuck
5. Movement class at Stella Adler Academy
6. AFI's Administration Building (see also FILM)
Allan T. Duffin is a freelance writer, college history instructor, and a squadron commander in the Air Force Reserve. His website is www.aduffin.com.