Cool Things About the Drama Division that You Might Not Know

By: Jo Mei, Third Year Drama Division Student

Hello, my name is Jo Mei and I am a third year Drama student. There are so many things that are special to Juilliard that I want to share with you that it’s hard to choose where to start.

Well, I’ll begin with my final step in the “getting in” process. The year I applied was the first year the Drama Division incorporated the Final Callback Weekend into its admission process. Out of all the people called back during the initial audition process in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, 40 or so candidates are invited to spend 2 days at Juilliard, where they’ll get a feel for what a typical Juilliard day is like. Then out of those 40, 18 are selected for the incoming class.

Initially, those two days put a lot of fear in my heart. I thought, “There’s no way I can act for two whole days straight.” But it turned out to be a fantastic experience. I was able to meet the entire Drama faculty because they guided us as though we were already their students. In those two days, I took a hardcore movement class, had my first exposure to masks, learned about poetry, an established poet performed for us, I sang (poorly), read a short play… and so much more. Sometime during that first morning I realized the point of this is not to do everything they throw at me perfectly, the point is for the faculty to see me try my best, be myself, and not fear to fail. This was also a chance for me to take a hard look at what Juilliard training is like. Do I like this? Can I see myself here with these people for 4 years? Obviously, for me the answer was “Yes!”

Another thing you might not know about the Drama Division (unless you’ve taken a tour of the school) is our famous photo wall. Each year every student, faculty and staff member gets a new headshot taken and the photos of the students go up on a wall in the drama theater lobby. I love looking at the glowing faces of my classmates. Somehow each photo captures something very genuine and intimate and seeing them all together just makes me very proud to be among these talented artists. Make no mistake, these are not glamour shots by any means – some of us despise our own photo and can’t wait till the next year, but that’s also part of what makes it great. Not to mention, the photo session at the beginning of the year is just one big party with food and music and catching up about the summer, and meeting the first year students. My very first photo session/party will burn bright in my memory always.

If you think it’s difficult getting into the Drama Division as an actor, that’s nothing compared to the Playwriting Program. Each year only 4 playwrights are accepted out of hundreds of applicants. And as the playwrights compose new plays at Juilliard, the entire Drama community assembles to hear their new works. And what makes these readings special is that the parts are cast with actors from across the division. So it’s a rare opportunity to work with students in other years of training and sometimes even alumni of the division will return to read as well. For example, this year, one of my classmates got to collaborate with alum Greg Jbara, weeks before Greg won the Tony for his work on Broadway in Billy Elliot.

Also, many of the playwright’s plays get developed into studio workshops either for the 2nd year or 4th year season. And being able to contribute to plays as they are conceived, edited and re-edited is an enormously gratifying experience. How great to be able to say I originated a role in a play written at Juilliard that goes on to have a life off-Broadway or at Lincoln Center.

The time slot where we read new plays is called Community Meeting. This is also something unique to Juilliard Drama, I think. Every week, the entire division gathers as a unit. Some weeks we hear new plays, other weeks it’s a time for guest speakers. Just this year we had Ed Norton, Laura Linney, and Edward Albee, just to name a few. This has also been a time for master classes, or just a time for dialogue. We’ve also had a string quartet come play for us… I have to say Community Meetings are full of surprises.

One more cool Juilliard happening I’m selfishly looking forward to is the 3rd year’s Shakespeare Rep slot. Actually, I’m looking forward to the entire 3rd year season, which includes a movement-based play and a cabaret. But we will end the year with the Shakespeare Rep, which is two Shakespeare plays simultaneously rehearsed and performed by the same cast. This year the third years worked on Othello and Love’s Labour’s Lost and last year, Julius Caesar shared the stage with As You Like It. One more cool thing about Shakespeare Rep is that the plays are performed on our uniquely designed Globe set which is modeled after the original Globe Theater from Shakespeare’s time.

So, as you can see, I can go on about Juilliard Drama but I hope this brief blog entry gives you some insight into things you might not have known.