Recent Alum Q&A: Max Samuels '15
Max Samuels ’15 graduated from Dartmouth last year as a theater and Chinese double major. He is now attending a one-year master of arts program focused exclusively on classical acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.
What’s a typical day at LAMDA?
MS: On class days we have our acting classes, our voice classes, our movement classes, staged combat, phonetics, historical dance class, an Alexander technique sort of postural spinal alignment cours, all sorts of different fun things. It’s all very practical and active and it’s not really classroom work. It’s more, “Let’s get up on our feet or lie down on the ground” work. We have rehearsal days, which meet twice a week, where we try to incorporate the stuff that we’re learning in the classroom with actual workshop productions. They’re not open to the public, but they’re small, cut-down versions of plays that we work on with a director and work towards a performance. We do two of those a term. As we move through the year, we have less class and more focus on our thesis presentations, which are devised, short pieces- — a response to a classical text — and then our Shakespeare production in our last term, which is open to the public. At the end of the course we return to the United States and have an industry showcase in New York and Los Angeles where we present a little taste of us as actors to the industry and hope to make connections through that.
Why Dartmouth? Did you look at conservatory programs when considering colleges?
MS: I did look at conservatory programs as I was gearing up towards the college application process, but shortly after visiting those places, I decided, “These places are great, but I don’t think they’d be great for me at my 18 or 17-year-old stage.” I didn’t think I was quite ready to give up on so many of my other academic interests. I wanted to stay open to the possibilities of different things happening, which is sort of a metaphor for the acting work that I’m now trying to do. I quickly decided after visiting some conservatories that I wanted to look more at some liberal arts sort of places and I decided on Dartmouth. I applied early decision. It was a no-brainer once I visited that this is where I want to be because I visited the theater department. It was the summer going into my senior year of high school and I remember it was just gorgeous. I didn’t even do a formal admissions tour of Dartmouth, I did a theater tour. Doing that, I just felt like it was a department that really cared about and looked to nurture its students. I think an actor should have varied interests, and I think Dartmouth really cultivated those. I mean, I was a Chinese major. So yes, I feel grateful every day here in my program that I had the Dartmouth experience. Dartmouth gave me the chance to focus on breadth, which I think is so important, and now I’m getting the chance to focus on depth, which is this classical acting thing. So I think having both those things in my toolkit will have prepared me really well for plunging into the industry.
What at Dartmouth most prepared you for LAMDA?
MS: I knew about LAMDA because I’d been there before on the theater FSP in summer 2014. The theater FSP every summer goes to LAMDA and we do what’s called a short course. So the 10 Dartmouth students join another 30 or so students from all over the world, a lot of whom are still in undergrad but some are older and we get an eight-week taste of what British conservatory drama training is.
How have your thoughts on acting changed since graduation?
MS: My thoughts on acting have changed — it’s hard to describe how. I think all of the things that I’m learning and doing are happening in very subtle ways that I don’t think I can really express or articulate. I guess one of the revelations I’ve had about acting is that it’s about being open to things happening and to not worry so much about doing. The word “acting” implies a very hands-on approach, but really, I’ve started to discover that often taking a step back and letting things be and allowing space and time for things to develop in a scene is really the best way to go about acting. So that’s been a big thing.
How have your thoughts on what you want to do changed since graduation?
MS: I don’t think my thoughts on what I want to do have changed very much since graduating. I really do have my sights set on being a working actor, whatever that means. So you can define success in many different ways but if I can kind of consistently get work, interesting work, as an actor — thought-provoking work — I’ll be happy. So I think that goal has stayed constant.
So you said you want to be a working actor; can you speak more on that? What do you mean by “working actor”?
MS: I wish I knew. I would like to be able to support myself financially as an actor, with acting work, because it’s the thing I enjoy doing the most, and I’d like to get paid to do the thing I enjoy doing the most. So at the moment, I’m thinking I’d like to move to New York City and begin auditioning. I hope to audition for a wide range of projects and do types of work that challenge me and I hope to be able to get to collaborate with inspiring people. People I worked with at Dartmouth, people who I’m now working with at school and, obviously, beyond.
What advice would you give to other arts students at Dartmouth?
MS: I’d say don’t look for the right way to do whatever art you’re trying to do. Obviously, I can only really speak for theater, but don’t feel like you’ve got to do things right. Instead just do things and they’ll be wrong a lot of the time, and you’ll fail a lot of the time but through that you’ll get closer to what is right. Alleviate the pressure of having to do things right. There are no grades in art.
This interview has been edited and condensed.