case western reserve university



Setting the Stage for the Acting Program's Future

Walter and Jean Kalberer

Little more than a decade ago, the College's theater department joined with The Cleveland Play House to create what has become one of the nation's preeminent graduate programs in professional acting. Students in the three-year program earn a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree while acquiring the training and experience necessary for successful theatrical careers.

Now, the program is celebrating the generosity of Walter and Jean Kalberer, whose leadership gift helped the MFA program raise $1 million to support the Class of 2010. Walt (ADL '55) is a trustee of The Cleveland Play House and chair of its development committee; Jean (FSM '55, LAW '81) is also a trustee and chair of the education committee. Meanwhile, the university and The Cleveland Play House have embarked on a $10 million endowment campaign to secure the future of what program director Ron Wilson calls "the newest jewel in the crown of select MFA acting programs."

An Immersion Experience

Wilson, who chairs the department of theater and dance, calls the program an "immersion experience." Students receive professional training in acting, voice, and movement, as well as onstage experience in MFA ensemble performances and mainstage Play House productions. According to associate program director Mark Alan Gordon, they also learn "common-sense strategies for surviving in the world of casting agents, directors, and publicists." A final showcase audition allows students to demonstrate their talents before New York agents and managers. As an added benefit, they earn an Actors' Equity card along with their diplomas.


"The industry here in New York is finding these students well trained and ready to work," says casting director Paul Fouquet, who coaches the MFA students for the auditions. "One hundred percent of the last graduating class found representation by an agent at last year's showcase. That's huge for a new program. These kids are booking jobs and annihilating the competition."

Such success has contributed to the program's visibility, prestige, and attractiveness to prospective students. In 2005, the program received 1,400 applications and held 500 auditions, as compared with 100 applications and 50 auditions in its first year. When Wilson made offers to the top eight students from the 2005 pool, all of them accepted and said that the program had been their first choice.

The Benefits of the Arts

Because they receive tuition waivers and annual stipends, the young actors can devote themselves entirely to the theater during their years of study. The Kalberers say that this feature sets the program apart from its rivals and enables it to attract the best students.

"We are delighted with the work Ron and Mark Alan do for the MFA program," the Kalberers add. "They are talented actors and great teachers, and they have a remarkable effect on the students. We've seen them interact over time, as each new class becomes a family. Their enthusiasm is contagious!"

Named "Philanthropists of the Year" for 2006 by the Cleveland chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Kalberers affirm the importance of supporting theater and the arts in general: "The current funding focus is somewhat slanted toward science and health care. This isn't necessarily bad, but we need to more fully realize the benefits of the arts. Creative people contribute to the greater good on many levels, and we support efforts that encourage creativity."

For details about the MFA program's endowment campaign, please contact Harriet Wadsworth in the College's development office at (216) 368-6243.