Marcus Giamatti
Paul Wellman (file)

Already a summer mecca for young musicians and athletes, with the opening of Ensemble Theatre Company’s new Young Actors Conservatory (YAC), Santa Barbara is about to become a hot destination for aspiring teen actors. The program, which will run July 10-28 and will feature four hours of classes a day, five days a week for that three-week period, is the culmination of several years of planning and will be directed by the distinguished actor and teacher Marcus Giamatti. Giamatti, who played Peter Gray on the long-running television series Judging Amy, is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and has a stellar track record as a teacher and mentor to actors worldwide. His recent success teaching in UCSB’s BFA theater program, along with his reputation among professionals in Los Angeles, led Ensemble Artistic Director Jonathan Fox to tap him to lead this new venture. He will be joined on the YAC faculty by Michael Bernard, who will introduce students to improvisation, and Ailish Riggs, who will offer courses in voice, movement, and acting Shakespeare.

When I met with Giamatti in April, he described a dynamic program designed to provide young actors with the kind of training required for them to transition from high school plays and musicals to auditioning for and winning professional roles. Raising his own children here in Santa Barbara has given Giamatti insight into the city’s already thriving youth theater scene, and a series of focus groups conducted in advance of this summer’s coursework allowed him to fine-tune the conservatory’s offerings to the specific needs of area students. “I want to give these young people the craft base they will need to succeed as professionals,” he said, adding that the program would “model the work it takes to make it either onstage or in film and television.”

In addition to instruction in acting, students will participate in voice and movement training and script analysis. Giamatti, whose undergraduate degree is in ethnomusicology, will teach a class using masks to develop a sense of how to communicate with the entire body. Taken as a whole, the program promises a remarkably comprehensive approach to the full range of skills necessary for young actors to take the stage with confidence.


ETC’s Young Actors Conservatory program runs July 10-28 and will feature four hours of classes a day, five days a week for that three-week period. For information or to register for the program, see


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