Alum inspires budding actors
JustArts: What have you been doing since you graduated in 2008?Harley Yanoff: I'm an actor in New York City. ... I've done a few TV shows-Gossip Girl, I actually did Boardwalk Empire with Martin Scorcese. I just came back from doing an indie in Maine for two months. Also, [I've been] coming back to Boston for my summers for the workshop that was created from my honors thesis at Brandeis. ... The company opened a month after graduation.
JA: How many kids do you usually have at the camp?
HY: We like to have 15 per session, 15 to 20. That way, there's a lot of individual attention, which is really the whole purpose of this. We don't want anyone getting lost in the mix. We want a really intimate environment where there's a lot of one-on-one coaching and a three-to-one participant-to-staff ratio. We don't really like to go too high, because then it becomes not really a learning environment, and people get really small parts, and it's just not a great thing for a theater program, I think, when there's too many people.
JA: I noticed that you're also working with another Brandeis alum, Olivia Mell '09. How did you guys connect?
HY: We did a show together at Brandeis my junior year, her sophomore year. ... This was going into our second summer, and I had lost my choreographer because she was doing something else that summer, so I needed a choreographer, and someone mentioned to me that Olivia was looking for a job in Boston, so I contacted her. It kind of worked out really, really perfectly, because she was pretty much exactly what I was looking for with her experience, and I knew her well from school, and she signed on and she's been great.
JA: What venue do you use for the camp?
HY: In the thesis, it was probably the hardest part to find out what we actually needed for a location, which was classrooms so that we could split the participants up by age and then an actual theater with a performance space. I tried a lot of locations, but a lot of them just weren't feasible; a lot of them wanted way too much [monry]. We struck a deal with the St. Julia Parish in Weston. We've got our own entrance there, so it's pretty great. It's our space for the summer. It's got a bunch of classrooms downstairs, and then upstairs there's a stage. It really, really works out nicely.
JA: Could you tell me a little more about the thesis? Was the original goal to start a company?
HY: It started out as an independent study where I wanted to research different programs in the area to see if I was potentially ever going to think about opening something, what kind of thing it would be. I did a lot of market research on that. And then it kind of became like, "Wow, this could actually be something, maybe." So I talked to [Prof.] Jen [Cleary] (THA) and talked to the department. I had this concept and I wanted to roll with it. So I started doing it, you know: There was market research, kind of going to schools in the area, contacting parents who had enrolled [their children] in theater programs in the area and seeing what was lacking in the program that they were sending their kids to and what they'd want to change. I developed a curriculum based on the things I had seen lacking in the 10 years I had worked in these programs, also various feedback and suggestions and comments and complaints from other programs and parents and all that. It just kind of snowballed. It was just like, "Wow, everything is already set up, so let's just do it."
JA: Do you feel like it was mostly because of the research you did that you were able to pull it off, or has there been a continual learning process since you started it?
HY: It's always a learning process. Each summer we introduce a new concept. I'm still learning, and there's still a lot of trial and error going into it. But we're a very young company. The oldest staff member is 23. ... My staff is very loyal. It's great because I can finally mold this program into what I think a theater workshop could be and what I think kids should get out of a program. The past two years, we've actually done fall programs because there's been such a desire for it to keep going. We've got some pretty cool shows coming up this summer, and it's pretty exciting.
JA: So is this something you see yourself continuing?
HY: Yeah, it's my company-you know, it's my baby now. The plan is having it grow. ... The short answer to that question is yes. I don't see any reason why it won't continue to flourish.