By Maxwell Bank
About a week after the ball dropped in Times Square and ended 2020, I swore off acting on Zoom. It had been a good run. I hadn’t reached the decision out of frustration or disappointment. I was just burned out. From the beginning of lockdown in New York to the start of 2021, I was acting into my computer anywhere between two and nine times a week: improv shows, improv classes, sketch shows, character classes, a Shakespeare play, a film noir radio play—if I had the time I would do it. While these shows and classes were fun and stimulating, acting day after day in my bedroom, to my laptop, was getting exhausting. I planned to step away for a little while to choose my next move.
Enter: Atlantic Acting School.
I decided that after my break, I would return to acting with a comprehensive course of study. I’d heard great things about Atlantic and decided to audition for its Full-Time Conservatory. The audition went great. My auditors were incredible and made me feel totally comfortable and I left feeling like I had done my best possible work (which, if you’ve auditioned over Zoom before, you know is no small victory). That week, I received two pieces of news: first, my job was reopening with new hours, creating a conflict with the Full-Time Conservatory; and second, I had been accepted into the conservatory. So with a heavy heart, I emailed Atlantic to tell them that timing wouldn’t work out. Maybe next year.
From a school as well-established as Atlantic, I did not expect anything more than a brief confirmation that I would not be enrolled in the program. So I was quite surprised when Chris Booth, Atlantic Acting School’s Director of Admissions—and coincidentally one of the directors of an improv show I was performing in at the time (true story: right up until I got into the audition room, I didn’t realize that both Chris Booths were the same person)—reached out to let me know about another option that might better fit my schedule: a multi-faceted acting conservatory beginning in February. It sounded perfect! But then, I saw its name: Global Virtual Conservatory. Virtual. Online. Acting into a computer. As you might recall from 376 words ago, I was done performing on Zoom. Once again, I politely declined.
Once again, Chris replied. “Think it over before you say no,” the email more-or-less said. “It’s going to be a really great program.”
And the more I looked at what the program was offering, the more I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could handle acting on Zoom a little bit longer.
I relented and emailed Chris back to accept the spot.
From the first orientation with Naomi Livingstone and Heather Baird, I was excited to get to work. Having shifted from one program to another, I didn’t realize how comprehensive the GVC was going to be—Practical Aesthetics with Melissa Bruder; industry & audition with Ricardo Coke-Thomas; performance project with Tatiana Pandiani; solo portfolio with Jacquelyn Landgraf; film portfolio with Jessica Frey; and global perspectives with a rotating assortment of teachers (Llyod Suh, Heather Raffo, Ngozi Anyanwu, Arian Moayed, Todd Thaler, Gaye Taylor Upchurch).
The GVC felt like a full body workout, not only preparing us to approach and act written material, but also training us to write, to direct, and, perhaps most importantly, to collaborate.
Which brings me to my cohort (a word I’m not ashamed to admit I learned in this program). Right from the start, I was totally and completely floored by the quality of my classmates: Jen Diaz, Alexandria Henderson, Faye Hiscock, Jesús M. Garibay, Jubilee Lopez, Rudra A. McBain, and Cheryl Yang. Everyone brought a unique perspective and sensibility to the work. I was so excited and, I’ll admit it, intimidated, that I was always pushing myself to match the excellence they brought in each and every week. 4.5 hours three times a week sounds daunting—but working with this group I found myself more than once so riveted that I was shocked to look at the clock and see our time was up.
So many of the classes I’ve taken during these pandemic times made the mistake of being an in-person class begrudgingly transmitted over the internet. The GVC was a program designed to be conducted online and it succeeded with flying colors. Instead of trying to fit ideas for the physical stage into the computer, I found myself challenged and excited by the possibilities presented to me with the technology. And, perhaps more importantly, I was excited to see what my classmates would bring in. When the final showcase arrived, I had to pick my jaw up from the ground more than once by a performance, piece of writing, or use of technology from one of my cohort
And then there was the lesson I didn’t even realize I was being taught by the GVC: an intense and consistent excitement to create.
Even while the program was in session and my cup runneth over with work to do, I found myself writing, reaching out to other actors to put up shows, and learning monologues just for myself. The tools given to me by Atlantic have been so useful and enticing that I am more excited to make art than I have been in the past several years. And that’s in addition to everything else I learned!
So if you find yourself looking at what the GVC has to offer—at its global community, at its in-depth and expansive coursework, at its truly incredible teachers—and you think it sounds great but perhaps you’re not excited to act into a computer, then I would advise you to think again.
I have learned so much from my time in the Global Virtual Conservatory and, even having graduated, I’m still learning. And that to me is the mark of a global-class program.
Maxwell Bank is a New York City born/raised/based actor, writer, and comedian. Once things get back to normal (any day now!), he can be seen every Wednesday evening with his improv team, Good & Evil, and monthly on Sundays with his sketch team, Rococo—both at the Magnet Theater. Max has also regularly performed at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, the People’s Improv Theater, and with Whiskey Stories. Digital credits from these pandemic times include Oberon and Theseus in Bill Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Digital Shakespeare Company), Nick in Emmett White’s The Lights in the Sky Are Stars (Original Idiots), and in the ensemble with improv team JMG International (WG Improv School). He also loves hosting and attending dinner parties and is excited to get back to that in the coming year. If you’re around you should totally come! MaxwellBank.net @thatmaxperson
About the Global Virtual Conservatory
Rooted in multicultural perspectives on performance methodology, this remote program draws from Atlantic Acting School and Atlantic Theater Company’s broad and diverse pool of working artists – from NY to LA, Argentina, Australia, London, and beyond! Over the course of three concentrated six-week trimesters, students will develop three distinct portfolio pieces – a self-scripted solo project, a film project, and a collaborative group project.