“What comes from the heart, goes to the heart”

Every Monday at 5:30pm I enter the Google Building in New York City through a pair of gigantic glass double doors. This ritual upon first examination appears grossly quotidian, but upon further, much deeper reflection it occurs to me that there was I time I felt like buckling at the knees at the very thought and anticipation of what awaited me behind those slender silver studded doors. I currently work as an actor and teaching artist at Atlantic Acting School in Manhattan.


However, it’s strange to admit that just five years ago I was a pensive student, wide-eyed with chestnut braids framing my face— tapping my foot anxiously through an orientation for Atlantic’s Summer Intensive program. I could never have predicted it then, but this would be my first encounter with the place that would propel me into my “now.”

Why do we as actors train?

This question has prompted many an inquest by students yielding countless philosophical musings, and differing opinions. My personal answer to this question is rather simple: we want to be good. We’re aware that our industry is one of intense competitiveness—riddled with ambiguity and subjectiveness. We crave security—consistent quality of performance. “I want to be a good actor. I want to be good at my job.” So then we arrive at another, possibly more difficult question: what is the job of the actor? To emote? To stun with shining displays of manufactured feeling? How could I become good—or at the very least watchable? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but in my mind the solution was as follows: find a school that can provide me the guidance and training I need to be molded into an actor with an elite work ethic and performing abilities.

At the 2017 Florida Theater Conference, I was immediately drawn to Atlantic. Something in my gut aggressively asserted: “YES. This is the place I want to be. I want to train in NYC at Atlantic Acting School.” I wanted to be there, and in the summer of 2018, that desire was granted through my attendance of their six-week Summer Intensive program.

You can blame the dissonance of harmonically intended sound on the inaccuracy of an instrument. If you’re an actor, your instrument isn’t a piano. It’s not an object. It’s you. Those classes that initially terrified me with their expectations and threatened exposures ended up teaching me how to tune myself as a living instrument. In order to get closer to the sound you desire, you have to struggle through the dissonant tones—hear them—and let them guide you into alignment.

I quickly realized that the teachers are the immutable heartbeat of Atlantic.

My brain transformed into a desperate sponge and after week one, I’d filled an entire notebook with direct quotations. It was imperative for me to retain the wisdom and particles of artistic musings they uttered so effortlessly—as if they had known these things their whole lives. Meanwhile, I was in a metamorphosis. Never before had I been able to rely on an acting technique to provide me with reliable, consistent direction and purpose. My previous methodologies were akin to the act of throwing spaghetti against a wall and hoping something stuck. Seasoned sculptors, my teachers strategically pushed me. And I realized I could scream. I could be rageful, in love, sob my eyes out, be humiliated—all IN FRONT of people. Like a total freak. I could be fully human—truthfully—and bring my own humanity to harmonize with the words of a playwright.

I fell in love with this process of being relentlessly seen. It was addicting and freeing. and felt, frankly, real.

It was lovely to be so generously brazen with myself. To this day I’ve yet to attend any acting class that yielded such honest and truthful moments. I’d argue that some of the best acting I’ve ever seen happened inside those four- walled studios with an intimate audience of classmates. The growth I observed in myself and my fellow performers over those six weeks was nothing short of miraculous. I shed many tears  watching my colleagues bare the fearless purity of their souls.

Aside from the nobility of vulnerability, Atlantic taught me how to cultivate love for the work.

If one were to venture down the grey halls on any given weekday, they would have to admit a strange reverence hangs in the air—held, encapsulated by the whispers of frazzled students and the 15 minutes of required silence before the beginning of every class. Where I come from, people respect many things—theater is not one of them. It’s wonderfully inspiring that now I get to enter a place where my work means something. As a matter a fact, it’s precious. To me, Practical Aesthetics and Atlantic Acting School are about instilling in you the conviction that you can be whatever kind of a vessel you want to be. They are emotional purists, sensitive to the subtle humanity of moment. Over the course of the four years I’ve spent training and instructing there, I’ve grown to appreciate the whole of myself.

“What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.”

That’s what Atlantic taught me: how to speak from that pink pounding thing in my chest. How to be okay with being fully seen, and become addicted to sharing that with others. I love those noxious, nostalgically heavy, silver-studded, double glass doors.


Riley McDonald

Riley McDonald is an actor, director, teaching artist, and songwriter in New York City. A shiny spirit from the sunshine state, she grew up in the shark bite capital of the world, New Smyrna Beach, FL, and has been performing as an actor and musician since childhood.  She is a proud alumna of Atlantic Theater Company’s Conservatory program where she currently teaches part-time. Her most recent credits include: Pentecost (University of Central Florida), Human Error (University of Central Florida), No Entrance (Atlantic Acting School), The Little Foxes (Atlantic Acting School), and 100 Years of Suffrage (Daytona State College.)

About the Summer Intensive

Atlantic’s Summer Intensive invites actors to our studios in New York City for an immersive six weeks. Through scene study, script analysis, and rehearsal, students study Practical Aesthetics, Atlantic’s signature acting technique, and take weekly guest classes from working industry professionals.