Department Chair and Artistic Director Kevin Kuchar on Act Two @ Levine’s ‘Pre-Professional Program’ by Lauren Selman

With the close of their second season of Pre-Professional training just two weeks ago, I had a chance to catch up with Department Chair and Artistic Director Kevin Kuchar, from “Act Two @ Levine” to talk about what is trending in educational theater here in the greater metro area and what’s next for their program at Levine Music.

Sutton Foster with Kevin Kuchar talking to the members of the Act Two @ Levine Pre-Professional Program. Photo by Scott Selman/CYM Media & Entertainment.

Sutton Foster with Kevin Kuchar talking to the members of the Act Two @ Levine Pre-Professional Program. Photo by Scott Selman/CYM Media & Entertainment.

Lauren: After your season of shows with Act Two @ Levine, do you get a break?

Kevin: I wish! Summer is about planning the year ahead. A lot goes into selecting shows, getting together with partner organizations to look at collaborations and laying out the nuts and bolts for our process next year. Last season was a fantastic one for sure, but that means its time to start looking ahead to what we can do to keep ourselves fresh and relevant.

On the topic of your last season, you had a number of exciting things going on, so do you expect more opportunities like that for your coming year?

It’s a great time to be a training artist in the Washington Metro Area, that’s for sure! There is a lot of buzz about the theater world here and it’s propelling some really fantastic energy around educational theatre. In fact, there are new programs and new organizations popping up on the map every fall it seems. Some last a season, others reinvent themselves after some false starts; but regardless there is some really great energy here in our region and that makes everyone better at offering something great.

During the past season we really distinguished ourselves from the pack by not only offering fully produced musicals at Arena Stage, THEARC, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company (which we are very proud of), but its not often students get to work with the likes of Jason Robert Brown, Sutton Foster, Adam Ben David, and Cynthia Kortman Westphal (University of Michigan) all in one season. The process was really fantastic to work in. We produced some great work and helped develop some pretty unbelievable talent.

It’s interesting that you mention other training opportunities in the area – we do have quite a few it seems – Does the number of programs out there create problems with getting students involved in your program?

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? I’m sorry I couldn’t resist. Truthfully, there are tons of programs all over the metro area. Some of them are established and some of them are working to establish themselves now – I think that is great! At the end of the day it’s about consistency and quality. If you are secure in what you are offering and how you are training your students, then the rest is just fun to see. After all, something must be working if your program is being copied elsewhere and I think the young theater artist is smart. They know a copy of an original when they see it. We see new applications from all over everyday and that’s great!

What distinguishes Act Two @ Levine from the field then? Many organizations call themselves “the best” or a one of a kind, so  what can you tell us about that?

It seems everyone is claiming to be “the best” or have “the top” – the “leading” faculty members in the region. That makes me smile. I think they are all fabulous turns of phrase. I may have even used it once or twice. But I think it’s deceptive unless you are going to take the time to do a comparison between organizations and be prepared to “put your money where your mouth is” for lack of a better cliché.

Arguments can be made in a lot of different directions and it’s hard not to participate in that “particular fight in the sandbox,” I think for any organization. Here’s what I can say for certain: Levine Music has been an institution in the Greater Washington Metro Area for nearly forty years. It is one of the few such schools to be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music and it is the only All-Steinway community music school in the world. Levine is also certified by the National Guild of Community Schools of Arts as exemplifying the highest standards of excellence and access in community arts education. Beyond all that, there are almost 200 faculty members at Levine and nearly all of them have a master’s degree in their field or better and that’s a level of education and credits unmatched by any studio in our region, period.

Our teaching artists perform professionally all over the country and with regularity; they know the craft from a very real perspective. What I think is even more valuable then that is that our faculty members are teachers who have been hands on in the studio or rehearsal hall for years. Our faculty undergoes an intensive review process and our students participate in a Jury panel to gauge how they are learning. In fact, our current curriculum in Act Two @ Levine is slated to undergo another development stage; this time with the help of the musical theater department at a major University program next fall.

Working with Act Two @ Levine doesn’t mean you might have a “meet and great” or a “class hour” with an accomplished teaching artist; working inside our programming means you will have consistent time with coaches like Duane Moody (Associate Professor of Voice at Berkeley College of Music) and teaching artists who graduated from the Peabody Conservatory, Boston Conservatory, Boston University, and the Manhattan School of Music.

Well, that certainly is a good argument.

At the end of the day Levine Music has a track record that when held side-by-side doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation. But it is fun to read the claims out there even if there isn’t much to back them up. It makes me smile when I read about who is producing the next Broadway or regional stars of tomorrow.

Is that real or is that marketing?

It’s a little bit of both, I think. But it’s not the goal nor should it be. I think I’ve touched on this before in an interview, when they audition for us they aren’t joining a legacy program from the 80’s and 90’s whose founding faculty has long since retired. They aren’t auditioning for a start up program that promises great training but hasn’t yet developed anything, they are auditioning for an established program with a consistent faculty and mission that have been developed over a course of time and have a proven, current, track record.

And you have some pretty great success stories to back that up?

Absolutely! We have an amazing alumni group and its great to talk about your history. I see it on the landing pages of every training ground out there. Though some of it seems a bit funny at times.

What do you mean when you say – you find some of it funny?

Let me see if I can frame this the right way- when you talk about where your students from ten years ago are – it’s important, I think, to disclose that you are laying claim to legacy; not to the “here and now.” Especially when an organization has undergone massive shifts in faculty, methods, and philosophy. When you do that you are “selling” something to your students that may or may not actually exist anymore- really you are laying claim to a building and that’s misleading and unfortunately, it happens all the time across the whole spectrum. But listen, I get it, there is a lot of pressure to be competitive. I guess its just different tactics.

How does Act Two @ Levine handle that pressure?

We focus on what we are doing today; this season and this process for our cast members. Absolutely, Act Two @ Levine is proud of where our alumni are. But we talk more about the alumni from yesterday, not yesteryear. That’s really the only reasonable barometer for how your programming is doing in the present. Our graduates are leaving our programming [today] and being accepted to nationally known and respected schools with reputations for producing today’s working artists. Among them are programs like the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Boston Conservatory, Baldwin Wallace, Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Northwestern, University of Minnesota-Guthrie and many more. They are taking to the stage in professional roles with regional theaters like Signature Theatre and  The Studio Theatre here in DC and VA. They are doing that now, weeks after they graduate.

So Act Two @ Levine has some “Broadway babies” out there?

Yes, they are working on Broadway and tours today and they are currently releasing albums and directing projects, but would it be fair of me to use their headshot and bio to sell a prospective student on our programming? We are proud of what we have here and how that experience and training lines our students up for a high likelihood of success in the future. I think that speaks for itself, but if I ever need to dust off some headshots from ten years ago, then I’ll forget I said any of this.

I’ll remind you. So what is on the horizon for the upcoming year?  

Well, I can’t give you everything all at once. How about I spill the rest of the beans over the summer?

Is it Top Secret information? 

Truthfully, it’s a competitive market out there and we want to give our students the best opportunities we can. It seems more and more these days when something is “working” and you come up with a great vehicle for reaching these kids, then suddenly there is a new program being offered that looks a lot like what you’ve been doing.

Kevin Kuchar with the cast of 'Parade' before their performance for Composer Jason Robert Brown. Photo bu Scott Selman/CYM Media & Entertainment.

Kevin Kuchar with the cast of ‘Parade’ before their performance for Composer Jason Robert Brown. Photo bu Scott Selman/CYM Media & Entertainment.

Is that frustrating?

No. It means we are doing it right. You just have to be protective of your program. What I can tell you is this: we work very hard to keep ourselves developing experiences that are fresh for the young artist. We seek out and cultivate partnerships that make sense and are going to position our young cast members to have “as close to professional” of an experience as possible.  This means continuing to work with institutions like Arena Stage, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Round House Theatre, and CityDance to provide a level of experience and training you can not find in the stand alone studios. It means continuing to host artists like Sutton Foster, Jason Robert Brown, and Adam Ben David, so that our students are consistently exposed to new perspectives on their craft.

So more of that is coming next season? 

We are crafting it now and I can tell you we are going to have a very exciting season, one that is definitely “cut of our usual cloth.”

How about a hint? What is one of the show titles we might see from your program next season?

Spring Awakening. Is that enough of a hint?

LINKS
‘Spamalot’ at Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program review by Robert Monetenegro on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Act Two @ Levine Music Students Perform ‘Parade’ for Show’s Composer and Lyricist Jason Robert Brown by Lauren Selman.

‘Urinetown’ at Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program reviewed by Terry Byrne on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Eitan Mazia on Playing Leo Frank in ‘Parade’ at Act Two @ Levine This Weekend at The Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage.

Amanda Silverstein on Playing Lucille Frank in Act Two @ Levine’s ‘Parade’ This Weekend at The Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage.

‘In the Heights’ at Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program reviewed by Bev Fleisher on DCMetroTheaterArts.

‘Next To Normal’ at Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program reviewed by Max Johnson on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Bat Boy: The Musical at Act Two @ Levine’s Pre-Professional Program  by Yvonne French.

Act Two @ Levine’s website.



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13 Responses to Department Chair and Artistic Director Kevin Kuchar on Act Two @ Levine’s ‘Pre-Professional Program’ by Lauren Selman

  1. David Newman May 26, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Act 2 @ Levine changed my life. I’ve done a lot of theatre programs over the years, and I’m about to start studying acting at the University of Michigan. The Pre-Professional Program is simply the best. Three fully-produced shows at some of the best theatres in the DC area, not to mention a phenomenal faculty with an emphasis on “process over product” (though the product always turns out to be amazing). Kevin pushed me to new heights and really helped me grow as not only an actor but a person. This program is amazing and deserves all the respect and support it can get. Go do it!

    • Eitan Mazia May 26, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

      I can’t believe I’m five days from graduation already. The fact that I’m an Act Two @ Levine alumnus has not fully hit me yet, but I know that when it does, I’m going to be a complete mess. This program not only allows you to build upon your musical theatre skill set and put on professional quality shows, it makes you crave your next theatre project like a predator. I know what next year will potentially offer as far as productions, and honestly, I’m extremely jealous. Kevin’s passion for his art inspires me every day. This guy’s commitment, along with the rest of the wonderful facility’s dedication to our theatrical education is unmatched, and reinforces my desire to pursue this as a profession every day, even though I’m not in rehearsals anymore. This is accomplished through Kevin’s amazing ability to connect with his students on a personal level as well a a professional level, an ability that’s crucial in this field. Strong relationships between cast members and their creative team make these productions possible. I have never seen an educator build such strong relationships with his high school age students, and I firmly believe that our tightness as a cast community is a big part of our success as a company. High school students can be tough to reach out to, but Kevin does this with ease. It’s because he truly cares for our well being, and wants us to gain as much as possible from our experiences. Along with his wonderful communicative abilities, his knowledge of musical theatre and the performing arts is infectious. I definitely learned something new during every single rehearsal. While he has the information at his disposal to give us all of the answers, he does something else that’s important to our development. He often steps back and sees what we have to offer as far as character development and choices are concerned before inputting his insight. This freedom gives us the chance to explore our own existing skill set before Kevin comes in to help us out. That process has greatly developed my knowledge and ability as a studying actor because I’m given room to really explore myself and what I can do. I have no idea how I can ever thank Kevin for the incomparable opportunities he’s given me and everything he’s taught me over the past three years. I cannot wait to see the incredible feats this program will accomplish in the future. Not even the sky’s the limit for what this phenomenal program can do for the musical theatre students of the future. Kevin: thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. Annika Cowles May 26, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Having been part of the Act 2 family for three years now I can definitely see where I have grown. Not only have I grown as an actor, but I have grown as a person. I have taken part in many different acting programs while growing up and I can honestly say none of them have prepared me for life like the Pre-Professional program has. The Pre-Professional program has not only prepared me for a future acting career, but they have helped me start one. The Pre-Professional program has amazing ties to the community and I have been able to use them to get auditions and use what the program has taught me to secure jobs in the acting field. The Pre-professional program is very demanding and very hard work. However, everyone is a family there and everyone puts 110% in everything they do.

  3. Maddie Rinehary May 26, 2014 at 11:09 am #

    In my one year with Act 2 @ Levine, I have learned not only how to better my knowledge and skill in musical theater, but I have learned how to improve my work ethic, how to work well with others, and above all, learn how to fully love the artwork the whole cast puts on. Until you step onto a stage with some of the best friends you’ve ever had, you don’t really quite know how it feels to be a part of such a phenomenon that is Act 2 @ Levine. The family and connection you make in the Pre-Professional program is something that you take with you for the rest of your life. Only being in the program one year, I had the most memorable time. It is as if I can taste the sweet memories and upcoming future of next season and the seasons to come. This is one of the biggest and best milestones of my life. Without the Pre-Professional program, I would not have the knowledge I have today on not only musical theater, but how to hold myself as a person in the crazy world of Musical theater.

  4. Liam Edward Allen May 26, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    The Act Two @ Levine pre-professional program has changed my life in more ways than one. Since I was young I’ve always loved the performing arts, whether it was performing in a play or in choir, or even going to see concerts and plays and musicals, it’s just always been a part of me. Throughout my earlier years I’d been part of lots of plays and theatre programs but none of it has compared to Act Two. The training is fantastic, the faculty are very experienced and know what they’re doing, and not only were we given opportunities to perform at three amazing professional venues in the DC area, but our program was visited by some of the greatest guest teachers in the profession. Act Two @ Levine’s pre-professional program has not only helped shape my future, but also provided me with a family in my cast, and mentor in my director, that I will hold onto for the rest of my life. If you’re a middle-school or high-school student who wants to become a professional, or even if you just love theatre, Act Two @ Levine is THE program for you!

  5. Faith Porter May 26, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    Eventhough I haven’t been in the program for long, the one year that I was there I learned more that I could anywhere else. At Act Two we are constantly being pushed to be better and put 100% in every show, scene, and sing that we do. And because of that, the outcome is always amazing! I’ve also never gotten along this easly with any other group of people. Not once did we have problems with Gossip or cliques. I honestly feel like we really all became a family

  6. Joey Ledonio May 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    The Pre-Professional Program and the unparalleled excellence found there have taught me more than I could ever imagine. From the friendships to the rehearsals, every experience I had at Levine has shaped me as an actor and a person. The only way to get better at something is to be surrounded by people better than yourself, and that is certainly what I experienced during my time with Mr. Kuchar. The talent and dedication of my fellow cast members gave me an example to follow as I moved forward as an artist. With Act Two, you always feel like an adult because the staff always treats you like one, further preparing their students for a life in the theatre in an effective and fantastic way. The year that I spent with Kevin Kuchar and the amazing staff at Levine was unlike any training program I had ever been a part of before. If you are an aspiring musical theatre artist looking for a place to grow as a person and develop your talents, Act Two @ Levine is the place to be. Go ahead and audition; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

  7. Aidan Gray May 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    I’ve been with Act Two @ Levine for a little over a year (my first show being “Carousel”) and this was my first pre-professional season, but I’ve had an amazing time. As a sound designer, I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible from both Scott Selman and Kevin Kuchar. They have been, and continue to be, incredible mentors, but also amazing friends. The whole Act Two program is incredibly welcoming and they’re fantastic at including everyone in the Act Two family. The main reason I mix with Act Two is because of how incredibly passionate then cast and crew are about their performances. They give 110% effort in every performance, but they still manage to have fun and make friends and thats a program trait that you won’t find anywhere else.

  8. Bryce Gudelsky May 26, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

    Being in the Act Two @ Levine program for the past 3 years has been so rewarding. Kevin Kuchar, the director, really challenges everyone to strive for excellence in rehearsals and performances. So many great opportunities have opened up because of this program. From having master classes with broadway legends and college professors to performing in amazing theater spaces such as arena stage. It has been a huge dream of mine to perform there and to use one of their main stages was a dream come true. Another benefit from this program is that it prepared me for my college audition for The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. I knew exactly what to bring to the audition from lessons I learned onstage and in rehearsals from Act Two. And because of this amazing program, I will be attending AMDA this summer. I will miss the joyous environment in rehearsals and performances. Hopefully one day, I’ll be the one to teach a master class and inspire other young minds. I always feel ready to work and explore new characters and skills. And the cast members I was honored to work with are so talented and unbelievable. Act Two @ Levine is a phenomenal program that you don’t want to miss out on. Schedule your audition now.

  9. Emily Cochrane May 26, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    In my three years with Act Two @ Levine I learned more about myself as an artist and a person than I ever imagined that I could. Kevin created an environment that was not only educational but safe to try new things and express yourself. As an educational theatre company, Act Two exceeded any others in the DC area. Kevin’s professionalism and passion for art inspired his students. He gave his students the tools that were necessary to advance in the world of musical theatre, yet Kevin knew when to step back and let us do our own work. He allowed us create and make our own choices. In my freshman year as a musical theatre major at the Boston Conservatory I have found that I have applied everything that I learned from Kevin into my everyday work. He truly prepared me for a conservatory program. I often called just to thank him for teaching me a technique that we had learned that day in acting class. Kevin created an environment that I loved going to. I found that rehearsals soon became my favorite part of my day. Kevin’s ability to connect to his students on a professional and personal level was something I had never experienced before. He cared not only about our training but as us as people. If we were having an off day or something was bothering us we knew we could go to Kevin. Through Act Two, I met some of my best friends and I strongly believe that I owe those friendships all to Kevin. He is a true believer in the Act Two family and often says “once a cast member, always a cast member.” As an alum of the program I have found this to be extremely true. I have been able to go back and visit rehearsals and feel like nothing had changed. I still felt just as much a member of the company as I did when I was in high school. Without Kevin’s love and support as a teacher and friend I would not be where I am today; attending one of the top musical theatre conservatories in the country and pursuing a career in musical theatre. He is truly an incredible teacher and friend and I look up to him more than any artist I have ever met. This program is going extraordinary places and I cannot wait to see what else Kevin has in store!

  10. Benjamin May 26, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    I have known Kevin for 14 years, during 4 of which I was lucky enough to have him as my acting coach. Kevin pushed me to learn and grow as an actor, and instilled in me a lifelong desire for self improvement. In 2006, Kevin helped me prepare for my audition for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and even flew out with me to audition at their Hollywood Campus.

    Whether as a director or coach, I have never felt more comfortable to or capable of making discoveries and pushing my physical and emotional boundaries onstage. I know for a fact that I am a much more skilled (and much more employable) actor because of Kevin’s teaching. Anyone who gets to work with him is truly blessed.

    P.s. I was accepted at the Academy, was triple-cast in my class’s first-year exam plays (rare), was asked to return for second-year (more than half of my class was not invited back), double-cast for my class’s grad plays (even rarer), and graduated in 2008; None of which would have happened had not Kevin whipped me into shape before my first day of conservatory training. I have worked non-stop in both the theatre and on film ever since.

  11. Carmelita Watkinson May 27, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Having been with Act Two for longer than I can recall, I have watched its growth from within and from the sidelines. It has grown and developed into an outstanding program. The PP program has offered the students the opportunity to see an entire production come to fruition. Once the lineup is fully determined and the company is cast, the company has a say in it all. From costumes, sets,makeup, props they have an input and responsibilities. But that is not all..within the show itself character development comes from within. There is guidance from the director, but there is discussion of the character..who, why, when. The learning process is often achieved when a student digests the character and then goes with it. You sit as an audience member and you think to yourself…oh that’s an interesting take on this…I never thought about it like that. That is direction of course, but so much of it is what the company brings to the table.
    The relationships formed are for life time. Teens coming together into a company with a passion to learn and perform, perform and learn…no better combination. The welcome the graduates feel upon a visit, is with an open arm from the director and stage manager. “Once a cast member, always a cast member” is practically bred into ACT TWO members, and not just PP. They are welcomed to green room and harassed when greeted in the lobby at the conclusion of the show, without first having made an appearance in greenroom :) There is a comfort level among the cast, and they know they will all be there for one another for years to come. There is no drama…well sometimes, but the cast supports one another. They cheer each other on, help each other with characters, with learning lines, with finding that perfect costume. and of course with the hair and makeup.

    I have sat on various sides of the table with Act Two. Starting a company, finding space, raising funds to pay for space, moving sets, making sets, painting sets, making props, gathering props, and taking images of the kids for 10 plus years. Act Two @ Levine has become and will remain a force to be reckoned with in the youth theatre world in the MD/DC/VA area. And rightfully so. Hard work, commitment, fun, laughter, hard work(again)….it comes together in a PP production year.

  12. Heather Strauss May 27, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    I have been with Act Two from the beginning, even before we merged with the Levine School of Music. Watching the program grow over the past 7 years has been the experience of a lifetime. This past season, my senior year, I can honestly say has been the best season yet. We put on three amazing shows, were given so many unbelievable opportunities, and bonded as a cast more than I have ever seen. I have learned more in the past 7 years from Kevin, the rest of the faculty, and my peers here than I could have ever imagined. I love my Act Two @ Levine family and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Next year I will be attending Northwestern University to pursue a BA in theater performance and ultimately a career in acting. I am confident that the skills I have learned here have prepared me for the next step and I can’t wait to hit the group running. I know next season Act Two @ Levine will continue to push boundaries and become even better than before. Though I am sad I will be graduating I know that we stick to our motto, “once a cast member, always a cast member” and I will be flying home to see my wonderful family perform as much as I can.