• Re-envisioning Classical Theater's Potential

  • Chae Costello


    The acting repertoire of Chaelon “Chae” Costello, MFA Acting '10, brims with parts in legendary classical productions like Hamlet and Measure for Measure. Her education has been both deep and vast, leading her to explore movement methods like the Alexander Technique and take on key roles on landmark stages like The Old Vic in London, where she starred in The American Dream by Dipika Guha and trained with some of Europe's most celebrated thespians. Costello was also recently in residency at P.L.A.Y. Theater at Bethel Woods Center for the Performing Arts, where she developed a new curriculum for teaching theater techniques. Inspired by a range of professional experiences and guided by respected mentors, she is becoming the new face of a classical art form.

    Costello also plays gatekeeper and guide to new students in the BFA Acting program at the School of Drama, part of The New School's College of Performing Arts. A teacher of first-year courses like Performance Preparation, Foundations in Acting, and Classical Acting Technique: Monologues, she practically greets the program's young actors at the door on day one - and sometimes even before. “I stayed connected to the New School community after graduation,” says Costello, “and through a former teacher, I became involved in the audition process, then the adjudicating process, and in 2014, I was brought into the audition room.”

    Over the past few years, Costello has helped refine BFA auditions, a process already known for its unique level of critical engagement. “We give feedback, ask hard questions, and workshop a bit,” says Costello. “That type of audition can either really throw a student or offer an opportunity to dig into things, like how one intersects with the world.”

    If students do end up pursuing a BFA in Acting with Costello, they also benefit from her contemporary approach to classical acting. In class, she shows her students that sometimes “foundation” means experimentation. “We start by blasting open what theater even means. We reimagine what is possible through acting and lay that down as a foundation.”

    After her first-year students begin dismantling the very notion of theater, they start drawing on the experiences they've had before arriving at the College of Performing Arts. “Opening the imagination sometimes requires a real vulnerability, and that's part of the first semester,” says Costello. “I try meeting students where they are. How do they sync with a character? How do their experiences play into the performance? Their instrument is their body, it's their spirit-it's the accumulation of their experiences.”

    For Costello, taking her judge-gatekeeper-professor-mentor responsibilities seriously is critical because in her own theater training, a close interpersonal dynamic has always made the difference. “As mentors, we have to do the best we can to support students. I know this because I'm the product of really good mentoring. It's like the Newton quote: 'If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.'”

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