HBO Documents ‘YoungArts MasterClass’


The HBO series, YoungArts MasterClass documents the work of well-known artists who impart their life and art experiences in master classes with Young Arts winners. Annually, thousands of high school students nationwide submit an application to the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts’ YoungArts program, eager for the opportunity to be mentored by the world’s greatest artists. The foundation is dedicated to recognizing and championing a new generation of emerging artists.

The nine-part Emmy-nominated HBO series underlines the importance of mentorship, which resonates in the arts and beyond for these talented students. Each half-hour episode gives six young artists an opportunity to connect and work with artists such as actress Patti LuPone, architect Frank Gehry, photographer Bruce Weber and opera singer Placido Domingo to name a few.

The latest edition of this documentary, Anna Deavere Smith: A YoungArts MasterClass, debuts February 17th, 2014. The celebrated actor-playwright has been awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award and was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize for her Fires in the Mirror play, among other accolades. Smith’s grandfather once her that if you say a word frequently enough, “it becomes you.”

In 2007, in her one-woman performance, Let Me Down Easy, Smith translated encounters she had from more than 2,000 interviewees. The actor had the uncanny ability to “inhabit the characters” that she was portraying on stage. According to TAD, Smith was able to “blur the lines” between using real-life experiences with theater to create gripping portraits of America. Her extensive experiences, both past and present, including her Let Me Down Easy performance, will bring an intriguing dynamism to the HBO show.

In this series, Smith works with the 2013 winners in the realm of drama. She will guide six young actors to “break down their emotional walls,” and present an original work that compels the group to have faith in themselves, and in trusting one another. She will challenge the aspiring thespians to employ their own life experiences and talents to produce an original theater piece to be performed in San Francisco. The series will establish Smith’s mentoring in the performing arts, and take a look behind-the-scenes at the creative process of an actor.

Initially, students have a one-on-one interview with Anna Deavere Smith. However, she does not disclose that the actor’s responses will influence the script for their upcoming performance. Although nervous, students soon learn to bare their soul and ultimately reveal their weaknesses. Their strong aspiration to develop as actors lets them welcome the experiences no matter how challenging or as one of the young actors explains, it is “overwhelming in the best way possible.”

After overcoming their apprehensions, Smith chooses a segment from each actor’s interview and then dispenses the passage to students. The group will perform each other in their original script, Identity. With all the excitement and nervous jitters expected of an actor, the six thespians agree to the challenge and must present their play before an audience after only three days of rehearsals.

This HBO series, YoungArts MasterClass, gives gifted students, whether they dream of becoming a singer, artist, architect, dancer or actor, an opportunity to soul search. Even if an adult has a passion in the arts, they many never have all the answers, if any. However, these aspiring teens now have an edge on what makes a master and what is required to master a craft.

by: Dawn Levesque


HBO Schedule


National Young Arts Foundation


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