Founders Day: 136 Years On
Updated: Sep 22
The year is 1884: Franklin Haven Sargent has just founded The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. As a graduate and prominent professor of Speech and Elocution at Harvard University, Sargent sought to create a new school devoted to transforming the trade of acting into a respected craft. Thanks to his tireless dedication and planning, The Academy quickly became a proving ground for radical new ideas and groundbreaking acting methodologies. Sargent and his colleagues discovered that encouraging the pursuit of raw authenticity in performance ultimately led to a profound transformation among their students. They witnessed, for the first time, the inherent power of acting when taught as a craft. The training brought to light their students’ ability to deeply connect with truth at any given moment in any given circumstance.
The year is 1923: The foundational discovery made by Franklin Haven Sargent was carried forward when Charles Jehlinger, an early graduate and teacher at The Academy, was appointed to the role of Director of Instruction. Jehlinger’s belief in truthful behavior in imaginary circumstances solidified The Academy’s commitment to these newfound principles of acting and further expanded upon Sargent’s founding vision.
Jehlinger’s many insights continue to resonate with artists and educators today. Among his oft-cited quotes is the following reflection: “There is no limit to the art of acting. You need the understanding of all human nature, the sense of beauty of the artist and poet, the sense of rhythm of the dancer and musician, the mentality of a philosopher and scientist. It is the universal art."
By the mid-20th century, The Academy’s training was celebrated – and sought – by actors around the world. To best serve these students and their preparation for an ever-evolving entertainment industry, the school created new facilities in both New York and Hollywood.
In 1963, the school moved to its present location on Madison Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, at the site of the historic Colony Club building. By 1974, the decision had been made to expand westward and the first Los Angeles campus was opened in Pasadena. The Academy’s west coast campus would move to its current Hollywood location in 2000, on the south lot of the former Charlie Chaplin Studios. Both campuses would also add residential facilities – the Academy House and Academy House West – that provided a dynamic, immersive environment for students to learn and live within a community of fellow actors.
With internet-equipped computers and mobile devices bringing the world closer together, new platforms emerged for communication – and new opportunities arose to forge meaningful connections with one another. More than ever before, the tools of media production became affordable and accessible, allowing artists new avenues for expression. Academy actors again led the way, using their core training to explore truth in storytelling through emerging formats, from streaming series to self-tapes.
The debut of The Actors Society, The Academy’s alumni association, also provided a powerful way for graduates of all backgrounds to build relationships and bolster professional networks. Supported with online tools and exclusive programming, this resource grows with each class of graduates, adding to the diversity of our shared connections and impacting our world and the acting community for the better.