A Laboratory for Actor Training Experimental Theatre Company (ALATetc) emerged from a certain theatrical genealogy and set of events at Hunter College in the early 1980s. This was the period when Jerzy Grotowski and many members of his Polish Laboratory Theatre left their homeland as a result of the imposition of Martial Law. At this time a director named Jacques Chwat (also a displaced Pole) taught at Hunter. Chwat, a close colleague Grotowski’s from as far back as the 1970’s, brought Ryszard Cieślak to the College to give an intensive workshop in acting. Chwat also brought Grotowski to Hunter to observe directing students. Vernice Miller was among those who participated in Cieślak’s workshop and Seth Baumrin was among the directing students with whom Grotowski worked.
At this time Miller and Baumrin presided over the Hunter Theatre Club. When Grotowski was asked whether he would give a symposium on theatre, he insisted students not faculty organize it. Between 1981-1984 Miller and Baumrin organized three such symposia. In 1984, after much urging by Chwat, Miller and Baumrin attended the premiere of The Million and Brecht’s Ashes by Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret on tour in New York at La Mama ETC. The work increased their appetite for physical and intercultural theatre.
Miller and Baumrin invited Eugenio Barba to Hunter College to give a symposium and in turn were invited to Odin Teatret in Holstebro, Denmark to observe the work. After this first journey, Miller and Baumrin began creating performances based on what they had learned from Cieślak, Grotowski, and Barba. In 1988 they took their performance work to show at the Odin. It was then that they established a close professional bond with Odin actor, Roberta Carreri – returning often to Denmark together and separately to take workshops and witness training, rehearsals, and performances. In 1993 they invited Roberta Carreri to New York to give a 10-day workshop for actors as well as perform her solo work, Judith, and offer her work demonstration Traces in the Snow at Arts at St. Anne’s in Brooklyn.
Unbeknownst to them, sitting in the audience was Joann Yarrow who at the time was with Double Edge Theatre of Boston. She would subsequently connect with Miller at Odin Teatret in Denmark a year later. Yarrow’s background in physical theatre training, political and cultural education and passion for the poetic seared this new relationship. Impacted by the principles of complete collaboration, strict adherence to training and ensemble devised aesthetics-- on and off stage, Yarrow and Miller decided to create A Laboratory for Actor Training (ALAT) upon their return to New York.
Miller and Yarrow began to develop the training together in the public parks of Brooklyn; eventually taking the work to the Greenwich Street Theater where additional members joined the company. With the support of Richard Schechner, ALAT was granted studio space at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. ALAT created and presented original performances at the One Dream Theatre, Don’t Tell Mama’s Cabaret, Samuel Beckett Theatre and at the Joe Papp Public Theatre in New York City. Performances then toured to the London New Play Festival at The Kings Head Theater and the Herning Theatre Festival in Denmark.
In 1997 Yarrow entered graduate school where, working under the auspices of the University of California, Irvine she joined forces with Neil David Seibel. Together they created the sub group the American Laboratory for Actor Training. With a collective of twelve diverse graduate student artists, ALAT (west) created training and performance material whose wish was to push the existing boundaries of theatre culture and performance. They developed and toured Esteban, which they presented at The Director’s Company in New York City and Riverside Studios in London, as well as My Appalachia at Bakery Dance Center in Copenhagen and Theatre at the Improv in Los Angeles.
Over the next decade Miller continued the work of A Laboratory for Actor Training, conducting master classes, workshops and touring productions in New York and Europe. The actor training workshops introduced participants to various exercises and physical improvisations designed to engage and clarify the performer’s presence. Though the core work was physical, the aim was not to work on the body or the voice but on the performer's scenic energy.
In 2004 at the behest of Dr. Ursula Neuerburg-Denzer at Swarthmore College, Hang Tough Martina, Audrey Pernell’s senior honors thesis was developed. Based on the ALAT principles and with an original score by Ralph Denzer, Martina was awarded Highest Honors and went on to be produced as an ALAT repertory production in Philadelphia, at Union College and showcases in New York City. Audrey Pernell became the voice coach for ALAT taught voice and movement for professional performers, high school and college students, and at-risk youth throughout New York City.
In 2005, Miller partnered with playwright/scholar Omotayo Jolasho, to established the Drama Lab, a free, voluntary after-school theater program at Park Slope Elementary, PS 282 in Brooklyn, New York. They created a safe environment where young participants could explore accessing their own powerful voice. This culminated in the original work Morning Girl, Midnight Teen- Drama In a Girl’s Life exploring the transition from childhood to teenager, with guest mentor actress Novella Nelson.
Concurrently Miller continued to advance the ALAT training and aesthetics by producing and participating in a variety of other activities in the US and abroad, including but not limited to: University and Conservatory actor training workshops (Skolen for Teatere Dans og Musik- Silkebourgh, Denmark, Sarah Lawrence College, Union College, Swarthmore College, and Rutgers University), dramatic reading series (Reading ALAT), children’s theater programs (New York City), and the production of plays.
Miller who had a growing interest in the crisis in the Middle East proposed that they all respond to Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which tells the biblical story of the wives and only daughter of Jacob. To this end Yarrow produced the Sacred Actor Workshop at Union College and at Teatro Prometeo in Miami, Florida where she served as Artistic Director. Red Tent Fabrik became a devised work exploring the common roots and rituals of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) by weaving together different artistic and musical elements from these traditions to explore their common humanity.
ALAT then began to build a group based on permanent membership. Roberta Carreri returned to work with ALAT in 2010 with a new workshop approach called In the Throes of the Thaw. Carreri’s approach to actor training and performance composition is what has taken root in ALAT’s work, though the aesthetics are remarkably different. Her legacy to this company is training artists to work in dignity, and to work in dignity an artist must live in dignity. A Laboratory for Actor Training is about this truth for all people.
Today, ALAT is buoyed by the energetic contributions of a new administrative core: Brandt Adams, Soraya Broukhim, Raymond Johannes Kraft, Angelica Lara, Berette Macaulay and Steven Fechter.
With the steadfast support of Seth Baumrin, ALAT is in residence at John Jay College of Criminal Justice where we have established the Performance and Justice Lab. This Lab brings together ALAT professionals and CUNY students and alumni who have joined our weekly training sessions out of a desire for a deeper theater experience. Along the way, this partnership has moved to the center of ALAT's identity and work, and we are very excited about where it is taking us. Currently, the company is engaged in a year-long adventure to realize the off Broadway production of ASS PLAYS written by Steven Fechter and devised with the current Lab members.