Beyond Vassar

Flying High—What happens when Powerhouse apprentices leave the nest? Lots!

By Emily Darrow ’87

Vassar and New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater program has premiered, on campus, many award-winning plays, including John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, Warren Leight’s Side Man, as well as this year’s Pulitzer finalist Sons of the Prophet by Stephen Karam. Equally important, although perhaps less familiar, is the nationally recognized theater training component.

Each summer, as part of the program, approximately 40 students (apprentices)—from rising high school seniors through college-age students—immerse themselves in all aspects of theater for six weeks. They take classes, shadow professional playwrights or directors, attend rehearsals and performances. This summer the Powerhouse Apprentice Company includes three current Vassar students—directing apprentice Angela Dumlao ’13 and acting apprentices Francesca Calo ’13 and Adrienne Kurtz ’14.  

As Ed Cheetham, producing director of Powerhouse Theater and a former apprentice, says, “Powerhouse allows each apprentice to discover their own voice. At Powerhouse you begin to see the path that is right for you, because each day you are surrounded by people who represent the entire spectrum of what a life in theater can be.” 

We spoke with several apprentices about their memories of the Powerhouse summer program and how it influenced their own careers. These apprentices—two here and more at —have gone on to various careers in theater development, acting, playwriting, and directing films, but all emphasize how their summers at Powerhouse transformed the way they think about themselves and theater.

Josh Radnor

Josh Radnor

Powerhouse Acting Apprentice 1994

Radnor just completed his seventh season as an actor on the CBS series How I Met Your Mother and will be back for season eight in August. His second feature film, Liberal Arts (writer, actor, director), premiered at Sundance in January and at Sundance’s first-ever London Film Festival in April. His first feature film, happythankyoumoreplease (writer, actor, director), received the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. The script was given an informal reading at Powerhouse in 2008.

Im a little embarrassed to say that what drew me to Powerhouse was the brochure, but it was! I was a sophomore at Kenyon College and went down to the career development center. They had a ton of brochures for summer theater internships and apprenticeships. But something about Powerhouse just leapt out at me. It was a purely intuitive thing.

I got a sense there was real, genuine contact between professionals and apprentices, something that was very important to me. Until that summer, I had never spent any time with professional actors. They were like these mythical creatures I’d heard tales of, but hadn’t yet confirmed their actual existence.

So much about that summer remains vivid in my mind. I remember calling my parents on the pay phone to tell them I’d been cast as Macbeth in the Apprentice Company Shakespeare production. My father later revealed that he was half-hoping I would feel over my head that summer, drop the silly acting notions, and go to law school like he did. Instead, my crazy acting notions were reinforced at every turn. 

One of the biggest things Powerhouse did was to carve out some space in my consciousness where I knew that being a professional actor was possible. The idea of doing this as a career shifted that summer from being a hazy, dreamy idea that I had as an Ohio teenager, to something that felt tangible and, on some level, inevitable.

Peter Frechette (an actor of whom I was in awe that summer) pulled me aside after seeing me on stage and said, “Not everyone here is going to be a professional actor, but you are. You can do this.” I cannot overstate how much that meant to me. It felt like I was receiving some kind of divine permission slip.

I made some terrific friends that summer and am still in touch with writer/directors Sian Heder and Vassar alumnus John Gatins ’90 who both live in LA. David Warren remembered me from my apprentice summer and hired me for one of my first jobs out of grad school.

When I’ve had the chance I’ve returned to Powerhouse to act in some professional productions—most recently Joe Gilford’s Finks in 2008.

If I had to give any advice to apprentices, I would say don’t focus on auditioning or networking or training or any of that. I figure that’s stuff they can pick up along the way. The thing I feel is most helpful is about the psychological/spiritual aspect of being a professional actor. Our minds are our chief enemies in life, largely. That’s doubly true for actors. You have to sift through so much rejection, and you really have to know who you are and why you’re doing this in some profound way.

Each stage of a career presents it own unique, maddening challenges, but instead of being crushed by them, these can provide opportunities for transformation. I urge actors to lean into the transformative possibilities rather than the rejection and hopelessness that can descend in the darker moments.

Danielle Morvant ’10

Danielle Morvant ’10

Powerhouse Acting Apprentice 2005

A drama major at Vassar, Morvant is an actress and the co-founder, with Vassar classmate Estefania Fadul ’10, of the New York City-based theater company Pleiades Productions. In Pleiades’s inaugural production (Lisa Kron’s Well at the Producers Club), Morvant appeared in the role of Lisa. To support herself, she works as a casting director for Citizen Casting and as a part-time nanny.

I was 16 when I became an apprentice at Powerhouse, and the thing I remember most distinctly is being absolutely amazed by everything. The campus, my dorm room, the classes, the teachers, the people, the theaters, the food, the plays—everything. It was the first time I was spending significant time outside of Louisiana, and I remember it as being two months of my entire world blowing up.

I thought, if this is what college, what Vassar, what doing professional theater was like, I was most definitely looking forward to it. I was delightfully exhausted by all of the opportunities, and thrilled when I realized I was able to do it all. There was this great sense of camaraderie among my class of apprentices, and an overwhelming feeling of unity and belonging. My mother flew in to drive me back to Louisiana when the program was over, and I distinctly remember being at a loss for words on how to explain my summer to her, other than to say that it had changed my life completely.

I graduated Vassar in 2010, and like so many recent Vassar alums, I’m living in Brooklyn with my cat. When I’m not acting and producing with Pleiades, I am living the beginning actor’s life: auditioning, auditioning, auditioning—and, sometimes, getting cast!

My time at Powerhouse was a huge turning point in my life and influenced so much of where I am now. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, two very important things: I needed to go to Vassar College, and I needed to spend my life doing theater. It was a very clear validation of where I needed to be, and in what direction my life needed to be going.