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History of Theatre of Arts

The Original Hollywood Acting School

In continuous operation since 1927, Theatre of Arts is the oldest and most storied drama conservatory in Los Angeles, offering a rigorous two-year degree program to prepare actors for careers in film, television & theatre.  

Where Legends Are Born

Iconic Theatre of Arts Alumni Include:

Marilyn Monroe • James Dean  • Olivia de Havilland

Clint Eastwood • Mickey Rooney • Natalie Wood

Shirley Temple • Gregory Peck • Gary Cooper

Ingrid Bergman • Anthony Quinn • Jack Palance

Ben Bard Drama

1927: When former vaudeville star Ben Bard finds himself coaching former silent film actors eager to adapt to the new world of "talkies", he  opens Ben Bard Drama at a playhouse on Wilshire Boulevard. It soon establishes itself as one of the most successful acting schools in Hollywood. Distinguished graduates include Alan Ladd, Jack Carson, Shirley Temple, Gower Champion & Cliff Robertson.


The Max Reinhardt Theatre Workshop

1937: Noted film and stage director Max Reinhardt, after winning the school from Ben Bard in a poker game, renames it the Max Reinhardt Theatre Workshop. Some of Reinhardt’s well-known students include Alan Ladd, Jack Carson, Shirley Temple, Angie Dickinson, and Cliff Robertson. Ben Bard goes on to become Head of Talent at Twentieth Century Fox in 1938.

The Michael Chekhov Years

1943: Reinhardt departs and Jack Geller creates the Geller Theatre Workshop. Geller assigns a brilliant Russian expatriate by the name of Michael Chekhov in to direct the studio, as its main acting teacher. Mr. Chekhov was a student of the legendary Konstantin Stanislavski, who frequently referred to Chekhov as a, “radical challenger to [his] own system of modern acting” and “his most brilliant student.” With Chekhov at the helm, the school becomes the “go-to” acting school in Hollywood.

Students include icons such as Ingrid Bergman, Lloyd Bridges, Yul Brynner, Gary Cooper, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, Elia Kazan, Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Patricia Neal, Jack Palance, Gregory Peck, Jane Russell, Beatrice Straight, Susan Strassberg, Natalie Wood and more.


A Theatre of Arts is Born

Michael Chekhov died in Hollywood in 1955, before his work became widely known. Geller eventually turned the studio over to artist and entrepreneur Madame Valmar Oleska in 1959, who gave the school its current moniker, Theatre of Arts. Oleska would run the school for 41 years, with notable alumni including Frank Bonner, Anthony James, Greg Mullavey, Charlene Tilton, and Vic Tayback.  

The 21st Century

In January 2000, the school was incorporated within Campus Hollywood, a consortium of performing arts academies which include Theatre of Arts, Musician’s Institute, Los Angeles College of Music, as well as notable guitar manufacturers ESP Guitars, Takamine Guitars, and Schecter Guitars. 

Today, Theatre of Arts remains the preeminent actor training conservatory on the West Coast. The two-year program employs a cutting-edge curriculum specially designed for the needs of today’s working actor. Moreover, TOA's faculty is comprised of working professionals, whose current industry expertise affords students top notch training, along with invaluable insight into the constantly evolving entertainment industry. APPLY TODAY to join us at Theatre of Arts.

Sources include LA Stage Insider & Julio Martinez, with appreciation.  

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