Alumna talks journey from GW acting school to teaching D.C. theater community

Media Credit: Erin Leone | Staff Photographer

Natalie Cutcher, a 2019 graduate of GW’s Master of Fine Arts in Classical Acting program with the D.C.-based Shakespeare Theatre Company, said her passion for acting began during childhood, and her training at GW prepared her for a career in acting.

Tucked inside the gray, stone walls of an old Lutheran church in Georgetown, a GW alumna opens a hidden portal to Hollywood and the D.C. theater scene.

Natalie Cutcher, a 2019 graduate of GW’s Master of Fine Arts in Classical Acting program with the D.C.-based Shakespeare Theatre Company, serves as the director of education of the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, the only accredited acting school in D.C., which offers courses on improv, screenwriting, scene study, Shakespearean theater, stand-up comedy and the acting business. Students at the conservatory went on to book roles at local theaters and venues including Ford’s Theatre, Arena Stage and the Kennedy Center in addition to Hollywood movies and hit TV shows like “The Wire.”

Cutcher said her passion for acting began during childhood, and her training at GW prepared her for a career in acting that has extended from local D.C. theater to science-fiction radio plays beyond her teaching career.

“If I’m not actively in a rehearsal process, then teaching is the next best thing,” Cutcher said in an email. “To encourage students to be brave and vulnerable in their work and then to watch them blossom or tackling something they never thought they could do, that’s the most rewarding part.”

Cutcher said she was living in D.C. and active in the D.C. theater scene when she decided to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in acting at GW, graduating in 2019. She said she chose GW because she wanted to study Shakespeare and classical acting, and earning a degree would help her become an acting teacher by providing her with a repertoire of acting skills she could incorporate into the classroom.

GW and the Shakespeare Theatre Company – a D.C. theater founded in 1986 that organizes productions of classical plays, offers classical acting courses and has won a Regional Theatre Tony Award – partnered in 2000 to offer a Master of Fine Arts degree in classical acting. The program lasts 44 weeks during which students study classical plays and hone acting skills, like character analysis, dramaturgical research and stage combat.

She said she studied alongside actors she considers to be D.C. greats at GW, including Floyd King, an actor with the Shakespeare Theatre Company who has performed in plays in D.C. since the 1980s, and Dody DiSanto, who was Cutcher’s movement teacher and has taught at Cirque du Soleil and the Yale School of Drama.

“What was really humbling for me, already being a part of the D.C. community, was then I got to be in the classroom with these D.C. greats,” she said. “I respect them so much as artists and as teachers, and they were certainly some of the highlights of our training.”

Cutcher said she oversees the Conservatory’s curriculum and ensures that classes reflect industry changes via equipment upgrades and teacher training to prepare students for their acting careers and support faculty’s passion and knowledge behind their craft.

She said the Conservatory offers audition and business classes, including instruction about networking, budgeting, unions and taxes, which are subjects that can be difficult for actors to manage when beginning their careers.

She said she also leads a series of Friday acting workshops that expose students to topics outside the typical curriculum and connect them with industry professionals. Past workshops have covered stage combat, sitcom writing, shadow puppetry, theatrical intimacy and costume design.

Cutcher said most students are DMV natives and carry a variety of backgrounds, from recent high school graduates to locals to past political science students to former graphic designers, looking to pursue acting careers in television, film and theater.

“You’ll get students who are fresh out of high school and maybe don’t want to go right on to a college program just yet and use this as their gap year,” she said. “And on the reverse side, we have folks that have had full careers and finally decided to pursue this craft. So it’s a really great diverse range of students and backgrounds.”

Based near the center of D.C. politics, Cutcher said the Conservatory’s location offers local actors opportunities to “leap” into vital conversations and incorporate different perspectives into the community.

“You can avoid it if you’d like, but it also produces a lot of great work, a lot of work that is really topical and important to what’s happening in our society right now,” she said of D.C. politics.

In addition to teaching at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, Cutcher said she works as a dramaturg, a playwright who supports the work of other playwrights as an “outside voice,” for Arts on the Horizon – a company producing nonverbal plays for families and children under the age of six.

Cutcher also works as a voice actress for a radio play podcast called EOS 10, a science-fiction drama set on a space station. She plays a “feisty nurse” who has climbed cliffs, fought dragons and been revived from death.

She said EOS 10, which is rated 4.8 out of five stars with more than 1,500 Apple Podcast user reviews, is one of her “favorite projects.” With crafty dialogue, she said the “unpredictable” characters evolve through an engaging arc across five seasons.

“I absolutely love being a part of it,” she said. “It’s kooky and wonderful. And it’s always a treat to hear it come together because we sort of give them the raw ingredients in our acting, and then they add all of the crazy sound effects. And then it really becomes something bigger than ourselves and special, and that’s just a whole lot of fun.”

Cutcher said her training at GW helped hone her “vocal instrument,” which she said is crucial for podcasts without visuals. She said the podcast recorded its fifth season in Los Angeles in January.

For her next project, she said she will act in a play on 14th Street called “The School for Lies” next month with the Constellation Theatre Company, a performing arts venue that puts on shows about fantasy and adventure. She said she will play the role of Celimene, “a recent widow with a sharp wit and even sharper tongue.”

Whether she’s teaching or performing, Cutcher said her sight is set on acting for the rest of her life.

“I’m in it for the long game,” she said. “My goal is longevity. So I can’t wait to tackle the roles where I get to be a little old prune, an old lady.”

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