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School of Acting
Executive Director of Acting
Diane Baker studied acting and ballet in New York with Charles Conrad and Nina Fonaroff. She also studied acting in Los Angeles with Estelle Harman and years later with Stella Adler. While under contract with Twentieth Century Fox, she was introduced to director George Stevens Sr., who cast her in The Diary of Anne Frank. Diane performed in films Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Best of Everything, 300 Spartans, The Wizard of Baghdad, Nine Hours to Rama, directed by Mark Robson, and on loan-out starred with Susan Hayward in Stolen Hours in England. At Universal, she starred in Mirage with Gregory Peck, Marnie for director Alfred Hitchcock and The Prize, starring Paul Newman. She also appeared in The Joy Luck Club, The Net with Sandra Bullock, and The Cable Guy with Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick and most recently, Harrison Montgomery with Martin Landau.
Diane has worked with Anthony Hopkins and director Jonathan Demme in The Silence of the Lambs, and her most recent television credits include Law & Order: SVU, ER with Noah Wyle and five episodes of HBO's Unscripted, directed by George Clooney. Other television credits include The Blue and the Grey, Inherit the Wind (for which she received an Emmy nomination), About Sarah, and CBS' four-hour miniseries, Jackie O, in the role of Rose Kennedy.
Diane's first effort as a producer came in the self-financed documentary, Ashiana, which dealt with the end of feudalism and the beginning of democracy in India. Several other award-winning documentaries followed, including HBO's To Climb a Mountain and Emmy-nominated Miracles in the Making. She produced the film Never Never Land in London starring Petula Clark and Cathleen Nesbitt, which opened the door for a future project, the six-hour mini-series based on Barbara Taylor Bradford's "A Woman of Substance," which received an Emmy nomination for Best Mini-Series.
She has received numerous honors and awards, including multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, an Honorary Doctorate in Law from the University of Irvine in Southern California, and Cinecom Career Award in 2005 given at the legendary Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Ms. Baker has been a Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences voting member for forty years. Additionally, Diane studied Telecommunications and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Documentary Channel as well as coordinating member of the Oakland Film Commission Arts Task Force.
In addition, Ms. Baker has been invited to serve on many film festival juries. In the late 70's, she was the president of the jury for Northern Greece festival of Thessaloniki with Melina Mercouri, and subsequently on the jury at the International Film Festival in Bombay, India. In 1997, she was invited to the first International Film Festival in Shanghai, People's Republic of China. She was also on the Palm Springs Film Festival jury in 2005.
Diane Baker was invited to Academy of Art University to build an acting program for graduate and undergraduate students. She inaugurated the first sound stage at the university and its first black box theater, both of which are used by students in the Acting and Film programs to create their portfolios. She has recently been promoted to Executive Director of the Motion Pictures & Television and Acting School. Her future dream is to build a film center for serious filmmakers who want to make meaningful films that will inspire, educate and entertain.
Damon K. Sperber
Coordinator of Acting
Damon K. Sperber has worked as an actor for over twenty years. A graduate of UCLA (BA in World Arts and Cultures-Theater) and the American Conservatory Theater (MFA), Damon has appeared in theater, television, film, commercials and on radio. Damon is also a proud member of the Screen Actor's Guild, Actor's Equity Association and AFTRA.
In addition to acting professionally, Damon’s experience working with casting directors (he's worked in New York and Los Angeles to develop and cast talent for Broadway, off-Broadway, and regional theater) has informed his techniques for honing the tools required of the working actor.
"The journey of the actor is a rewarding and challenging process. It requires total commitment and focus. Combined with a meticulous attention to detail and technical proficiency, the actor must also bring honesty, integrity and a childlike freedom to utilize and develop their imaginations fully.”
Karen Hirst is a comedian, actor and singer. Karen began her professional career with Second City Improvisational Theater in Chicago as part of their touring company. She appeared on stage with Second City alumni Eugene Levy, George Wendt, John Candy, Jim Belushi, Betty Thomas and many others.
She was a performing/teaching artist with the Wolf Trap Foundation in Washington, D. C., and coordinated their Bay Area program. Karen conducted workshops nationally for them on the use of comedy in the classroom.
Karen has written and continues to perform her own shows in the Bay Area. Locally, Karen has performed at the Magic Theater, The Phoenix, Spreckles Center for The Performing Arts and many other venues.
She holds a degree in acting from MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois and pursued advanced acting studies at Circle in the Square, in New York.
Karen teaches Improvisation, Acting for Actors, Respect for Acting and is the faculty sponsor for the Drama Club. Karen has been with the Academy since 1996 and is a full-time faculty member.
Cynthia Rogers Baggott
Cynthia is a performer, teacher, and registered drama therapist who has trained and performed on both coasts and overseas. She holds a Master's degree in Psychology/Drama Therapy from the California Institute of Integral Studies, a Bachelor's degree in Theater from Pomona College, and is an Associate of the prestigious L.A.-based Voiceworks Method. Cynthia has been a professional actor and singer for over 20 years. Her New York experience includes contracts with companies such as La Mama, ETC and the Light Opera of Manhattan.
Since making her home in the Bay Area, she has worked at TheatreWorks, 42nd Street Moon, and on the Delta Queen and Empress of the North showboats.
Letitia Bartlett has been working in the mime, movement and circus world for over thirty years. She has trained with Leonard Pitt, Samuel Avital, and Jacques Lecoq in Paris. Letitia was a performer and director for Make*A*Circus in San Francisco, and now teachers at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. She is also on the faculty of the American Conservatory Theater and currently works as a freelance circus performer.
Michael Carroll has been acting and teaching for twelve years in the Bay Area. As well as doing film and commercial work, he has performed at a number of local and regional theaters, including A.C.T., the Berkeley Rep, Aurora Theater Co., Signal Theater Co., Rough and Tumble, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, California Shakespeare Festival, and Shakespeare Santa Cruz. He holds a B.A. in Theater from Tufts University and an M.F.A. in Acting from American Conservatory Theater.
He is a graduate of The Actor's Center Teacher Training Workshop under the tutelage of Earle Gister (Chair, Yale School of Drama) and has served on the faculty of Academy of Art University, American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater and U.C. Berkeley. He also served as a writer and an acting coach for John Leguizamo’s Tony award nominated/Emmy award wining solo show, Freak.
Constance has over twenty-five years of extensive experience in various movement disciplines. As an Alexander Technique teacher, Constance has worked with actors, dancers, opera singers, classical Indian singers, violinists, bassists, drummers, bikers, runners, swimmers, and horse riders, in venues ranging from Pixar University in Emeryville to riding stables in England to the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco.
As a dancer, Constance performed professionally in the Bay Area with Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers and Purple Moon Dance Project. She has studied dance techniques ranging from Hawkins to Cunningham to Corvino.
As a dressage trainer, Constance rode professionally throughout California and spent four years studying in Europe. She trained horses and riders through the international levels of the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).
Constance received a BA in Women's Literature and Creative Writing from Mills College.
Constance’s teaching is informed by all these disciplines, and her classes (Movement 1 and Acting Techniques and Processes) are infused with a generous yet rigorous understanding of what it takes to perform with clarity, authenticity, and spontaneity.
Melissa Gray is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to join the MPT faculty at the Academy of Art University. For the past five years, she has been the sole voiceover instructor at the School for Film and Television in New York City, where she initiated the first voiceover programs for their two-year conservatory. She continues to teach in their adult programs and the advanced voiceover workout for professionals, which she also created.
Her numerous high-profile voiceover credits range from NBC News promos and a coveted three-year stint at Nickelodeon to a host of radio and television nationals that include Air France, Hanes, Dawn, Tylenol, Caltrate, Slimfast, Borden's, Vicks VapoRub and Dairy Queen, among others. Her voice is currently airing on the Lifetime Channel and Court TV.
She has also had the honor of narrating three one-hour documentaries for the Discovery Channel: Tigers: Tracking a Legend, Cancer: Self-Defense, and The Adolph Eichmann Story, as well as an upcoming TV special for Novartis: Living With Alzheimer's and a profile of Mary Lou Retton, which will be aired nationally.
As an actress, Melissa has appeared in many productions around the country including A Contemporary Theatre and The Intiman in Seattle, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, the New Rep, the Peterborough Players and Worcester Foothills in New England, and the Alley Theatre and the Houston Shakespeare Festival in Texas.
Melissa is a graduate of Yale University and LAMDA in London.
Andrew Hurteau has been acting and teaching since he graduated from the American Conservatory Theater. He has performed with the Berkeley Repertory Theater, the Magic Theatre, the Marin Theatre Company, the Aurora Theatre Company and throughout the Bay Area. He has also appeared in a variety of independent films. His stage roles have included parts in Nicholas Nickelby, Dr. Faustus (as Faustus), Noises Off (as Garry Lejeune), The Rhinoceros (as Dudard), Orestes (as Orestes), Hurlyburly (as Mickey), and The Real Thing (as Max), among countless others.
Andrew has taught acting at the American Conservatory Theater and the Nueva School, and currently is one of the best acting teachers in the Academy's Motion Pictures & Television department. He is specially trained in stage combat, improvisation, signing, dialect and accent training, and enjoys frisbee, billiards, darts, racquetball, and aikido.
Eduardo Rufeisen has more than 17 years of international experience producing, directing, and managing creative teams and crews. He worked as the Senior Advisor of Advertising for Bosch-Blaupunkt group in Brazil, directing ad campaigns for print, TV and Radio. He became marketing manager of MTV-Brazil where he created television ad campaigns and managed the sales team. He also worked for a Brazilian Television Network producing more than 100 different shows.
During the last 12 years he has been producing and directing multi-camera TV shows for local San Francisco Bay Area cable channels and multinational companies including Hewlett Packard. He has also produced, directed and edited short films, documentaries and commercials seen nationally on ABC, MTV, Lifetime, WB and Fox. His short films and documentaries have won multiple awards around the world.
Since completing his Master of Fine Arts degree (MFA) in Motion Pictures and Television Studies at Academy of Art University, Eduardo has also been working as a film and television instructor at various colleges in Northern California. During the last 8 years, he has taught classes in a wide variety of Motion Picture disciplines. In January 2004, he became the Coordinator of the MFA program in the School Motion Pictures and Television. In October 2006 he became the Associate Director of Graduate Studies in Motion Pictures and Television at the Academy and in October of 2008, he became the Director of the School of Motion Pictures and Television, where he continues to teach and mentor students. As part of his responsibilities, Eduardo reviews all portfolios of students interested in the program and he also is a lead committee member in MFA Midpoint and Final reviews where he frequently chairs the committees.
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