NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ West Coast Alumni Making Its Mark in LA, One Event at a Time

West Coast alumni of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (TSOA) are rapidly building their presence in LA’s entertainment industry. Just two years ago, 14 alumni gathered for breakfast in The Peninsula Hotel’s private dining room to lay out a strategy that would bring together the School’s more than 3,000 West Coast graduates for the first time. Comprising writers, actors, producers, agents, and directors, the group had one goal in mind: to make the Tisch School of the Arts the preeminent alumni network in LA. Today the TSOA West Alumni Council serves nearly 1,000 alumni annually.

“We are extremely pleased by the energy, enthusiasm, dedication, and hard work of our TSOA West members,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts. “In two short years, the programs and events of the LA-based Alumni Council’s working board have grown from one every three months to one, sometimes two per month. We believe we have an important obligation to keep in touch with our alumni, especially our recent graduates who need the most help in transitioning into the LA-based entertainment industry. This is a perfect way for all of our alumni on the west coast to connect with each other while developing their careers through networking, panels, guest speakers, and a wide array of other events, both social and professional.”

The chair of the new TSOA West Alumni Council is Susan Johnston, a NY playwright recently transplanted to LA. Johnston was already a founding member of NYU Writers Lab West, which had produced the NYU New TV Writers Showcase in 2006. She had also worked as the assistant director of TSOA Career Development shortly after her graduation, and had established the NY and LA alumni email listserves. She is assisted by fellow alumna Tracey Adlai, who had already been throwing Tisch mixers with fellow Tisch alumnus Perez Hilton.

In September 2006, TSOA West publicly celebrated its season launch with a screening of World Trade Center at the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences that was attended by 300 NYU alumni. The film and the venue were donated by NYU Tisch alumnus Oliver Stone and NYU Stern alumnus Frank Koehler, respectively. The success of the screening helped increase TSOA West membership to over 1,500 in just three months. “Suddenly, events were sold out and many other alumni were offering up their services for panels, workshops, and parties,” commented Johnson.

TSOA West hosted its annual Oscar® Party at the Edendale Grill in Silver Lake in February. Some 120 attendees feasted on filet mignon and cheered exuberantly as their fellow alums appeared onstage at the 79th annual Oscarcast: Thelma Schoonmaker, Michael Arndt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Dean’s Council Member Martin Scorsese.

On Monday March 12th, TSOA West hosted the 2nd Annual New TV Writers & Actors Showcase at The Friars of Beverly Hills. Within 24 hours of releasing the invitation, they had 100 industry reservations from every major agency, studio, and network. The evening featured a new play by alumnus Neil LaBute, and will be hosted by alumni Jim Vallely and Johnathan Schmock.

“An invitation to TSOA West events is becoming the hot ‘insider’ experience,” said Johnston. Notice goes out exclusively through the Tisch Alumni Connections Listserve and alumni rush the unpublished TSOA West phone line in hopes of a seat. Demand for some events is so high that a specific call day has to be assigned. The upcoming March 27th TSOA West Speaker Series, “Intimate Conversations,” co-hosted by the Sundance Institute, has become such a sought after ticket that reservations will be taken for a limited number of hours on a specific day. Comedic writer for television and creator of Everybody Loves Raymond, Phil Rosenthal, will be the speaker. Moderators will be alumni Lowell Mate and Len Aslanian.

Presently, TSOA West council members meet once a month. “We plan parties, swap contacts for speaking engagements, run down leads for gift bags, and plot the Tisch take over of Hollywood,” Johnson jokingly exclaimed.

For more than 40 years, Tisch School of the Arts has been the nation’s leading center of undergraduate and graduate study in the performing and cinematic arts. Tisch graduates follow in the footsteps of such illustrious alumni as Oliver Stone, Alec Baldwin, Spike Lee, Amy Heckerling, Ang Lee, George Wolfe, Tony Kushner, Marcia Gay Harden, M. Night Shyamalan, Debra Messing, Eriq LaSalle, Alexa Junge - men and women who have admirably succeeded in redefining the performing and cinematic arts.

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Richard Pierce
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