Meet Conservatory Instructor Erin McNally Thielke

Danielle Bliss & Beth Fhaner
 | Jun 14, 2018

​Teacher Erin McNally Thielke

SCR isn’t just a great place to see live theatre; it’s also a great place to learn about different aspects of theatre. On a year-round basis, SCR’s Theatre Conservatory offers acting classes for kids, teens and adults in the safe environment of our Tony Award-winning theatre. Led by experienced professional artists, students engage in lively instruction and deepen their understanding of the craft of acting, all while developing important life skills. Students can select from various classes including Summer Acting Workshop (a two-week theatre camp that's like a sampler of the year-round Conservatory classes), Musical Theatre, Playwriting, Acting for the Camera, Improv and much more. In this ongoing series, we’re introducing some of the instructors. Meet Erin McNally Thielke.

Who was the teacher that inspired you in your acting studies―and in what way?

It probably was Amy Luskey Barth, who was my high school theatre teacher. She had very high standards and believed that, although we were young, we were capable of learning at a professional, deep level. And, most importantly, she really ingrained in me the importance of text, character and music analysis, as well as how in musical theatre, acting/storytelling is still the primary focus. These are concepts that I have explored even further in both my professional and educational career.

What should students expect when they walk into class?

A fun, safe environment where we can take risks and explore the craft of acting and musical theatre. I truly care about my students not only strengthening their musical theatre skills, but also helping them navigate what it is to be an artist in this industry. We will nurture and expand singing voices, dig deeply into story and music analysis, learn about audition techniques and different styles of musical theatre, and I will (hopefully) inspire them to see past what they “think” they can do and achieve things they didn’t realize they were capable of. 

What’s your best class memory of an “aha!” moment for a student?

There have been so many! But I think one of my favorite recent memories was when a student had a vocal breakthrough. She was a good actor who has always been an alto “belter”—loudly singing in her lower chest voice. But I believed that she had the potential to be a beautiful soprano, too. (And it would make her a more versatile musical theatre actor). She doubted me, but I asked her to trust me. She did. I assigned her a high soprano song for the session and gave her a few vocal technique things to work on before her first performance and she worked hard to prepare. I reminded her that the stronger her acting choices are, the stronger her voice will be. When she got up to perform, no one was expecting this glorious soprano voice to come out of her. The class was mouth-open in awe and respect. You could have knocked them over with a feather! When she finished, there was a second of pure silence and then the class erupted in wild applause. (Of course, I cried). I asked her how she felt and she said, “Pretty amazing. I didn’t think I could do that.” I said, as I always do, “If y’all would believe in yourselves half as much as I believe in you, you would be amazed at what you could accomplish.” The most important thing was this: After that moment, the rest of the class embraced the idea that they, too, ​could stretch out of their comfort zones! They understood that when I push them out of their comfort zone, it was because I believe that with some hard work, they can grow. And they saw the proof happen first-hand. It was a really good day and the beginning of a lot of future breakthroughs.

What do you learn from your students?

What a great question!!!!! I am constantly learning from my students. I get to see the world through their eyes. I am reminded of how young people are capable of so much more than most adults realize. I am constantly learning more about myself as a teacher, listening to them and discovering different ways to explain things. And I love the creative ideas they bring into class. Collaboration is such a vital part of the process! And I love when students breathe life into a character that allows me to see a familiar song/monologue from a different perspective! I love the way their brains work. They keep me young at heart!

Are acting classes (improv classes, playwriting, etc.) only for folks interested in acting?

Oh, no! That’s the beauty about acting classes—they strengthen your human skills! We don’t just cultivate good actors; We strengthen speaking (and singing) voices so you can be better heard and understood. We bolster self-confidence and increase self-worth. We encourage empathy. We remind you of the power of words and actions. We celebrate collaboration, sharing and ensemble work. And every week, we have a heck of a lot of fun. It’s a safe place for a human to explore different parts of themselves, take risks and forge meaningful friendships. Not to mention the fact that through text analysis, they are presented the opportunity to research many different historical periods and people. Acting class makes life more vibrant, meaningful and survivable.

How would your students describe your teaching style?

I have been told that I am equal parts sunshine and Mary Poppins. I have a lot of energy. I love my students so much. I want them to know how much I care about them and how much I believe in them. To me, that can make it easier for them to take the big risks necessary for growth. But I also have high standards. I push them. I call them on their bad habits. I am not afraid to be truthful with them and expect them to work hard and with integrity. We laugh a lot. I also demand a lot. But, at the end of the day, I think (and fervently hope) that my students know that everything I do is out of honestly caring about them and a belief in who they are and what they are capable of. I clearly am very passionate about acting and musical theatre!

Why might acting classes be scary for some folks and how can they overcome that fear?

As an actor we are literally saying, “Watch me!” That is a very vulnerable thing. Coming to a new acting class also means that you will be putting yourself out there with a bunch of people you don’t know. Again, that is a very vulnerable thing. But the best way to overcome that fear is simple: go take an acting class! The anticipation is always the scariest thing. When you go to acting class, you will see that most people feel just as nervous as you to begin this journey! And that before you know it, there is a sense of family, teamwork and ensemble that you won’t find elsewhere. So, if you are scared…that’s okay! You aren’t alone. Just take the leap and try. You’ll discover you’re stronger than you think! And us teachers are here to help you every step of the way!

What’s your favorite dessert?

Oh, man​, that is the hardest question of all! Because, I mean, am I sitting on the couch watching TV? Because then…Haagen Daaz strawberry ice cream, of course. Or am I at a fancy restaurant? Then creme brulé, obviously. Or a bake sale? Homemade Rice Krispy treats, for sure. My Birthday? Coconut cake, please. So…sorry…I think you’ll have to be more specific before I can give a definitive answer. LOL!

Learn more about year-round acting classes at SCR's Theatre Conservatory.