Setting the Stage / VERVE Magazine

By Kathryn Stewart

Asheville lures and breeds artists — foodies and beer connoisseurs, musicians and poets. And if Shannon Rupert and Richard Handy have their way, this increasingly on-the-map mountain town could become more than just a vacation spot for actors (e.g. James Franco, who attends Warren Wilson College periodically to collect literary cred).

Rupert and Hardy opened the New York Studio for Stage and Screen last January as a training hub for aspiring as well as Emmy-award-winning acting talent. Western North Carolina has a history of embracing the arts, but an educational center for up-and-coming acting talent may be a whole new niche creative thinkers have carved out. “We want to offer an option outside of New York and LA,” explains Rupert. “We're working to create a high-caliber program here, one where people can still be surrounded by the arts and not have concrete surrounding them as well.”

NYS3 offers one- and two-year professional programs in film, voiceover, and theater, as well as individual courses and workshops. The faculty includes distinguished teachers: Timothy O'Keefe, best known for his role as Alan Sewell on The Young and the Restless, and award-winning film director Andrew Wonder.

Rupert concedes that creating a training ground to compete with LA and NYC hasn't exactly been a stroll down the proverbial red carpet. “There's always the growing pains — understanding what the local market wants, and even figuring out what our goals are for the national market. It's been an interesting challenge.”

But Rupert and Handy are no strangers to creative thinking. The NYS3 co-owners also co-produce The Race of Awesome, an ongoing fundraising event featuring lighthearted competitions like the Idiotarod and the Red Dress 5K. Rupert and Handy also previously worked together to produce TedxAshevile.

So while NYS3 may be looking to attract up-and-coming talent to the area, they're committed to local relationships, too. “It's who Richard and I are. We love to build communities. That's where inspiration comes from, where creative projects are born,” says Rupert. “When people have community they have support.”

Which is why Rupert and Handy created the monthly talk series, “NYS3 Presents,” an educational and social forum for arts, entertainment, and education. Loosely based on the TV show Inside the Actors Studio, the sessions include a presentation and Q & A with speakers who have so far included the Science and Technology editor of TIME magazine, Jeffrey Kluger, and Emmy-award-winning producer Peter Goldsmith. This month, they’re featuring an appearance by Witness and Top Gun star Kelly McGillis, who now lives in the area (see VERVE’s exclusive interview with McGillis in this issue).

Another brainchild of Rupert and Handy and part of NYS3, WNC One Source is an Internet database for the Asheville area's performing-arts scene. Designed as a resource to encourage networking both locally and outside the region, One Source offers a comprehensive toolbox to connect all aspects of performing arts.

“We want people involved with performing arts to be able to use the site. If someone wants to make a movie, they should be able to use One Source to find actors and a crew so they can come film here,” explains Rupert. “Since North Carolina is an incentive-based state, they can make a movie here for less than they would a lot of other places. The talent is here, and the money can be fed back into the community.”

And while there may be kinks to work out along the way, Rupert remains firm in her belief in the value of experiential and real-world learning, regardless of the subject. “I think education is the number-one tool to empower people. The more you know and understand, the more you're able to contribute to a community,” she says. “I grew up in a small town, and I didn't realize what the world had to offer until I went to college. I'm a totally different person because of the education I've received, and I want other people to have that opportunity.”