Conservatory FAQ

Have questions about the Acting Conservatory? You’ve come to the right place. Click on the questions below for the answers you seek.

The annual cost of tuition is $1,350. We have monthly payment plans available with no interest or extra fees included. The monthly payment plan comes out to $112.50 per month.

Yes! The Performing Arts School and the Acting Conservatory made a promise to the Austin and Central Texas community that we would not turn any student or family away on the basis of their ability to pay for the program. You do not have to apply for a scholarship before you audition. To apply for a scholarship, please click here.

Included in your tuition is 24 weeks of a 2.5 hour advanced level acting class, 5 to 6 Master Classes taught by guest artists from Broadway, LA, and beyond, one performance opportunity on one of ZACH’s stages, and one-on-one college and career counseling. 

Yes! The location of the ZACH North Campus is 14010 US-183 Suite 540, Cedar Park, TX 78613


Year 1 (Freshman): Mondays | 5:30-8 p.m.

Year 2 (Sophomore): Wednesdays | 7-9:30 p.m.

Year 3 (Junior): Monday | 7-9:30 p.m.

Year 4 (Senior): Monday | 7-9:30 p.m.

North Campus

Year 1 (Freshman): Mondays | 5:30-8 p.m.

Year 2 (Sophomore): Wednesdays | 7-9:30 p.m.

Year 3 (Junior): Monday | 7-9:30 p.m.

Year 4 (Senior): Monday | 7-9:30 p.m.

We take anywhere from 8 to 12 students in freshman year and then cap class sizes at 16 in the following years of the Conservatory. However, since students never have to re-audition for the program, we only have space available if a current student decides to not return or is asked to not return. Because of this there could be anywhere from 0 to 8 spots open in Sophomore, Junior, and Senior year.

We offer a class called Advanced Acting that covers the curriculum missed in previous years of the Conservatory. It is held on Wednesday nights from 5:30-7 p.m. and must be taken in both the Fall and Spring Semester and will be an additional cost of $500 per year.

Master Classes are 3 to 4 hour long classes in a particular area of study related to the work we are doing in class taught by a special guest artist. In the past we have had Master Classes in stage combat, puppetry, the business of acting, talk backs with ZACH mainstage actors and directors, auditioning, gesture work, clowning, Laban technique, and many, many more. Guest artists have included, Nick Stephenson (Orange is the New Black), Holland Taylor (Legally Blonde, Two and a Half Men), Colum Morgan (London International School of Performing Arts), and Karen Kohlhaas (Broadway Director and NYU professor).

Each member of the Conservatory has a choice when it comes to their final performance of each year. You can choose to be an actor in the performance or you could choose to instead be an assistant stage manager, assistant director, assistant designer (costume, set, props, or sound). You would work directly with the professional director, stage manager or designer and not only help them with their duties but be given the opportunity to design or direct as part of the process.

The 2019/2020 Faculty Include:


Kate Shaw-Nappi, Conservatory Manager, Year 1 and Year 4 instructor

Kate is the Manager of the Acting Conservatory at ZACH Theatre. An actor, director, dancer, and choreographer for the last two decades, Kate has worked with theatre companies across the country including the Virginia Shakespeare Festival, the Virginia Stage Company, the Blowing Rock Playhouse, the Highland Improv Company and most recently Austin Shakespeare. Kate now focuses her attention on training her students for a professional acting career and preparing them for their college auditions. Her students have already begun working professionally on stage and screen, been nominated and won B. Iden Payne Awards, and have been accepted into some of the best Universities in the country including NYU, University of Michigan, USC, CalArts, and The North Carolina School for the Arts to name a few. She received her undergraduate degree in Performing Arts Studies in 2006 from Lees-McRae College in North Carolina. 


Gwendolen Kelso

Year 4 instructor

Gwen is a professional teaching artist and actor. With over fifteen years of teaching experience. Gwen has taught for programs all over the country and is currently teaching faculty at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NYC and Adjunct Faculty with ACC in Austin. As a teaching artist, Gwen has taught for Imagination Stage, St. Louis Rep., The Shakespeare Society, TFANA, BAM, ZACH Theatre, Austin Shakespeare (and many more!). As an actor, highlights include Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Austin Shakespeare,  and Saint Louis Shakespeare Festival. A Native Austinite (Bowie HS!). Gwen received her BFA in Acting from the Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University and her MFA from the Shakespeare Theatre in DC.


Dana Wing Lau

Year 2 and 3 Instructor

An Iowa native, Dana studied theatre at DePaul University and film at The Academy of Art (San Francisco).  She then trained at the Sanford Meisner School of Acting.  She has worked in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas in print, film/tv, and stage. Dana is now located in Austin, TX and is a successful commercial actor.  A few film and web projects are currently in process, which Dana will be working in several capacities; which include: producing, writing, and starring.   She is proud to be represented by  Acclaim Talent locally (TX, LA) and with MDT Agency in SF.  As member of Actors Equity Association, she is on the liaison AEA committee Austin/San Antonio. In her downtime she stays creative by practicing (and eating) all things baking which is documented on her blog.  Dana is learning Mandarin Chinese to supplement her knowledge in foreign languages. She is proficient in Cantonese Chinese.  Her goal is to be fluent in French, Italian, Spanish and Italian.



Kerry Leithen

Year 1 Instructor

Kerry is a recent transplant from LA where she worked in the film industry as an actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. In the theatre world she has worked as an actor, director, and stage manager for the Stella Adler Theater, SOAR Regional Arts Theatre, and Bergamont Station, among many others. She is also an avid comedy writer and frequently performs her stand-up comedy. A theatre educator since 2010, Kerry has taught classes in Improv, sketch comedy, filmmaking, digital animation, comic book creation, and computer game design. She received her MFA in Motion Pictures and Television from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Currently, she is hammering away on her laptop, working on creating another masterpiece…er, screenplay. 


Justin Scalise

Year 3 Instructor


Justin Scalise is an Austin actor and teacher. He has performed with Austin Shakespeare, The Tennessee Williams Festival, and the New Orleans’ Shakespeare Festival to name a few. He is also the recipient of the International Falstaff Award and the Austin based B. Iden Payne Best Actor Award for his performance of Hamlet. Justin is also a Certified Patsy Rodenburg Teacher and trained with Patsy herself in NYC


Alison Stebbins

Year 2 and 3 Instructor

Alison began her teaching career working with the world-renowned director, Herr David Esrig at the Athanor Akademie in Germany. There, she created and taught the Akademie’s Voice Program and worked as the vocal coach on Herr Esrig’s productions. Since then she has taught with the Austin Shakespeare and Georgetown Palace Theatre’s Youth Performance Theatre. Mainly a character actor with a love for Shakespeare, Alison often works locally with Austin Shakespeare, where she has performed in The Comedy of Errors, Macbeth, Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Hamlet - to name a few.  Alison was trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama where she received her Masters in Voice Studies under the tutelage of OSF’s current Head of Voice, David Carey. She also holds a Post Graduate Degree from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Classical Acting and a BA in Theatre Arts from The University of Oregon.

There has been a great deal of attention and detail given to the curriculum in the Acting Conservatory. Where other programs in town put you into a random collection of classes with students of all different age and skill levels, the Conservatory carefully places its students into classes where all students are at the same age, knowledge, and skill level. Each class is designed to build on the last making sure that the skills you learned in one class directly feeds into the next class and therefore leading to more direct and intentional growth as an actor.


We also place a great deal of importance on college audition preparation and begin that work in your freshman year of the Conservatory so that the overwhelming process of college selection and auditioning does not become a wholly crippling experience. We also believe that a good audition is not enough to get you into college or land the next gig. You have to have the training to back up a good audition. In the Conservatory we are providing 4 years of purposeful acting training so that when you begin your college audition season or decide to start auditioning professionally that you not only have a well coached monologue but the acting chops to back up your audition. 

Devised Theatre is a method of theatre-making where an ensemble of actors create a new work of theatre through writing and improvisation. In the Acting Conservatory, we believe that the future of live theatre lives in the performers ability to write and perform their own art. Just look at the examples of Lin Manuel Miranda, Rachel Bloom, Issa Rae, Tina Fey, and Tyler Perry. All artists who became famous in part because of their ability to write their own work. In order to prepare our students for the ever growing and changing theatre world, all Year 2 students will create a brand new piece of theatre through writing, digital media, and performance--otherwise known as devised theatre. The show is done in partnership with SAFE Alliance and will be professionally designed and directed, but written and performed by the students.