Christine Gabrielle, 15, had been acting for years when she learned about the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Preparatory Department, or CCM Prep. Living in California, she had worked in film, television and commercials, but she still wanted to learn more.

A family friend told her about the CCM Prep summer apprentice program, which would allow her to work with kids at their summer camps and then use that time toward camps that would advance her own learning. When she started the program, she quickly fell in love.

“We did sword fighting and we did stage combat! I was like, ‘I love this.’ At the end of the two weeks of the program, I got to perform live in front of an audience… I can’t describe the feeling, but it was awesome,” she says.

Gabrielle enjoyed the summer camps so much that she enrolled in CCM Prep’s acting certificate program. While Gabrielle has taken acting classes before, what she’s been able to receive at CCM is something different.

“The classes I had taken, they taught some of the same techniques, like the Misner technique. For Misner, … all I got was, ‘OK, this is what Misner is.’ We didn’t work on it, we just knew what it was,” she says. “Whenever I did private lessons in California, they would just coach you on the scene. They wouldn’t actually help you or give you tools that you could use so you could do it on your own.”

CCM Prep’s approach, on the other hand, focuses on the process of learning instead of the performance itself.

“Performances are more like the ‘final exam,’” says Amy Dennison, assistant dean of CCM and director of CCM Prep. “In our theater program, we have [the majority of our] classes for 30 weeks. They do one performance a year and that’s at the end of the 30 weeks, because they’re learning skills of acting and skills of singing. So we have a whole series of classes like that, which don’t culminate into a big flashy theater performance.”

It’s this focus on learning that separates CCM Prep from other dance or acting classes in the area.

“What we’re concerned about is what you are learning and developing a curriculum,” says Dennison. “We have charted out what we think are the skills of being a good actor and what kids need to learn.”

CCM Prep offers a variety of levels for each program, allowing students to move up as they master one.

“For instance, in acting we have about six different levels of acting starting with Young Actor’s Toolbox for four-year-olds. Then it keeps going up,” she says. “I think because we’re housed in a college, we’ve got that mindset and responsibility to have more of an academic program.”

“CCM Prep, it’s like being at an actual college,” says Gabrielle. “They’re giving you the training and the guidelines and the tools so you can go to college or go out and do plays.”

For Dennison, providing these learning opportunities for students like Gabrielle is just part of CCM Prep’s goal.

“We always keep in mind that we welcome any ability as long as we have space for them and a program they’re interested in,” she says.