The Wolf Trap/AU Academy for the Performing Arts was a summer program jointly sponsored by the National Park Service and AU. The program drew high school and college students from across the country to study dance and orchestra and featured intensive workshops led by distinguished professional performing artists including Merce Cunningham, Erik Hawkins, Jose Limon, Paul Sanasardo and Twyla Tharp. In addition to three to four weeks of concentrated study, the students got free passes to Filene Center shows and got to see a variety of professional productions.
The Academy received grants from the Rockefeller and Myer Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts to support the program. The National Federation of Music Clubs held nationwide auditions for the orchestra. A theatre program launched in the summer of 1974. American University took over full management of the Academy in 1974 and officially changed the name to the AU Academy of Performing Arts.
The Academy Orchestra held most of its concerts at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap. The first orchestra performance occurred on July 4, 1971 at the Filene Center. Other performance venues included Lisner Auditorium and the Washington National Cathedral. The dance students gave public performances in a variety of locations such as AU’s quadrangle and on the National Mall.
The Academy’s offerings varied over the years. For example, AU collaborated with the International Festival of Mime to offer mime courses. One workshop assisted budding playwrights in preparing their works for the stage. The Academy also offered courses for teachers such as the Orff Schulwerk workshop. Gertrude Orff and her colleagues taught their approach to music education for children for several years.