I currently live and work in West Hollywood, California. Since graduation, I’ve been consistently and pleasantly surprised at how often I draw on my experiences at Luther.
It might be exclusive to the Theatre/Dance Department (but I have a feeling it isn’t), but there was a distinct emphasis on classes, lessons, and departments being connected to one another at Luther. It was a concept that I never really put together before, but things that I would learn in a history class could be directly useful in a dance composition class, or the connections between a computer programming class and sculpture. It was during my time at Luther that these connections became apparent to me, and I’ve used this mentality ever since. It’s especially hard to pursue paying work within the arts, but the jobs and connections that you make to get to your end goal, however distant they may seem, are directly related to each other. You just have to be observant and open enough to see it!
When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to participate in an honors choir, directed by Tim Peter and Weston Noble. I was searching for colleges to attend at the time, and the visit to the Luther campus was exactly what I needed. I felt, in my gut, that this was the right choice for my college experience. I had the good fortune of always knowing I would be a theatre major, so a liberal arts education was always in the cards for me.
Despite having most of my classes there, I spent a majority of my free time at the CFA, especially in one of the dance studios. It was an amazing space to go and clear your head, or work something out. "
If I knew I had to hunker down and seriously study, I would take my headphones and laptop over to Marty’s, get a black olive and pineapple pizza (it’s weird, I know!) and claim a booth in the corner.
My favorite course was the study and performance of the musical “Hair” during J-Term. It was an amazing opportunity to only be focused on a production for a whole month. Learning the history, struggle, and meaning behind every line that was spoken and every song that was sung was something that I had never really experienced before. It changed the way I approached roles, and it rekindled my love for the subject I had declared as my major.
One major aspect of Luther that changed my life was the combination of the Theatre and Dance majors. I never considered myself a “dancer”, but having the curriculums tied together so closely changed my perception on performing. I learned that I was, in fact, a dancer. Or at least, a moving body. After living and working in Hollywood for a bit, it becomes blatantly clear that having movement training incorporated into acting changes your performance completely. I am so fortunate to have the background that I do, and it has certainly given me a leg up on the competition.
One of the core principles of improvisational acting is “yes, and”. Especially when it comes to your professional career in the arts, learn to say “yes, and” to any opportunity. Your career path will not go as planned! You don’t have a set schedule of jobs you are going to have, or when skills will come into play, but if you are open to any opportunity that might even be remotely connected to your field, say “yes” to it, “and” redirect the focus to help you in your own journey towards your dream.
One of my favorite memories with the Theatre/Dance Department came day one, freshman year. I chose Luther as the school that was right for me, and I didn’t know a soul going into that journey (as is the case for most people!). Sitting down at that initial Theatre/Dance meeting let me know that I was home, that these were my people, and I instantly had a whole department of friends. I feel that the Theatre/Dance Department goes out of its way to create a space of inclusion and creativity for everyone, and that was exactly what I needed at the time.
During the time we were rehearsing a J-Term production of the musical “Hair”, George W. Bush decided to send 20,000 additional troops over to Iraq in an effort to “stabilize” the country. After hearing this news, I decided to take action, and after spending the month of January intensely studying the 1960s, the natural response was to participate in a nonviolent protest. So, in one late night phone tree, I rallied up most of the students in the Theatre/Dance program, and we drove up to Minneapolis to protest. We painted signs, and performed a movement piece. I’ll never forget it, and it was a direct response to the teachings of the Theatre/Dance Department that so many of us were willing to respond in that way.
I studied at the Nagasaki Gaikokugo Daigaku in Nagasaki, Japan from 2007 to 2008, and it changed my life. Not only was I able to get a firm grasp on the Japanese language, I also learned a lot about myself as a person, and how I deal with strange or difficult situations. I hitchhiked from one end of the country to the other, cried with a Japanese family at a funeral, competed in a 100-person choreographed traditional dance (and our team won!), and made lasting friends and memories. For my Paideia Capstone, I was able to travel throughout England, and saw more theatre productions in one month than I usually do in one year. If I could recommend one thing to every college student, it’s to study abroad. It’s life-changing, and this is the time to do it.
I was an idiot, and procrastinated on one of my Science requirements. This forced me to take a Biology course that was designed for pre-medicine students my senior year. It was hard, but worth it in the end!
After graduation, I packed all of my worldly possessions into a tiny Honda Accord with my best friend and drove across the country to live in Los Angeles. I’ve now been here for close to six years, and have never been happier. Most recently, I was able to participate in a show on TBS called “King of the Nerds”, and through that exposure I have made some amazing connections and am able to participate in a multitude of projects that I am proud of.
My acting professor Bob Larson always used to say two things: “Make another choice”, and “Don’t play precious to your ideas”. These two things have distinguished me in the Hollywood game. I’ve come to deeply care about projects and characters that I create, but I’m always game to scrap some aspect or make a different choice altogether. From the other people in the industry I’ve come in contact with, this is a distinguishing trait. If you get hung up on one idea, or take criticism as a personal insult, you won’t get very far (or if you do, people won’t want to work with you). Make sure that you keep on your toes, and have a backup choice at the ready (or don’t, but be okay with what organically comes!). If you have multiple projects or ideas in the pipeline, you won’t be as devastated when things have to change. Don’t play precious to your ideas!
Dear Undergrad Me: Don’t stress out about impressing others with your abilities! Now is the time to create, be weird, and take chances. If you allow yourself to be inspired, you will be inspiring.