Graduation Time: FSU/Asolo Conservatory students seek new stages
This is one of a series of articles following the progress of the FSU/Asolo Conservatory Class of 2013 from the start of their studies through their third-year season as members of the Asolo Rep acting company. You can find links to past stories and photo galleries in the column to the right. See a Slide Show of images from the students' Showcase run-through and learn where they're heading after graduation.
For three years they have stretched, danced, tumbled, crawled like creatures, vocalized and played many different types of people.
They have stuck together, encouraged and supported one another through difficult challenges and personal setbacks.
Now, the 12 acting students in the FSU/Asolo Conservatory class of 2013, who have been the subject of a series of Herald-Tribune articles through their three years of study and performances, are ready to pursue their careers.
On Monday, they will receive their Master of Fine Arts degrees from Florida State University in a ceremony at the Historic Asolo Theater, with family, friends and scholarship donors cheering them on.
They are, as Conservatory Director Greg Leaming likes to say, “the future of the American theater.”
This season, they have brought an intimate production of “Macbeth” to dozens of school groups and and taken audiences on a tour through American life from the 1930s to today as members of the Asolo Repertory Theatre company.
There have been thrills for many and disappointments for a few who didn’t get the kind of roles they hoped for this season.
But all of them are preparing to head off to different cities to pursue their acting dreams with a sense of optimism and growth from their three years in Sarasota.
“Our class was blessed this year to have the kinds of shows and roles offered to us,” said Sarah Razmann, who had featured roles (as pregnant women) in “Clybourne Park” and “The Heidi Chronicles.”
No matter the parts or the show, they have been treated as professionals, not student apprentices, by other cast members.
“Our class in particular feels very welcomed and included,” Razmann said. “I haven’t had a single person treat me any differently than any other company member, which is lovely and wonderful.”
Until the last few weeks, Razmann was known as Sarah Brown, but she took her mother’s maiden name because Actors Equity Association prevents two living members from having the same. “Who’d have thought that there would be another Sarah Brown?” she jokes.
Those are the realities of pursuing a career. Christopher Williams, who had featured roles in both “You Can’t Take it With You” and “Clybourne Park,” took the name Christopher Wynn earlier this season.
Those are the names they want a group of casting directors and agents to know when the 12 graduates travel to New York in a week for one of the most important experiences of their still-new careers. They will present a one-hour Showcase of scenes they hope will lead to each of them being signed by an agent, which would give them a presumed advantage for future auditions.
They have spent the last year raising money for the Showcase trip, hosting burlesque nights, offering private readings on Kickstarter and producing a 2013 circus-themed calendar.
Last week, the class offered fellow students and scholarship donors a Showcase preview in Sarasota.
“I think this is the best class that I’ve seen. They’re really terrific and committed,” longtime Asolo Rep actor Douglas Jones said after the performance.
Many are heading to New York City, several to Chicago, one to Atlanta, all trying to find the right spot for the best opportunities.
Actually, Brendan Ragan is considering other options. “I’m going to Boise, Idaho. I think I’m going to be an accountant and if that doesn’t work out, I’m going to try New York and acting,” he joked.
Wynn, who also is heading to New York, describes the Conservatory program as a “crazy, fast three years. I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to sit down and reflect on all of it.”
The class of 2013 is notable in one way, Leaming said: “It’s the first class in quite some in which all the students are graduating.”
In other years, some students are asked to leave while others depart on their own.
Several class members already have jobs lined up after graduation, including Brittany Proia, who has been one of the most prominently featured students this year. She played Alice Sycamore in “You Can’t Take it With You,” a smarmy television host in “The Heidi Chronicles” and a young ingenue in “The Game’s Afoot.”
This summer Proia performs in “Twelfth Night” and “Titus Andronicus” with Nebraska Shakespeare and then stars as the Baker’s Wife in Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” with the Ozark Actor’s Theatre.
Then she’ll move back to New York where she earned her bachelor’s degree at New York University. “I feel I understand how it works on a certain level,” she said. “I went to grad school to fill in some holes and I’m coming back with a new attitude and more skills, and I’m excited to see where they can take me.”
It won’t necessarily mean work in New York. “New York is a hub for regional theaters to come in and audition. I would love to do that at least in the first part of my career,” she said.
It has been a busy year for Jesse Dornan, who played the title character in the Scottish play, was a last-minute replacement as Robert Livingston in “1776” and had major roles in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Clybourne Park.”
He is moving to Chicago to pursue theater, film and television opportunities.
“There’s a real Chicago community of actors and I think it’s a great place to live,” he said. “I want to eventually start a family and that would be a good place to raise a family. Everyone who has come out of there seems so nice.”
The students have worked with numerous Chicago actors who have spent the last few winters as members of the Asolo Rep company.
“One actor told me a story about Chicago. You’re in an audition and it’s like everybody wants you to get that role,” he said. “There’s sort of a competition thing, but the community is so supportive that you can get to know every actor and artistic director in two years.”
Razmann also is heading to Chicago, where she planned to go before she was accepted at the conservatory.
“I have a lot of friends who live in New York and work there at different levels of success, but every time I go there, I don’t feel very happy,” she said. “I enjoy being there for a week, but I don’t feel very settled, which makes sense because it’s not a settling place.”
Dornan said he found New York “overwhelming” during the few months he lived there.
A couple of their classmates, including Kelly Campbell and Francisco Rodriguez, may try Los Angeles. Some decisions could be made after their showcase next week. Jacob Cooper is going to try to build his base from Atlanta.
As they consider the lessons they’ve learned and the experiences they’ve had, the class members are also trying to figure out what success might mean to them.
“It’s hard to tell what success is,” Razmann said. “Is it knowing I can wake up and take a 10-minute train ride to the theater and raise my family in that city, or is it to be a wandering artist gypsy and travel to all these fabulous theaters and places and experience America that way. They both have positives and negatives. My mind is being blown every day by all these options.”
Whichever path they pursue, or wherever the stage or screen leads them, the students have learned that it takes persistence and a sense of confidence to keep trying when they just miss out for a role or are rejected because of their size, hair color or some other “shortcoming” to prevent their being cast.
“It’s always a struggle to keep the positivity and the confidence. I try to make myself as prepared as possible,” said Proia. “If you did your absolute best at that audition, given whatever circumstances, you have to leave with a positive feeling. If something happens, great; if not, maybe three years from now I might get a job.”
Razmann said kindness also can be a factor.
“I always hope to work with very kind people in my life and hope people find me to be kind,” she said. But she also wants to be respected for her abilities. “I can still produce good work and not compromise kindness in order to do that.”
Acting careers take some sacrifice. “This is a really hard job. This is a hard life,” Razmann said.
That’s because the joys of getting or starting a new role must be tempered by the reality that it won’t last forever. Every show or movie comes to an end.
“You have to make it work for yourself,” Razmann said, and try not to worry “about where my next check’s coming from and how I’m going to make it to the end of the month. It’s an amazing career. I love being 25 and making 10 percent of the money my friends make. But they hate their jobs and I love my job.”
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