I’ve had some interesting and unusual assignments in my many years as the theater and TV critic at the Herald-Tribune, but I’ve never had one that lasted as long or went by as quickly as the three years I spent covering the FSU/Asolo Conservatory Class of 2013.
With photographer Thomas Bender usually nearby, I observed their movement, voice and acting classes, reviewed most of their performances, interviewed them all together and in small groups and watched as they graduated last week.
When we started all this, I told them I had no idea what would happen, how much time I would get to spend with them, or what kind of relationships we might form. It was something new and different for all of us. Most of them were excited about the idea. A few were a little hesitant.
It’s hard to believe three years have passed. It’s been fun and frustrating, because there’s never enough time to take in all the things they have to do, the theater-related jobs, the rehearsals, the performances, without impacting whatever they needed to get out of those experiences. I would have loved to spend more time. I’m not ready to take on another class, but I can already think of ways to do it better.
And now this group is leaving.
The graduation ceremonies are always a little bittersweet. It’s sad to see them leave but exciting to learn what happens next.
They are entering one of the most challenging professions, where experience and good skills don’t always get you the job. Sometimes it just takes a look, a height or a hair color. As director Peter Amster said in his commencement talk, they can easily lose out on jobs to “talentless idiots.”
There have been Conservatory graduates who have moved on to great recognition, and others who shifted to different careers. I keep track of some of them online or through Facebook. Others have disappeared from my radar.
I can’t believe it’s been this long, but 25 years ago, I spent five weeks studying with the Class of 1989 when they took a workshop led by then-Artistic Director John Ulmer. It was a talented class, and a few of the students remain among my favorites after all these years. One of them, David Shatraw, was a cast member of the Fox comedy “Titus,” which lasted two seasons, and he has been a guest on numerous shows and has done a lot of voice work.
You might say he’s one of the more recognizable graduates from that class. In a different way, so is Eric Hissom, who has worked almost exclusively and steadily on stage across the country since graduation. He has performed frequently at Florida Studio Theatre, the Banyan and the Orlando Shakespeare Festival. This year, he had major roles at Asolo Rep in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “You Can’t Take It With You” and “The Game’s Afoot.”
Five years ago, he co-starred with his classmate R. Ward Duffy in a Banyan production of Sam Shepard’s “True West.” Duffy is another actor who has had a steady theater career in the last 24 years.
I’ve lost touch and track of most of the other class members. I’m told that some have continued acting, or did for a while, while others have shifted careers.
This year’s class leaves here with lots of hope about acting careers and whatever else might be ahead. Some may become directors or teachers or use their skills in new ways.
In Sarasota, there are graduates all around us, like Linda Larsen, who uses her actor training as a motivational speaker, or Mary Lee Richey, who works in development at Ringling College of Art and Design, and 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Rick DeFuria, who got re-elected as a judge after earning his M.F.A. and working for a time as an anchor for SNN in its earliest days.
I have learned a lot from all these students about what it takes to build a career and about acting itself, which only makes me more excited to see what happens next and hope for the best.
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and chairman of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at email@example.com. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.