2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Sara Beth Shelton as Madame de la Haltière in Boston University College of Fine Arts' "Cendrillon"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

PHOTO CREDIT:  Eliade Novat.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eliade Novat.

Sara Beth Shelton dazzled as Madame de la Haltière in the Boston University College of Fine Arts and Opera Institute's Cendrillon, an opera adaptation of the classic Cinderella fairy tale. Sara Beth shone not only in her bright tone, but in her demanding physicality and presence, exuding confidence and poise well beyond her years. In her Interview, Sara Beth  talks about the challenges of the role, some of her most influential life lessons, and her many upcoming roles. 

Hi, Sara Beth, and welcome to the ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling our readers more about yourself?

Thank you for nominating me!  My name is Sara Beth Shelton.  I am a Southern girl, born and raised, from Rock Hill, South Carolina, and I have been residing in Boston for over two years now. I recently graduated from Boston University in May 2015. 

I am a middle child, having an older sister and younger brother.  My family and friends are very important to me.  I think it’s essential to surround yourself with people who lift you up, and I am happy to have that at home as well as with my second family in Boston.

What made you pursue opera?  How did you end up at Boston University?  Why is this an ideal program for you? 

There was a distinct moment when I fell in love with opera, during my undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.  I was in an opera workshop class, and it was the first time I had to perform an aria in front of everyone.  I was incredibly nervous, but I made it through the aria.  To workshop it, my teacher refocused me by having me close my eyes and sit on the floor.  She then described the scene of Venice in great detail: the sights, the sounds, and the smells.  And once I could visualize and feel everything in the scene, the undergraduate life of Sara Beth faded away, and I was transported into this new world.  Nothing mattered in that moment but the story, and that I served it.  Before I realized it, I had sung through the whole aria, and I opened my eyes, leaving the world I was in and returning to reality.  My eyes welled up with tears of joy because I had never experienced such happiness in all of my life.  I knew then that I never wanted to lose this feeling, and I wanted to experience it over and over again. Opera gave me hope, and saved me from a very difficult time in my life.

Once I obtained my bachelor’s degree in music education, I made plans to pursue vocal performance by auditioning for graduate programs.  I decided to choose Boston University for several reasons.  First and foremost, my teacher, Penelope Bitzas, really made a massive amount of improvements with my voice within the first lesson.  Finding a good teacher as a vocalist is imperative when choosing a school. She has really been an amazing impact on my life, and has played a huge role in molding my voice.  The amount of growth that I experienced is a huge testament to the quality of education provided by ALL members of the voice and opera departments. 

Also, the collaboration between the different departments of the College of Fine Arts at BU really caught my attention, too.  I came from a program where the singers in the opera had to build the sets, break them down, and help backstage, so to see this tremendous collaboration was really admirable and inspiring.  The production quality is very high for all of the operas, and I believe that is due in part to the strength of the artistic team.  I have always believed the arts need to be more unified, and I am happy that I could be a part of the program where the arts are working together toward a common goal. 

Talk to us about your role in Cendrillon.  How would you describe the style of this opera?  How would you describe this role?  What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the highlights?

When you listen to this opera, the music and the story create an enchanting atmosphere from the moment the Maestro waves his baton to when the curtain falls.  While it is said to be one of Massenet's most comical works, the story is steeped in issues of family dynamics, which, I believe, makes it very real and relatable for audience members to experience.  Massenet also shows the depth of loneliness that these characters feel.  At one point after the ball, Cendrillon (Cinderella) is so lonely that she runs to the forest to die.  Through this example, you can see this isn’t your typical tale of Cinderella, and even though there are a lot of dark elements to the story, it is equally contrasted with the light of the fairies, or the light of the love between Cendrillon and her father.  It’s not all fairy dust and magic, but it also does not go as dark as Brothers Grimm.  It’s a good balance of both.

Playing Madame de la Haltière was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had. I really enjoyed diving into the many layers of her and figuring out why she is the way she is. From the beginning, the director made sure that we would not fall into the trap of playing caricatures with the Stepsisters and Stepmother.  It is so easy to do, and so many people do it with these ladies. 

Madame de la Haltière (Sara Beth Shelton) in Boston University College of Fine Arts & Opera Institute's  Cendrillon  (Photo Credit: Oshin Gregorian). 

Madame de la Haltière (Sara Beth Shelton) in Boston University College of Fine Arts & Opera Institute's Cendrillon (Photo Credit: Oshin Gregorian). 

Madame is a woman who is proud of her noble heritage and who is incredibly confident in who she is and what she believes. She doesn't like the idea of her daughters not continuing this tradition of marrying men that are well above their stations, and the possibility of her stepdaughter, Cinderella, gaining something that her daughters should have disgusts her, especially with everything Cinderella represents.  She doesn't think there is anything admirable about the way Pandolphe (my husband) and Cendrillon live their life.  They believe in kindness and benevolence. This is not a means of getting ahead in life for Madame because she was never raised to live in that way. She is a product of her upbringing, and it is her duty to continue the legacy.

One of the challenges that I faced with this role was the physicality, and I have Loren Meeker and Melinda Sullivan to thank for pushing me and helping me to rise to the challenge.  They showed me ways of expressing myself in a more refined manner.  Madame has had the proper training that her daughters lack, and it is up to her to be a shining example of what it means to be a lady.  As I said before, this woman loves every part of herself, and so, I had to make sure to find certain stances that exude strength and to radiate confidence in my body with every step that I took.  Everything she says and does is intentional.  The lessons I learned in physicality from this show have helped me immensely in how I approach other roles, and I am so thankful for having the opportunity to have learned these lessons that have strengthened my skills as an actress.

I have two moments that I will always remember.  One of the highlights was just taking part in a production with such talented singers, music, and artistic team.  It was a gorgeous set design with this theme of shattered glass, inspired by the glass slipper, along with an art deco geometrical design, having tarnished gold and black.  Then, the costumes were glorious! I loved the contrast between the lovely white costumes of the fairies and fairy godmother, against the black Kardashian-style costumes of the stepmother and stepmother.  The artistic team created a scene that expressed the style of opera, right down to the last detail. It truly was a sight to behold, and an honor to experience.  Everyone involved in this process from the stage crew to the chorus made this story come to life, and we could not have done it without a single person.

Another highlight was when Madame returns from the ball and has her big tirade because the Prince picked this mysterious woman (Cendrillon), instead of one of her daughters. That scene reeked of Madame with every word, with every note, and with every movement, and I just soaked it in.  It was so empowering to experience, especially when you hear the big brass section during the aria.

Do you have any types of opera roles that you prefer to play?  Why?  Do you have any particular composer or type of opera that you prefer to sing?Haltière

I like to play roles that challenge me, and push me out of my comfort zone.  I always feel I discover so much about myself while I am exploring a character.  My favorite opera composer is Verdi.  His operas are so powerful. They really speak to my soul.  I would love to one day be Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera.  She is at the top of my list of roles to do before I die. 

What have been some of the more influential lessons that you have learned in the past year?  The past five years?

The most important lesson I have learned is to really know myself.  As an artist, self-awareness is essential.  In order for me to grow, I had to be real with myself and identify all of my strengths and weaknesses. I feel not working on these weaknesses can lead to great feelings of insecurity, which can lead to fear.  I definitely did fall into that trap from time to time, but I knew I deserved better than that.  I didn’t want to limit myself.  I wanted to become the best version of me that I could possibly be.  And by setting short attainable goals, I knew I would get there some day.  Am I going to be my best self in a day, or a month? No . . . but will I have improved?  Yes. 

You have to never lose sight of the end goal, and always take pride in the amount of progress you have made along the way.  It’s such a learning process, and it requires you to be patient with yourself and to really work through the challenges. 

Do you have any resolutions or goals for 2016?

My resolution is the same every year: to keep improving myself and becoming the best person I can possibly be in every part of my life. 

Do you have any advice for people who might be new to seeing and enjoying opera?

Don’t have any set expectations before you go and see a new opera.  Keep an open mind when you enter the theater, and when the show starts, immerse yourself in the story. It’s not all grand dresses, powdered wigs, and ladies with horns and breastplates.  The story that is so delightfully enhanced by the music is what’s so special. You will be surprised by what you see and hear!  And with opera, the combination of the drama, the orchestra, and the singing can create such a moving and healing experience for the observer. 

What is your favorite fairy tale?  Why?  Would you want to be any character in the story?

My favorite fairy tale has always been Cinderella.  I love the rags to riches story, and the idea of goodness triumphing over evil, against all odds.  As a young girl, I probably would have told you that I would be Cinderella in the story, but, having grown up, I would without a doubt say that I would want to be the Stepmother.  Madame has been on my list of dream roles for quite some time, so it was wonderful for one of my dreams to finally come true through this production.

If you couldn’t perform opera, what would you do instead?

I am naturally a caregiver and a nurturer.  I would probably do social work, work at an animal shelter/hospital, or own my own flower shop.  Doing something where I can directly make a difference in the lives of others is important to me, and I think if I were to play on my personality strengths, I would probably take on a position where I can be of service to someone or something.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I love to garden.  Some of my best friends call me Professor Sprout!  There's something really rewarding about planting a tiny seed and nurturing it to become something that is unique, beautiful, and thriving with life. Taking a moment to stop, and take part in a process that has been happening on this earth for thousands of years really grounds me and puts things into perspective.  Also, this might sound corny, but I always have thought of flowers as the world's way of smiling back at me, especially in the Spring after a long winter.  They remind us that there is hope for a brighter tomorrow, and that renewal and rebirth are possible.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I recently finished working with MetroWest Opera on Adamo's Little Women.  I was the old, rich Aunt Cecilia March, which was so much fun. 

For my upcoming projects, I look forward to being Cornelia in Giulio Cesare with Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's Summerfest as a Featured Artist.  This character will be very different from ones that I have done in the past, so I look forward to the challenge and discovering where Cornelia exists within myself. 

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Again, I am so grateful for being nominated, and I am thankful for everyone’s support throughout these past couple of years in the Boston area.  Being Madame was truly a treasured moment in my life, and I look forward to the possibility of playing her again one day!  

2015 Best Student Actor Nominee: Conor Proft as Cripple Billy in Boston University College of Fine Arts' "The Cripple of Inishmaan"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit:    Cassidy Kristiansen   .

Photo Credit: Cassidy Kristiansen.

Conor Proft embodied the handicapped boy, Billy Claven, in Boston University College of Fine Arts' production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, from his fragile presence to his misaligned limp to his tremorous tone. Conor's Billy had a strength and conviction about him that drove much of the play's action forward, creating a believable character with whom the audience could cheer. In his Interview, Conor describes some of the challenges of playing Billy, some of the things that he has to do every day, and his many upcoming projects (he has a busy Spring, and final, semester!). 

Hi, Conor, and welcome to ArtsImpulse.  Thank you so much for joining us. Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

I am a senior Theatre Arts major at Boston University College of Fine Arts, and originally from West Hartford, Connecticut. I stumbled upon acting as a sophomore in high school, and, within a year, I knew I wanted to pursue acting as a career. I attended Elon University in North Carolina before transferring to BU following my freshman year because I missed New England winters.

My recent BU credits, apart from Billy, include: Oswald in Ghosts, Ulysses in The Human Comedy, and Joseph Swane in By the Bog of Cats. I am also a member of Spontaneous Combustionthe School of Theater improvisation troupe.

I could not be more excited (nervous laughter) to enter the professional world, and I am planning on moving to New York City after graduation. When I am not acting, I enjoy playwriting, tennis, and playing pranks on my roommates.

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) leans against the counter of the dry goods store in Inishmaan in Boston University College of Fine Arts'  The Cripple of Inishmaan  (Photo Credit:  Kal Zabarsky ). 

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) leans against the counter of the dry goods store in Inishmaan in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Kal Zabarsky). 

How did you become involved in the BU CFA’s production of The Cripple of Inishmaan?  How did you get the role of Billy?

I played Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan at my high school during my junior year, so when I heard that they were producing it at BU I was determined to revisit the role. I e-mailed the director (Thomas Martin), expressed my interest, and had a great callback. I would have been happy to be involved in the show in any capacity, but I consider myself lucky to have reexamined the role. There was something special about returning to Billy after four more years of growth as an actor. He was a completely different character to me.

What were your biggest challenges as Billy?  What were you surprised to learn?

Thomas Martin, the director, and I discovered through the rehearsal process that Billy’s physicality was really a defining characteristic in the way he operates and relates to others on Inishmaan. I worked extensively with BU’s movement teacher, Judith Chaffee, in order to develop a physicality that I felt served the role yet did not draw the attention away from Billy’s humanity. With that said, I think my biggest challenge was Billy’s disability, but I also believe it was Billy’s greatest weapon. Amongst an island of outcasts, Billy strives to be defined by his humanity, rather than his debility.

Had you ever read the play before?  Had you read any other plays by Martin McDonagh? If so, do you have a favorite?

Apart from performing The Cripple of Inishmaan in high school, I was also able to see the Broadway production starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Though I have read The Pillowman, The Lonesome West, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, I hold The Cripple of Inishmaan closest to my heart. Both times I played Billy, my love for the role, and my desire to be an actor, grew exponentially.

Tell us about your favorite class in college.  Why was it your favorite?  What made it different?  What did you learn?

I have been blessed to learn from some amazing teachers at BU. The curriculum is diverse, rigorous, and immersive, and it gives the students the chance to explore a variety of techniques. I was most drawn to Jerzy Grotowski’s work that is taught in both Physical Acting I and Advanced Physical Acting by Elaine Vaan Hogue. Both Physical Acting courses have been invaluable in making acting a less intellectual exercise and a more instinctual pursuit.

What is one thing that you have to do every day?  Every week?  Every month?

I floss everyday, I do laundry once a week, and I force myself to cook an elaborate dish every month.

What are three words that your best friends would use to describe you?

Quiet, then loud.

What advice would you give to other student actors?  What advice do you wish that you had learned?

I learned this a little late in time at BU, and this satisfies both questions, but if there is a role you are really gunning for, make sure the director knows how badly you want to be a part of the play.

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) lies still in Boston University College of Fine Arts'  The Cripple of Inishmaan  (Photo Credit:  Kal Zabarsky ). 

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) lies still in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Kal Zabarsky). 

What are some of your short-term and long-term career goals? 

After graduation in May 2016, I am planning to move to New York. My short-term goals are to get settled in NYC and audition as much as possible. While I do not want to stop working on the stage, I would also like to explore acting on film and TV.

Long-term, I want to be a working actor, and maybe grad school.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I have two upcoming Boston University projects that are keeping me pleasantly busy for the next three months. I will be playing the role of Gibbs in Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse, directed by Tim Spears. The show runs from February 19 through 21, 2016, at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston.

Right after The Hothouse, I begin work on my senior Theatre Arts thesis. We are putting on a production of Stephen Dietz’s The Nina Variations, and I will be playing Treplev. Chekhov’s The Seagull is one of my favorite plays, so I am thrilled for a chance to work on Dietz’s adaptation.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Simply that I’m honored to be nominated amongst so many amazing productions, actors, and ensembles. 

2015 Best Student Actress Nominee: Tricia O'Toole as Helen McCormick in Boston University College of Fine Arts' "The Cripple of Inishmaan"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Tricia O'Toole was brash and daring in her performance as Helen McCormick in Boston University College of Fine ArtsThe Cripple of Inishmaan. While her Helen ridicules, belittles, and bullies, Tricia found opportunities and moments to show Helen's vulnerability, confusion, and growth. We are proud to recognize student actors who are able to create such nuanced characters from bold character choices. 

In her Interview, Tricia talks about her training at BU CFA, the rehearsal process, her guilty pleasures, and her strangest moment onstage. 

Tricia, thank you so much for joining us for our ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

Thank you, I am very excited to be nominated alongside so many other talented artists. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio, where I started acting and singing at a very young age and made a habit of it! In high school, I found myself especially drawn to Shakespeare and classical text, and finally landed at my dream school, Boston University College of Fine Arts (BU CFA). I graduated BU CFA in the spring of 2015, and I am currently living (in the tiniest apartment)  in New York City.

Talk to us about the theatre program at Boston University College of Fine Arts. What classes are you taking? How is it preparing you for a career in theatre?

Attending BU CFA has been the most defining decision of my young artistic career so far. BU CFA’s curriculum takes and pulls from a number of different acting techniques. During my time there, I had the opportunity to study Linklater, Stanislavski, Meisner, Grotovski, Commedia dell’ arte, Laban technique, Alexander technique, accents and dialects . . . the list goes on.

The eclectic nature of the program is what drew me to it before college, and it is still the thing that I most appreciate about my training. While starting my career here in NYC is intimidating, to say the least, I am constantly reminding myself to trust in and lean into my training.

What was the rehearsal process like for The Cripple of Inishmaan?  How was it similar or different than other BU CFA shows or other productions that you have worked on?

This process was a blast. It was similar to other processes at BU in that our cast had the opportunity to explore so many different versions of each scene and our individual characters. Our director, Thomas Martin, encouraged us from the very start of the process to make bold, unapologetic choices. We talked a lot about it being a “hostile” piece of theatre, which I wholeheartedly believe. There was nothing timid about the process because there is nothing timid about the characters.

Who is Helen McCormick?  What was her story in The Cripple of Inishmaan?  What was the most fun part to play?

I can’t help but smile at this question. Playing Helen was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. Helen is the toughest young woman on Inishmaan (or at least believes herself to be), and the desperate crush of Cripple Billy, who she incessantly bullies throughout the play. Throughout the process, I encountered so many similarities between Helen and me . . . she is always on the defense, but has a lot of softness and vulnerability boiling beneath the surface.

Helen McCormick (Tricia O'Toole) has a quick laugh and a sharp tongue in Boston University College of Fine Arts'  The Cripple of Inishmaan  (Photo Credit: Thomas Martin). 

Helen McCormick (Tricia O'Toole) has a quick laugh and a sharp tongue in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Thomas Martin). 

What is the strangest thing that you have been asked to do onstage?  What happened?

While studying abroad in Italy, another actress and I were asked to “milk” ourselves. She tried it out in rehearsal, but needless to say that part didn’t make it to the final performance.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

True crime documentaries. Also, Milkduds.

What character that you have played have you connected to the most?

During my junior year at BU CFA, I was cast in a devised production called The Women of Henry VIII. I was cast as Anne Boleyn and had the opportunity to research and collaboratively develop my character. Each character’s fragile journey was in the hands of the ensemble and because of that I think many of us feel very strong connections to the characters (and historical women) we were cast as.

If someone paid you to live in a cabin in the woods without Internet or cable, how long could you last?  How much money would you want?  What would you take with you?

I think I would last about a month?! I could definitely use some relaxation and quiet, but I would miss my friends and family too much! But I would use that month to read all of the books I always said I would – I’d finish the Harry Potter series, (I know, you guys!), I would love to start a garden and cook my own fresh delicious food.

What is one thing that you wish that your family and friends understood about your life in theatre?

I think my family and friends get it! Theatre has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I feel very fortunate to have the love and support from so many people in my life. But, also, I am sorry for any weddings or funerals that I miss because of rehearsal! 

2014 Best Set Designer Nominee Interview: Ghazal Hassani for Boston University's "columbinus"

Photo by Shaghayegh HZ

Photo by Shaghayegh HZ

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Ghazal Hassani boasts an incredible raw talent and hard work ethic as a scenic designer, excelling in her work as an MFA candidate at Boston University. In her first production, Ghazal reinforced the isolation and haunting reality of Columbine and its aftermath in her set design for columbinus. In her Interview, Ghazal tells about her experiences moving to the United States for graduate school, her research to prepare for columbinus, and some of her guilty pleasures.

Hi, Ghazal, thank you so much for interviewing with us.  Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m an international MFA candidate for Set Design at Boston University, originally from Iran, and this is my second year here in the United States. I’m actually new to theatre; columbinus was the first ever show that I designed. I have a BA in Russian Literature and a minor in Interior Design. I started a very long journey that ended up here and I couldn’t be happier; I think this is it, theatre is my new home.

What is the play columbinus?  How did you get involved in the BU CFA’s production?

Well, imagine this: You just got here to a foreign country, English is your third language, you barely know what proscenium arch is and they ask you to design a show on the Main Stage. I was so scared, I asked them “But aren’t you going to teach me how first?” They said “No! You’ll probably die doing it but you’ll learn!” And that’s how it started.

I was so lucky to be part of a very caring and passionate team, the amount of love and generosity was unbelievable. Special thanks to design and production team; they were with me every step of the way and I learned a lot from them. We were in rehearsals every night, the collaboration between design team and director and actors was one of the most special aspects of this production and I believe it shows perfectly.

columbinus is talking about a lot of issues. It brings the attention to the gaps in different social systems, and it targets all the relations, starting from the smallest groups, between high school kids, the parents, the teachers. . . . And it goes up to show the same disconnection among bigger parts of community, like the educational system, judiciary system, etc.  It’s brave in showing us all sides, not judging.

What are your memories of the Columbine shooting?  What research did you do to prepare your set design?

I was back in Iran when the Columbine shooting happened. I’ve heard it in news but I actually have more vivid memories of Virginia Tech shooting. I had to learn a lot before I start designing for this show. I researched in detail about the shooting itself and anyone involved, along with the history of mass shootings in the US, Columbine High School, gun laws, psychology, high school life in US, and anything else related to story of the play. Then I had to start research for the design aspect, buildings in Colorado, architecture, corporate and commercial buildings, educational buildings, construction and different types of concrete and many, many more. The list is endless but it was so important to know all of this. 

Talk to us about your process as a set designer.  How do you begin?  What steps are involved?  Who else is involved in this process?

I begin with research; I have to learn as much as I can about details of what makes the story, and the playwright him/herself. After I feel that I have a good grasp of what is going on in the story and why, then I can start thinking about the space. I usually find it very helpful to look for something that resembles the story for me, it could be a work of art or a photo or a piece of music. Then, I study the similarities to realize what are the features that are standing up for me. Most of the times the director is the first one with whom I talk. The first conversations with the director and design team are my favorite part of the process. It’s just so rich and helpful.

Photo by Ghazal Hassani

Photo by Ghazal Hassani

Describe your set for us.  What themes or ideas did you try to reinforce in the physical set and its presence?  How did this support other technical elements for this production?

After reading the play, I immediately knew that I was not going to design a typical high school; it needed to be more of a general yet commercial architecture since I believed the story is more than just high school, it talks about different systems in society. You could feel the coldness and the isolation, as if the building was frozen at early stages of an explosion, there were gaps in between all the walls and the ceiling. But my favorite part was the explosion vortex itself which was hidden until act III. The audience gasped every night as we started lighting it while actors were walking through the aisles to get on stage. That explosion was the open wound that’s still bleeding today. It was ugly and unsettling and the power was to sit and have it open in front of you as the story was moving on.

Have you designed other sets?  Have you designed other technical elements for other productions?

This year, I designed the set for BU production of W;t by Margaret Edson which was staged at The Roberts Studio, Boston Center for the Arts; and The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca, and a new play, The Tall Girls by Meg Miroshnik, both at the CFA of Boston University. I also designed the costumes for both last shows. I also assisted in our production of Angels in America, a collaboration between School of Theartre and The Opera Institute. I did props for The Adding Machine, another production on our Main Stage at BU.

Of what are you most proud from your stage work?  How about in your personal life?

Although I deeply love all the shows that I worked on, columbinus has a very special place in my heart.

In my personal life, the fact that I’m here, following my dream, is my biggest achievement in life. I didn’t grow up in an easy environment; life is hard in my country, especially for women. There’s nearly no room to grow, hope considers to be a dangerous illusion, freedom is a myth and dreams are luxuries that no one can afford. But I just couldn’t settle down, I had a dream and I worked my way through all the adversities to get here, with no money, no connections, and no one to show me the way. I’m not gonna hide, I’m pretty proud of it!

What do you like to do on a rainy day?

I really prefer to stay inside on a rainy day, have a nice cup of tea with sweet treats, read or watch movies. Just lying in bed would do perfectly as well, considering sleep is such a luxury in grad school.

What is your guilty pleasure?  Do you have any bad habits?

Oh, I have lots of them, and carbohydrates are the main ingredient in all of them! I don’t know if having sugar cones filled with peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and Nutella for breakfast considers a bad habit or not! 

What is different about designing or working under a university rather than an independent theatre?  What is similar?

Well, I can’t really answer that question since I’ve only worked inside university.  I assisted some of my teachers and friends in shows last summer, but I have not design by myself. But I can say our program at BU is very vigorous and by that I mean very hard core. The goal is to make us ahead of the game and ready to work in all diverse types of theatre industry.

Do you have any idols or mentors?  Why?

Yes, there are a lot of people mostly artists, poets, writers, journalists, and social workers that are a symbol of resilience for me. Ahmad Shamloo, Samad Behrangi, Iran Darroudi, Zaha Hadid, Oriana Fallaci… are just a few to name. Looking up to them, I learned how to fight for my beliefs. But my mentor here is my professor, James Noone. He is the head of Scenic Department in our school, and it’s a privilege to have him as my advisor; he taught me how to design for theatre from scratch. 

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

It’s hard to plan for future when you are an international student on an F1 visa. I take life as it comes, which is thrilling and nerve-racking at the same time. I might have some projects for this summer, and I know I’m designing some shows in our next season of BU.   

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Thank you for having me and many thanks to ArtsImpulse for acknowledging the university productions of different shows. 

2014 Best Ensemble in a Play Nominee Interview: Boston University College of Fine Art's "columbinus"

Photo by Danny Kim

Photo by Danny Kim

Hi, Ivy, Ian, and Isabel.  Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed as part of our Nominee Interview Series.  We are delighted to hear from so many of our Nominees, especially those who make a strong ensemble in a production.  Can you start by introducing yourselves to our readers?

Photo by Tara Lynn Sen

Photo by Tara Lynn Sen

Ivy Ryan (IR): My name is Ivy Ryan I am a rising senior Acting major at BU and I’m from Mill Valley, California, just outside of San Francisco. I’m currently in the basement of a Café Nero, yelling into a phone, finishing my semester abroad in London.

Ian Geers (IG): My name is Ian Geers. I graduated from BU School of Theatre in 2014. I come from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and am currently on tour with The National Players.

Isabel Schnall (IS): And I’m Isabel Schnall, I’m from Manhattan, and I’m am also a rising senior Acting major at BU. I’ve just finished my semester studying Classical Acting at LAMDA in London!

How would you sum up columbinus in 50 words or less?  Who were your characters in columbinus?

IR: I played Faith. Faith is a stock character that stands for the naïve, goody-two-shoes, all-American girl. My favorite character to play, though, was Ruth, one of the mothers of a Columbine student, who appeared in Act Three.

columbinus as a play dissects the isolation and lack of communication felt by many high schoolers all across America. The playwrights explore how this isolation has repercussions in the community of Littleton, Colorado.

Photo by Peter Schnall

Photo by Peter Schnall

IG: I played Jock, who stands for all the sports kids at Columbine High School and then minor characters in Acts Two and Three.

[The play is] a community’s attempt to try and figure to what happened surrounding the events of April 20, 1999.

IS: I played Perfect, who stood for the “popular” girl stereotype in high school, and then in [Act Three], I played Kate Battan who was the lead detective on the Columbine case, as well as other minor characters.

colombinus is an artistic representation of real people trying to navigate life before, after, and during a traumatic event. It’s about communication, and lack thereof, and how people hate, love, fight, and deal with one another.

What was the biggest challenge about doing this play?

IR: the most difficult thing about this show was prioritizing the impact on the audience versus our own catharsis as actors.

IG: Putting your own actor ego aside and trying to do justice to these people. Because these are not just characters that you’re playing. Trying to tell all these stories accurately and honestly and not adding “actor polish” to anything.

IS: I agree. The biggest challenge was trying to really honor the words and thoughts that these people have had, in a way that doesn’t turn them into stage-characters or “types”. Also to not judge the people who I’m playing or who others are playing, and just listen to the stories being told.

What was the biggest reward?

IR: The biggest reward was the spark of interest that anyone who worked on or saw our show walked away with.

IG: The biggest reward was when audience members wanted to continue the conversation after the show, and when they were open, and willing to talk about how to prevent these things from happening and how to move on when tragedy strikes. When audiences want to have conversations like that instead of just praising the show.

IS: The biggest reward was the feeling that our show was important. Not that all theater isn’t important and without a voice, but that these stories deserved to be told and that people who came to see it really came to listen and ask questions.

What is your training at BU CFA?  How did it prepare you for these roles?  For other theatre projects or productions?

We all were (or still are) Acting Majors at BU SOT, and our major, as well as the entire school, is incredibly ensemble- and group-oriented. We learn very early that the best work is not done alone or with your own script, but on your feet and with other people.

Every class at BU talks about this, and how to come at the work in this way, and, because of that, we were all able to enter the room with the same vocabulary. We could trust the things that we had learned and really focus on each other. It was always about the other person. That’s a huge lesson that we learn in our training.

What kind of theatre do you love to perform?  To see?

IR: I like theater that makes me think or question. About the story first and foremost. And always with an element of surprise. Theater that’s not overshadowed by a concept or star-power, but about bodies in the space working together to get a message across.

IG: I like theater that has a social impulse behind it, and will hopefully charge its audience to action. And Shakespeare.

IS: I love seeing new plays and hearing brand new playwright voices. I also like theater that has a specific message in mind and really wants to speak to its audience. Theater that I’m still talking about after the train ride home.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Boston?

IR: My favorite things to do in Boston include sunbathing on the benches outside of 855 Commonwealth Ave, going to a Red Sox game, and spending the afternoon with friends in The Boston Common.

IG: Walking around the city and just taking in all the history, every neighborhood feels like you’ve entered into a different city. And Codzilla.

IS: Finding parts of the city I’ve never seen before. And being continuously on the search for a bagel that meets NY standards.

Why do you think that columbinus earned a Best Ensemble nomination?

Photo by Amanda Rowan

Photo by Amanda Rowan

IR: Never before colombinus had I truly existed in such an ensemble-based environment. Every voice was heard. Every person on that artistic team fully supported each other. We put our own goals aside for the greater goal. I miss that ensemble all the time so it doesn’t surprise me that that energy was palpable to others. It was the strongest and most generous group of actors with whom I have ever worked.

IG: I think the show is about ensemble. Our director talked very early on about how the play was not about the two boys, Dylan and Eric, but was about the community response to what happened. And so knowing the show was about the whole community, including the boys, we always went on as an ensemble. All eight of us were integral to the play, we couldn’t go on without one of us there. And that was inherent in everything about the show.

IS: Ensemble was the word on everyone’s tongue throughout the entire process. The whole message of the show is about learning to listen and communicate, and so I think we all began to practice what we preached and really listen to each other. We became like one body moving on stage, and a lot of the directing and design elements highlighted that as well. It was also always, despite the heavy nature of the play, a constant joy to be with everyone. The room was always filled with love.

If we all went on a road trip, where would we go?  What would you want to do?  What snacks are we packing?

IR: The original flavor goldfish and gummy worms. My goal before I die is to go to all 50 states and I’ve been to 25 already. Top states are Maine, Georgia, and Florida. I’ll pack the sunscreen . . . 

IG: Plantain chips and wasabi peas. I would want to go somewhere all three of us have never been. Maybe the south-west?

IS: Chocolate. And Ian will do all the driving because I’m a true New Yorker through and through and I don’t have my license. I’ll follow them around happily in the passenger seat, preferably to somewhere warm. I want to see the larger and most beautiful parts of the country, like Colorado.

What is one moment in columbinus that stood out to you?  What is one memory from the production process?

IR: The moment that pulled on my heart strings every single night was the moment when I got to reunite with my “daughter” (AKA Isabel) because I think that’s the truest moment where I’ve ever felt a sliver of what its like to love like a parent. To feel for a moment that those kids weren’t just children, that they were high schoolers and someone I could have known. Also, Ian gives great hugs too.

The first rehearsal during our read through, sitting at that table with such an incredible group of designers and collaborators. Seeing all our names labeled on our cups, and thinking, this is it. The lightness in the room despite how deeply passionate we were about such a serious and tragic story.

IG: I always loved when the audiences didn’t know what to do at the end of the second act. And then in the show, I think the entire third act was really beautiful.

The day in rehearsal when Clay asked us what we, as an ensemble, are championing as the message of our production. He talked about how the play asks several questions and gives several answers, so it was important for us as an ensemble to agree on what our cause was and what we all wanted to tackle as a production. And we agreed all together that communication was what we wanted to take on. It got everyone on the same page to tell the same story. 

IS: There was something always spellbinding about walking into the theater together from the back of the audience at the top of the third act, after a (usually) completely silent intermission, and seeing the “explosion” at the back of the set revealed. I got goose-bumps every night.

I would also say the first rehearsal we all had together. That first moment of sitting at a table with actors, designers, and collaborators whom I fiercely admired and respected and knowing that we were going to create something beautiful together. Also every rehearsal that our amazing stage-managing team brought in sweets to make hard moments a little easier.

Photo by Danny Kim

Photo by Danny Kim

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

IR: Stay tuned! I will be in four shows in the upcoming school year at BU, including my culminating senior thesis in the winter.

IG: I’ll be doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare [Abridged], and Shrek: The Musical at Oklahoma Shakespearian Festival this summer.

IS: I’ll be spending the next five weeks in London and hopefully working with a theatre company there, and then a full BU season next year, including my thesis as well!

Do you have anything else that you wish to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

IR: Read the play. It’s worth your time.

IG: Thank you for recognizing the work that we did! Thank you.

IS: Thank you for seeing the same strength in our ensemble that we felt! And to surround yourself with people you love often and always. 

2014 Best Student Actor Nominee Interview: Evan Gambardella as Eric Harris/Freak in Boston University CFA's "columbinus"

Photo by Erik Rojas

Photo by Erik Rojas

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Evan Gambardella caught our eye in 2012 in Assassins but it was his columbinus that won our respect and admiration. His level of precision, execution, and commitment to his craft and his particular role as Eric Harris/Freak was astonishing and deeply rewarding. In his Interview, Evan discusses the audition and rehearsal process for columbinus, his research into the role, and even his extraordinary background and skills as a professional magician that has taken him all over the world!

Evan, can you introduce yourself to our readers?  Who are you?  What is your performing history? And how did you start performing?

I’m unsure if there was one particular moment that started it all, but I have been performing and training since I was age 3 or 4. I went to a performing arts preschool, and, growing up, I took lots of classes in dance, visual art, theatre, writing, and music. I auditioned and performed in professional theatre and film throughout middle school, and I studied theatre at a half-day arts magnet high school in New Haven. Most recently, I graduated from the Boston University School of Theatre (SoT) in 2014 with a BFA in Acting. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been afforded such fantastic opportunities.

Besides being an actor, I’m also a professional magician, balloon artist, and hypnotist. While I’ve been primarily based in the Northeast, I’ve taught and performed across Europe, Africa, and the continental United States.

Talk to us about your role in columbinus.  What was the audition and rehearsal process?  

The audition was super relaxed. Just me and Clay (the director) in a room. I did a monologue from Annie Baker’s The Aliens.

The rehearsal process was truly extraordinary. I have never been a part of a show where everyone involved, from the actors to the stage crafters and design team, were so caring and passionate about telling a story. We all were so supportive of one another, and picked each other up when the heaviness of the material was getting us down. There was so much love and enthusiasm for the work we were creating together—I think it showed.

What kind of research did you do in preparation?  

A lot. Everyone in the cast did extensive research on the people and events surrounding the shootings. Not only to inform character choices, but also for brain food. The details, while morbid, were gripping. We often suggested books and documentaries to each other, and were quick to send each other links to valuable online source material—there was so much info available to us. We also had Zachary Dyer on hand as our invaluable dramaturg; he answered our endless questions and bookmarked important information for us to read.

Harrison (Dylan Klebold/Loner) and I got together several times to watch a few documentaries, peruse source material, and videos of Eric and Dylan. We actually spent a day at a shooting range, which was a first for both of us—an experience I’ll never forget.

I did a lot of my own personal research. I created a playlist of Eric’s favorite, music which I listened to for several weeks, and to my surprise, started to like a lot towards the end. I also watched one particular video of Eric talking into a camera several dozen times. I’d watch it on repeat before I came into rehearsals for Act II.

What was the hardest part about the production?  What was the easiest?

What was easiest for me was connecting to Freak in Act I, before he becomes Eric in Act II. Yes, there were many differences, but much of Freak’s inner frustration and alienation felt quite familiar to my own high school experience. I felt like I had a comfortable amount of raw material to draw from and work with.

Photo by Daniel Kim for Boston University Photography

Photo by Daniel Kim for Boston University Photography

The Library scene into the suicide was the most difficult for me. I remember feeling this weight in my stomach every time we were about to do it. Holding a gun up to my friends was dreadful, as well as feeling this nauseous combination of wild rage, joy, power, and fear. The first time we ran through the scene in rehearsal it took a while for me to shake Eric out of my body. But during the run I had a routine that helped me unwind: Every time I went offstage after those scenes were over I ate a special dessert in my dressing room, and I took a shower during Act III to wash any residual Eric down the drain.

Of what production or project are you most proud?

columbinus. Without question. Not only was every aspect of the production incredibly specific, well-crafted, and handled with such care, but I could feel that everyone involved knew they were making a difference. I can’t tell you how rewarding it was to hear people leaving the theatre talking about the larger questions presented in the play, rather than: “I liked it” or “that actor was great.”

What are some of your role models and idols?  Why?

Some that come to mind right now: Mark Rylance. I saw Jerusalem three times in the front row. Also: Robin Williams (as a comedian and actor), and Danai Gurira (as a playwright and actress). That list is way longer, but I’ll keep it abridged for now.

Why do you think that columbinus was an important production for BU CFA to produce and perform?

This was the most important production I’ve ever been a part of. I think BU CFA already does, and will continue to do work that puts these difficult topics on stage. There have been countless mass shootings and attacks since Columbine; unfortunately, they show no signs of slowing down. columbinus is not preachy, and neither demonizes, nor glorifies Eric and Dylan. It’s so much more than just “that sad Columbine play.” It’s a question, or rather, a lot of questions; and none of them can be easily answered or answered at all! This play has so much heart, and I think audiences are hungry for it.

What are some roles on your “bucket list”?

Any roles I get cast in! I don’t really have a bucket list. As long as I get to act, I’m golden.

What was the training program like at BU CFA?  

The training was stellar. Lots of sweat, tears, and sleep deprivation, but it was well worth it. My acting improved, and continues to improve as a result. But more importantly, I became a better person. The training opened my heart, my mind, and my spirit in ways that I will forever be grateful for. It truly changed my life for the better.

Looking back I think I had a major breakthrough in almost every one of my classes; so I can’t say that one class was more beneficial than another. In hindsight, I often didn’t see how important a lesson was or fully understand it until many weeks or months later. Even a year out of school I’m beginning to understand my lessons in a whole new way, and I doubt the ‘eureka’ aftershocks will stop anytime soon.

As for advice for underclassmen: meditate. It was my saving grace after freshman year, and it helped me to see the important things.

What do you do in your spare time?  What do you do to relax?

Game of Thrones.

What is the funniest thing to happen to you onstage or during an audition?

I’ll pick a columbinus story. Tech was taking a very long time, as usual, and we were stuck at the end of Act II. This is after the Library scene when Dylan and Eric commit suicide. There was a fast cut to black as soon as the guns went to our heads, and the timing needed to be perfect. Since we were doing the scene again and again, it was getting everyone in the room into a funk. Our final time through, rather than putting the guns to our heads just before the blackout, Harrison and I went in for a kiss. The room erupted with surprise and laughter! It was such a necessary release for everyone in the room, and one of my fondest tech memories.

Do you plan to work in the Boston area?  Why or why not?

Absolutely! Right now I’m calling myself an artistic nomad and just going and living wherever I get work. No set living situation yet. At the moment I’m staying outside of New Haven, but I’d love any excuse to get back to the Bean. The theatre scene is great, and it appears to be expanding in really exciting ways. The city leadership also seems to support a growing artistic atmosphere—which is fantastic. Personally, though, the biggest draw for me is the community. Boston has a lot of cool people.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

There are a few projects in the works, but at the moment I’m working on Yale Rep’s world premiere of Elevada by Sheila Callaghan. We are running until May 16th!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Yeah, actually! I’ve got two new websites that are now operational. Feel free to peruse! www.evangambardella.com and www.evanpresto.com.

2014 Best Student Actor Nominee Interview: Ben Salus as Tom Whitmore in Boston University CFA's "The Whitmores"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Photo by Jun Tsuboike

Photo by Jun Tsuboike

Ben Salus joins us from London, where he is studying in the Classical Acting Diploma program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art ("LAMDA").  As a junior in the Boston University College of Fine Arts' BFA in Theatre Arts program, Ben shone as the charismatic and manipulative Tom Whitmores in the original play by Ben Ducoff, The Whitmores, at Boston University.  In his interview, Ben describes the process for rehearsing a new play, the rigorous but fulfilling theatre program at Boston University, and some of his favorite productions in 2014. We wouldn't mind sharing a bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats with Ben!

Tell us about yourself, Ben.

So, I’m originally from Philadelphia, and I’m currently in my third year at Boston University pursuing my BFA in Theatre Arts. Right now, I’m in London studying Classical Acting at LAMDA, but I’ll be back in Boston for all of my senior year. My Mom and Dad support me so much in pursuing theatre (they knew nothing about it when I into college), and so does my sister, who graduated with a BS in Bioengineering. My friends from high school keep me sane and they’ve shaped my sense of humor and sense of joy. I spend most of my free time listening to Kanye West, Mozart, or Dave Matthews. I’m a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan and could talk an ear off about random sports history. You may have seen me either in a BU production or on Boston Harbor, as I was a tour guide in the summer of 2013 for Codzilla. I really like gummy bears and, to top it all off, I drive a 1994 gray/purple Toyota Camry.

What is your professional training?  What does the program at BU College of Fine Arts ("CFA") involve?  What are you doing now in the program?

Apart from BU, I’ve trained at the National High School Institute at Northwestern University the summer before my senior year in high school. Also, I’m completing the semester-long Classical Acting Diploma at LAMDA. Regionally, I’ve been in two shows, Our Class with the Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP), and Les Misérables with Cortland Repertory Theatre in New York.

In the Theatre Arts track at BU, I not only have the opportunity to study Acting, but I’ve also taken courses in Directing, Musical Theatre, Playwriting, and many other facets of the theatrical art. Right now, I’m gearing up for a packed senior year. First, I will be in STAMP (Senior Theatre Arts Major Productions) in which the Theatre Arts BFA class of 2016 will produce a full season of theatre, which will be coming in April/May of 2016. Also, I’ll be prepping for our showcase in New York City in March. In the meantime, I’ll be in shows at BU, and hopefully working a theatre internship this summer in either Chicago or New York City as part of my graduation requirement.

I really have to thank the School of Theatre for pushing me to become the artist I am today and who I look to be in the future. My training there has really transformed me as an individual and it is preparing me to succeed in any field of the theatre that I wish to pursue. It’s one of the best programs in the country and I’m blessed to be a part of it.

Who are The Whitmores?  Describe Tom, your character, for us.

The Whitmores are a middle-aged married couple living in a suburb of Cleveland who simply want things to go their way and go to any means necessary to get them. Tom and Mary love each other deeply, and they are very zany and fun, but I would never want to be on their bad side as they both have a short fuse when things don’t go according to plan. I think that’s all I can say without spoiling the play.

Tom Whitmore is a guy who really loves power. In dealing with people, he has an awareness of status, race, and manners, and he allows the three to flow masterfully in order for him to get what he wants. He is a riff off of any suburban man in this day and age, really. He’s got a rooted traditionalism in the sense that he’s a host and a fun loving partier/conversationalist, and, in that, comes his patriarchal power and force.

Photo by Kal ZabarskY

Photo by Kal ZabarskY

What was the process like for rehearsing a new play?  What were the challenges?  What were the benefits?

It was really cool being a part of a new play development as an actor, especially a play like this where I was in love with both the content and the style of writing.

One of the challenges was that, because it’s a new play, there was no existing definition of what it was. So, every day I had to come in and give 100% or else the production would take a step back, and it was evident when I was “off my game.” There wasn’t really time to take it easy in this process, which left me inextricably exhausted. It took a lot of effort on all of our parts to circumnavigate the process. Patience is a virtue, and really discovered that during this process.

The benefits were huge, so get ready:

I can’t begin to describe how lucky I was to be in the room with this team. Ben Ducoff (playwright) and Michael Hammond (director) really gave me free reign to explore what Tom was and wasn’t through the script. Ben was really open to have a dialogue about the characters and some of the lines. Every so often I would go off of a line, Ben and Michael would hear it out and we’d have a talk about even the smallest choices of words. Ben was really open to collaborate and share his character with me, ultimately letting it build into this monster that I didn’t even realize I had inside of me. Ben’s writing is supreme and I really loved being a vehicle for the words of someone who was in the room.

Getting to play alongside Lucy (as Mary Whitmore) was really a gift. We had some incredible chemistry, and when we were really cookin’, we operated on another level. We pushed each other every day and kept pushing each other’s buttons to get the best work from the other. The play was able to take some pretty huge jumps merely because the entire cast came in ready to explore and trusted each other to play.

New plays are interesting because the story is being cultivated in the room. Ben’s, Michael’s, and my ideas about the story that we were telling are all linked and similar, but definitely different. I really got to find this character and what he was about. I hate to say it like this, but I genuinely think everyone who plays Tom Whitmore will be playing a bit of Ben Salus at the same time. Developing a character for a new play requires putting your fingerprint on the character, more so than any other role. Finding my own way to tell my side of this story, that still agreed with Ben Ducoff’s and Michael Hammond’s, was the coolest experience I’ve had in theatre to date.

What are your biggest challenges as an actor?

Line memorizing. Oh my god. I get distracted very easily, so memorizing lines can get very tedious for me. Past that, I put a lot of attention into not relying on charisma or showmanship to get me through a scene, so that I have to really play from within the text.

What is the best production that you saw in 2014?  What is the best production that you have ever seen?  Why?

Thinking back, there were so many productions that blew me away this year. I fell in love with Finding Neverland at the American Repertory Theatre. I think Diane Paulus is a genius and helmed a gorgeous production that story onto the stage. Also, The Magic Flute presented by the Isango Ensemble at ArtsEmerson was one of the heartiest shows I have ever seen. I love Mozart, having just taken a class on his work, and I really was in awe of their storytelling and passion for the community that was presented on stage. In London, I got a chance to see City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse, and it might be the best production I’ve ever seen. Seeing Hadley Fraser live was one of my favorite theatergoing experiences because he exuded so much ease and really embodied his role.

Waiting for Godot at the Cort Theatre starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is probably the greatest thing I’ve ever seen on stage. Getting to watch two friends act on a stage together in my favorite play put me in awe. It was so human and so beautiful. The connection they had on stage transcended the script and the performance as a whole and was an exhibition of humanity, which is the root of theatre. It still sends shivers down my spine to think of the final scene between Vladimir and Estragon as they say good-bye to each other. Simply beautiful.

Why do you think that it is important to support university productions and students?  How do you think that the Greater Boston community can do a better job supporting these productions and students?

I’m estatic that ArtsImpulse is including us students in the fray. As a 21 year-old kid that hasn’t experienced that much exposure into the theatre community, it was really cool to see my name on the same webpage as Jeremy Jordan, Kate Burton, and Diane Paulus, among others. That definitely gave me a huge sense of accomplishment as a nominee. That support alone is incredible.

It’s essential that university productions be looked at in the theatre scene because it’s part of the city’s theatrical identity. The idea that we have the space to examine works without pressure of commercial interest is wonderful. In that, it allows us to do our work in the public without fear of criticism, but with hope of praise.

Boston is a fantastic city for theatre, especially in the collegiate circuit. The support from the community is already there and is growing, but I would love to see some more of the professional actors in the area check out our work.

What is the best part about studying in London?  What do you miss about Boston?

Seeing the theatre in London is my favorite part about studying here. The theatrical risks they can take here, because of the government-subsidized theatre, allows for really inventive and beautiful stories to be told on stage. In my classes, I really like the culture behind Acting. They make everything about the work and less about you. It’s very business-oriented without seeming too distant from being personal. Also, professors here are really blunt about everything, which is hilariously intimidating.

I definitely don’t miss the snow or the T, that’s for sure. I miss seeing the familiar smiles of my friends in the halls of the College of Fine Arts and my professors immensely. I miss looking at the John Hancock Tower a lot. I also hope the Starbucks across from CFA misses me as much as I miss it. Oh, and I miss the burritos from the Whole Foods by Symphony Hall. That was my go-to during the run of the show and my secret get-off-campus-and-get-lunch-away-from-everything place.

What is one role that you want to play?  What is one role that you probably would never play, but you would still want it?

I really want to play Sweeney Todd one day. A few dream roles that are a little nearer in the future are Hamlet, Ken in Red by John Logan, and Mitch in Tuesdays With Morrie.

I wouldn’t immediately cast myself as Emile de Becque is South Pacific, but I would love to sing that track one day.

What is your favorite breakfast cereal? Sell it to us.

Honestly, give me some Frosted Mini-Wheats and I’m set for anything. The idea of health and sweetness don’t usually coincide, but the ratio between wheat and frost is sublime. And please, don’t get me started on when the sugary coating melts into the bowl of milk, leaving someone with a mouthful of sweet, sweet victory.

What are your post-graduation plans?  Do you want to stay in Boston?

My plan is to work as an actor and director, wherever that may take me. Hopefully, I can settle down at some point and start a family. As long as I’m doing material that stimulates my own artistry, I’m down for (almost) anything. Even though beggars can’t be choosers, I would love to stay in Boston if the right opportunity arose, but I’m really intrigued by the opportunities Chicago, NYC, and LA might have for me, too.

What is one thing that you want to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Ben Ducoff is a godsend. Watch for The Whitmores to go somewhere. It deserves to.

And thanks, ArtsImpulse, for the nomination and this interview!