By Barbara Curtin
February 1st, 2014
Waiting for one’s big break can mean years of waiting tables, say some of the young performers who have left the Mid-Valley to seek fame.
Western Oregon University alums Sam Benedict (2011) and Josiah Bania (2009) are trying to build their acting careers in New York City. WOU alum Kaitlin Bauld (2012) has her sights set on acting and choreography in Los Angeles.
Caitlin Lynch, who graduated from South Salem High School in 2003, went on to study at top music schools in France and the U.S.; she’s now a music teacher and successful chamber musician in New York City.
Among their biggest struggles: Finding a way to balance lessons, auditions and the paying jobs needed to pursue their craft.
Sam Benedict writes of landing a job at one of the big apple’s top restaurants, only to find himself working 60-plus hours a week. The money was “insanely good,” he said, but he was nearly a wreck until he negotiated a lighter schedule that allowed some down time.
Bania notes that New York rents are so high that struggling artist must make compromises to live there. Actors can be happy as well in Portland, Ashland, Seattle and San Francisco, he says.
Bauld tells young performers: “You must be incredibly self-motivated and determined. Be prepared to work even harder than you did in college.”
Lynch advises: “Practice — a lot — but not so much that you don’t have a life outside of practicing. You must have something to play about and personal experiences to draw upon.”
They are four of many promising young artists suggested by local directors and music teachers. Their stories follow; some of the emails have been edited for length and clarity.
Graduated from: Western Oregon University, bachelor of fine arts in acting, 2011
Salem Repertory Theatre, music director and Dill in “To Kill a Mockingbird”; at WOU, Jimmy in “Reefer Madness,” Deputy in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” D’Artagnan in “The Three Musketeers”
Since then: I was fortunate to be given an acting job with a summer-stock company in Pennsylvania the day after graduating from WOU. I spent over a year after graduating saving money from waiting tables and booking local professional theater jobs in Portland before moving to NYC.
The first thing I did when I got into the city was enroll in the Broadway Dance Center’s Training Program that had me in 12 classes a week (approximately 30 hours of dance a week). I got fairly involved with dance while I was studying at WOU, fell in love with it, and knew that those skills would be invaluable as an actor in NY specifically.
I also signed on as in intern for the New York Musical Theatre Festival and ended up assisting the director of programmingI had countless opportunities to take part in the screening process of potential shows, attend all of the festival’s 30+ productions and participate in fundraising events with industry leaders and Broadway celebrities alike.
High point so far: Artistically speaking, the highlight of my acting career still belongs with Portland.
Professionally speaking, I had the good fortune to book a TV acting job recently for a new Cinemax series, so in terms of “commerical success,” I’d probably have to put that one at the top of the list.
Toughest part so far: In spite of all my preparations to get here comfortably money eventually ran out, reality hit, and I joined the (mostly) respectable ranks of the Starving Artists.
Thanks to a connection from home I was connected with a Michelin starred restaurant in SoHo and the money problem was fixed. The challenge to this solution, however, became time. I ended up working 60+ hours a week making insanely good money, but in turn I lost all of my time. All of a sudden I was no longer taking class, going to auditions, networking or doing anything artistic for that matter and it became clear to me that something had to give. I was luckily able to renegotiate with my employer and am now happily working less than half of those 60+ hours.
Advice to students:
Don’t compare your career to anyone else’s.” I find more and more every day that as I get to know and love myself for who I am, people around me are more and more attracted to my “product” (for lack of a better term). Anybody can learn how to memorize lines or imitate a certain performance, but only you can be you, and you have to believe that that is more than enough.
Contact me: Facebook, LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Graduated from: South Salem High School, 2003
Local highlights: South Salem High School record for individual with the most Oregon School Activities Association championships; performed Bartok Viola Concerto as soloist with Portland Youth Philharmonic (as winner of the annual concerto competition) and with the Young Artists Orchestra (members of the Oregon Symphony and Oregon Ballet Theatre Orchestras)
Since then: Cleveland Institute of Music, Artist Diploma, 2012; The Juilliard School, Master of Music, 2010; Cleveland Institute of Music, Bachelor of Music, 2007; Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, fall 2006; performed in 14 countries on five continents; founding member of Fidelio String Quartet; member of American Contemporary Music Ensemble; teaching viola, violin and piano
High point so far: Traveling the world to perform and teach; performances with some of my greatest musical heroes: Itzhak Perlman and members of the Tokyo, Juilliard, Cleveland and Cavani string quartets; playing the music my fiancé, composer Tim Mauthe, writes for me and for us
Toughest part so far: An arm injury. My ulner nerve was crushed by a physical therapist, and I had to sit on the sidelines while I healed. Looking back, I am grateful for the values of patience and discipline that were tested and grew as a result of the experience.
Advice to students: Embrace the concept of process. In music, practice has no finite end. There is always more to be done, more room to grow. Love the practice. Love the process of striving for more every day. Be true to yourself and what you love. Art forms such as music are so deeply personal — your work must be genuine. Audiences can feel love and communication that comes from the heart. Never lose an opportunity to ask a question, ask for a lesson, or go outside your comfort zone. Practice and train well so that when it is time to perform, you can trust your instincts and say something personal. Trust your abilities and instincts regarding your path, and then work hard (really hard) and with a sense of joy throughout the journey. Practice — a lot — but not so much that you don’t have a life outside of practicing. You must have something to play about and personal experiences to draw upon. Lastly, never judge yourself based on the abilities of others. Don’t waste your energy feeling competitive against your peers — use that energy instead to further your art. The beautiful thing about a life in music is that each performer, and therefore performance, is unique. We’re all saying something slightly different because, as humans, we are all slightly different. There is enough room in the world for all of our musical voices. There can be no such thing as too much music.
Contact me: fideliostringquartet.com; acmemusic.org
Graduated from: Western Oregon University in… what was it? 2009, I think. I switched both my major and school, and took a couple of terms off, so I graduated a little later than most people my age.
Local highlights: At WOU, I played the Chorus in “Henry V,” Tony in “Boy Gets Girl,” and others. I played Charles Lindbergh in “Hauptmann” at Salem Repertory Theatre, as well as composing background music for their productions of “A Christmas Carol.” Up in Portland I worked at Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre and CoHo productions.
Since then: I spent the last three years enrolled at the Yale School of Drama, in New Haven, Conn., and my wife and I (a new, happy development!) recently moved to New York City. These graduate programs can get intensely personal and challenging. The great part about it, though, was that each challenge, if met with rigor and grace, was also rewarded with a deep sense of fulfillment. Since school, I’ve taught at Yale School of Drama’s summer session, and since moving to the city, I’ve been working as a barback, busser, and in catering. And I’m auditioning a lot.
High point so far: I was lucky, and was given a number of good parts at school. One of the projects, in your second year at Yale, splits your class up into groups, and each group is tasked with creating a 75-minute production of a Shakespeare play with a very limited cast, and no budget, tech or director. We had a four-person “Othello,” and I got to play Iago (while being double-cast in two other shows). That’s some of the work I’m most proud of since I started acting.
Toughest part so far: Honestly? Living in New York. New York City became so much more expensive under Bloomberg’s tenure that artists are struggling, and making big compromises for the privilege of living in this place. I read recently that the average rent in Manhattan is now over $3,800. For Brooklyn it’s over $3,300, I think. A lot of young artists are still coming here, but a lot are leaving, too.
Advice to students:
• There were over 300 acting showcases in New York City last year.
• The average Off-Broadway play, even Julie Taymor’s production of “Midsummer,” which just closed, will pay less than $400 a week.
That being said, I’d tell young actors who want more training to pursue that training at a credible school or conservatory. There are a lot of scams out there. Also, if they mean to dedicate their lives to an art form that their country refuses to subsidize, it’s very helpful to have a set of skills for a survival job that can pay well, and that they’ll enjoy. They should ask themselves what kind of lifestyles they want, and what city is going to be most likely to help accommodate that. I know happy and extraordinarily talented actors in Portland, Ashland, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. And I’d tell young theater artists of any discipline that if they want to be in this field, then they’d better go after it with their teeth, with voraciousness, rigor, play, curiosity and good, old-fashioned hard work. By treating it as being truly valuable, we’ll make something of value to others. And maybe funding will follow.
Graduated from: Western Oregon University in 2012 with degrees in theater and dance.
Local highlights: At WOU, I choreographed for two Spring Dance Concerts; the pieces were titled “The Source Within” and “Exquisite Metamorphosis.” I danced for three of them as well. As far as theater, I played one of the lead roles in “Lysistrata,” directed by Michael Phillips, and I also choreographed that play. And one of my last plays I performed was in “Proof,” where I played the role of Claire.
Since then: Right after I graduated I moved down to Los Angeles to pursue acting and choreography. It’s been rough monetary wise but I’m making do with working a full-time serving job at a restaurant in Pasadena.
So far, I have been a student at Playhouse West, one of the most prominent acting schools in LA. I am now an advanced student and part of their repertory company. My teachers include working actors like Wolfgang Bodison (”A Few Good Men”), Robert Carnegie, Mark Pellegrino (”Lost” and “Dexter”).
High point so far: Highest point of my career definitely has to be getting cast as one of the lead women in one of Playhouse West’s original plays, “Welcome Home Soldier,” which is also the longest-running play in Los Angeles to date.
Advice to students: You must be incredibly self-motivated and determined. Be prepared to work even harder than you did in college. Always aim to keep your tools and foundation freshly greased by taking classes and continuing to always learn more and better your craft. And of course, never give up, even if everyone around you says no, there will be a yes, you just have to be patient and keep working