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From Students to the Stage

Acting and design showcases introduce graduating class of Department of Theatre and Dance MFA students to leading industry professionals across the country

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From left, MFA candidates Yonatan Gebeyehu and DeLeon Dallas at the Graduate Actor Student Showcase in Los Angeles. Photos by Erik Jepsen/ UC San Diego Publications

As a new class of UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance MFA students graduate, worries of “what’s next” in the tough stage and screen job market take over. One way the department helps to bridge the gap from school to career is by organizing multiple opportunities to show their work—from Los Angeles to New York City.

“Our department takes great pride in giving our students direction and bringing out the best in each of them, whether that be on stage as actors and dancers, or behind the scenes as designers, directors, playwrights and stage managers,” said department chair Charles Means. “We take care in setting them up for success.”

In April, the graduating actors performed on both coasts for this year’s Graduate Actor Student Showcase, where casting agents, artistic directors, and television and film executives attended as an introduction to the students and their work. With two shows in each city, nerves ran high.

theatre student showcase for uc san diego

From left, DeLeon Dallas, Andrew Gallop, Yonatan Gebeyehu, Kyle Hester, Volen Iliev, Kimberly Monks, Claire Roberson and Mo Radvanich.

“It’s really a very nerve-wracking experience, but we try to assure our students that this is just one step in their careers as actors,” said professor Jennifer Chang, head of the undergraduate acting program and director of this year’s showcase.

The eight graduating MFA students staged a series of 10 vignettes, developed to highlight their unique skills and talents from acting and singing, to fluency in more than one language. Several scenes were from original work by UC San Diego playwrights, offering additional exposure to the program.

“There can be a lot of self-imposed pressure to get an agent and impress casting directors. I hope that at the end of their three years, the students recognize that acting is more than this,” Chang said. “We work on developing the ability to be fully committed to the artistry and detached from the outcome, so that they can carry that resiliency and perseverance into their careers.”

Introducing the new professionals

Graduating MFA candidate Kimberly Monks said that if she hadn’t found a passion in acting, she would probably want to be a social worker. A “superhero” social worker, to be exact.

theatre student showcase for uc san diego

Kimberly Monks performs a scene from “Being Mary Jane” at the Los Angeles showcase.

“I am a product of the foster-care system, and so I’ve always been passionate about making sure that foster kids know that they are capable of being loved and cared for,” she said. “The social workers that I had were superheroes, so if I wasn’t an actor I would want to give that gift to foster youth.”

Monks and her seven actor classmates ended the year by talking about a passion that gives additional roundness to their lives, outside of theater. Volen Iliev cooks for family and friends. Claire Roberson loves literature—and soccer. Kyle Hester is a writer and lover of words, while Yonatan Gebeyehu seeks comfort in math. Andrew Gallop is a “wanderer,” finding fulfillment in traveling.

And like Gallop’s thought—a “community of adventurous souls,” as he says, could very well be found on the stage as much as on the road—DeLeon Dallas, too, finds overlap in his fascination with video-game design and acting.

“I want to be able to share this feeling with other people by creating compelling characters and building complex worlds, [and] to give people the gift of taking a break from their everyday lives and losing themselves in some vast universe,” he said. “I love how you’re just able to immerse yourself into a world.”

For Mo Radvanich, the desire to go into acting came from a love of prop making. When she was an undergraduate student in Thailand, she loved making things and was naturally drawn to the prop room: “I got sidetracked, big time, into grad school,” she said.

theatre student showcase for uc san diego

From left, Andrew Gallop and Claire Roberson in a scene from “Driftwood.”

In addition to the actor showcase, the department supports its graduating design students with similar events in New York City and Los Angeles, where established producers, directors and designers from across the country are introduced to new scenic, costume, lighting and sound designers. The students present their portfolios, and explain their process and approach to design.

This year’s graduating designers are Junior Bergman and Annie Le in costume design, Joel Britt and Brandon Rosen in lighting design, and Matthew Herman, Samantha Rojales and Anna Robinson in scenic design.

For playwrights and directors, the annual Wagner New Play Festival in early May brings top industry leaders to San Diego for three days to watch each play, lead seminars and meet individually with students. Graduating stage managers participate in a bridge project, where they visit a major city to shadow backstage during particular shows.

Becoming groundbreaking alumni

The complete graduating class will be joining an alumni cohort of some of the top leaders in the industry, working at the highest levels of theater, dance and screen. And they’re groundbreakers, too. Alumna Regan Linton, ’13 is the artistic director of the Phamaly Theatre Company in Denver and was recently named one of UC San Diego’s “40 Alumni Under 40.

One of the few professional theater actors who use a wheelchair, Linton has become a prominent voice for inclusion. She will being honored, along with 39 additional alumni, at this year’s Alumni Weekend celebration May 31 – June 3.

“For the last several decades UC San Diego has produced actors who move seamlessly from stage to screen, between classics and new work. And this current group is no different,” said professor Richard Robichaux, an accomplished actor and new head of the MFA acting program. “They are smart, and kind, and joyful. I’m happy to introduce you to the future.”