4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

On the Brink

In UCSD Theatre’s recent staging of The Physicists, Michelle Diaz played Sister Boll, a monobrowed, lock-stepping head nurse at a sanitarium. Diaz made bold physical choices, including reps of one-armed push-ups. Larry Herron played Johan Wilhelm Mobius, who’s either a psychotic channeling King Solomon or a genius physicist. Third-year students in the master of fine arts program, Diaz and Herron are among the most talented I’ve ever seen at UCSD. They graduate March 22. As I watched them and recalled their excellent earlier work, including roles in The Deception at La Jolla Playhouse last summer, I couldn’t help wondering: where do they go from here?

The answer: a leap into the unknown.

“We’re in grad school,” says Herron, 27, “next to future engineers and scientists who will make a LOT of money, while we may have to work at Starbucks for months at a time, or other odd jobs, before landing a role. But that’s not terrible to me. I have no other choice. Acting’s the only thing I get this excited about.”

UCSD provides graduates with an interim step before the leap: The Showcase or, as it’s sometimes called in private, “March Madness in May.” Each year, the three nationally top-ranked MFA programs — Yale, NYU, and UCSD — perform twice in New York and twice in Los Angeles before casting directors, managers, theater, film, and TV people. UCSD has 35 minutes, total, to highlight its ten graduating actors. The time limit includes scenes, two and a half to three minutes each, and scene changes.

Herron: “Three minutes to set a situation, move, show a ‘side’ of your ability, and move off. You fit all these qualities into this weird little capsule.”

Each actor has two scenes at the showcase. They should avoid the obvious material, done 100 times, and any used in previous showcases. “It’s a giant puzzle,” says Diaz, 31, “getting scenes for both actors that show what each can do. And there’s something else: some of us know people in the other programs — so okay, there’s a bit of a rivalry.”

Planning began last summer. The ten third-year MFAs, says Diaz, “read, read, watched movies, looked at scripts, at mountains of material” to find scenes that work best for any sort of pairing. In September they began meeting twice a week, three hours each time, to report findings (“this scene might be good for X or Y”). The “gathering” process, a real-life Rubik’s Cube of mixing and matching, is still ongoing.

“Showcase” is a misnomer. At best, actors can only show a “side” of their abilities in a scene, not their range. For Diaz and Herron, the question becomes, which side?

Diaz: “Do I present myself as a character actor? As someone who plays strong women? My last name is ethnic. Do I play the Latina card? But then what: comedic? dramatic? And once you’ve picked one scene, how do you choose the second? You can shoot yourself in the foot with the wrong material. It gets REAL complicated.”

An intangible: at the showcase, says Herron, many scouts will just be “shopping” for specific types — male or female ingénues, certain character traits — to put to work right away. For that reason, “Some UCSD faculty don’t like the showcase. It isn’t the culmination of our work for the last three years.”

And they have grown: when she auditioned for the MFA program, Diaz did a monologue “big and loud and danced a salsa through the whole thing”; two years later, she performed the same monologue sitting down and “dealing with the character through myself and not as a mask.”

Shortly before the graduation ceremony, third-year students will perform their scenes before UCSD faculty, not as finished products but for feedback. If one doesn’t work, they may scrap it, try another, and rehearse the final choices until May. During the entire process, from last summer until the showcase, the students will have logged in as many hours as most take to write a master’s thesis.

In April, as they rehearse, uncertainty will be ever-present: Have I chosen the best possible scenes? Will I do well in the showcase? Where will I live this summer?

The event itself adds more pressure. In New York, Herron and Diaz perform once in the afternoon, again in the evening. After the latter, they’ll “probably hang out backstage” and wait for the scouts to submit their marked forms. These may request head shots and bios or — the major hope — a meeting. A stage manager for each program will collect the forms, put them into packets, and bring them to the awaiting actors. Some packets may be empty.

Herron and Diaz helped third-years set the stage at the two previous Los Angeles showcases. Watching some scouts was disillusioning, says Herron: “Guy sits there with a form to fill out. Actor walks on. Guy checks a box, even before the scene starts!

The showcase may, or may not, be a springboard. In the past, some actors received no responses and are now working professionals. Others got several and have worked rarely since.

“A lot could be at stake,” says Herron. “But once the showcase starts, you block it out. You’ve got a scene partner or partners. Commit to them. That’s it. No choice.”

Since all their preparation points to six minutes in May, it’s hard for Herron and Diaz to look beyond. But asked to name roles that call to her from the future, Diaz said Chekhov (Masha, Arkadina down the line) and Lorca; Herron: Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun and Othello. For both, live theater is their first choice. But if offered three jobs at the showcase — one in theater, one in film, and one in TV — they wouldn’t necessarily choose the stage.

“Right now? I’d take the highest-paying one,” says Diaz. “I’d rather do theater for the art and the love, but I’m just coming out of grad school. I have student loans, bills to pay.

“It’s idealism versus reality. My undergrad goal was travel the world — Prague, Berlin, Spain — doing edgy, movement-based theater. I went to New York and did a lot of that kind of work. And stumbled a lot too. But needs change. You have to be real. Consider your future, your family, health. But,” she adds in a heartbeat, “I’m still making the leap.”

Diaz, originally from Miami, is leaning toward Los Angeles. If she has more responses from New York, however, “then head back East.”

“Most people find it easier to know what’s going to happen every day,” says Herron, a Michigander uncertain where he’ll be come June. “And that’s cool. We all need security. But an actor can’t know what’ll happen even in a rehearsal, say, when a glass breaks and you’ve got to work with that.

“Most of our training is trial and error — and failure — and learning from mistakes, while this culture is infected with avoiding failure as much as possible. But there’s more to be learned when you give something a shot and it doesn’t work. Many actors from MFA programs may not make the next step successfully. I may not, and that’s all right. I’d rather take the leap and not make it than stand on the cliff and wonder.”

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

The Carpetbaggers part two: Elizabeth Ashley makes her screen debut

Of all the women who figure into Jonas’ life, she is the only one who isn’t a prostitute.
Next Article

Robert Graves: among the best poetry in English literature

A novelist, and classicist best known for I, Claudius (1934) and its sequel, Claudius the God

In UCSD Theatre’s recent staging of The Physicists, Michelle Diaz played Sister Boll, a monobrowed, lock-stepping head nurse at a sanitarium. Diaz made bold physical choices, including reps of one-armed push-ups. Larry Herron played Johan Wilhelm Mobius, who’s either a psychotic channeling King Solomon or a genius physicist. Third-year students in the master of fine arts program, Diaz and Herron are among the most talented I’ve ever seen at UCSD. They graduate March 22. As I watched them and recalled their excellent earlier work, including roles in The Deception at La Jolla Playhouse last summer, I couldn’t help wondering: where do they go from here?

The answer: a leap into the unknown.

“We’re in grad school,” says Herron, 27, “next to future engineers and scientists who will make a LOT of money, while we may have to work at Starbucks for months at a time, or other odd jobs, before landing a role. But that’s not terrible to me. I have no other choice. Acting’s the only thing I get this excited about.”

UCSD provides graduates with an interim step before the leap: The Showcase or, as it’s sometimes called in private, “March Madness in May.” Each year, the three nationally top-ranked MFA programs — Yale, NYU, and UCSD — perform twice in New York and twice in Los Angeles before casting directors, managers, theater, film, and TV people. UCSD has 35 minutes, total, to highlight its ten graduating actors. The time limit includes scenes, two and a half to three minutes each, and scene changes.

Herron: “Three minutes to set a situation, move, show a ‘side’ of your ability, and move off. You fit all these qualities into this weird little capsule.”

Each actor has two scenes at the showcase. They should avoid the obvious material, done 100 times, and any used in previous showcases. “It’s a giant puzzle,” says Diaz, 31, “getting scenes for both actors that show what each can do. And there’s something else: some of us know people in the other programs — so okay, there’s a bit of a rivalry.”

Planning began last summer. The ten third-year MFAs, says Diaz, “read, read, watched movies, looked at scripts, at mountains of material” to find scenes that work best for any sort of pairing. In September they began meeting twice a week, three hours each time, to report findings (“this scene might be good for X or Y”). The “gathering” process, a real-life Rubik’s Cube of mixing and matching, is still ongoing.

“Showcase” is a misnomer. At best, actors can only show a “side” of their abilities in a scene, not their range. For Diaz and Herron, the question becomes, which side?

Diaz: “Do I present myself as a character actor? As someone who plays strong women? My last name is ethnic. Do I play the Latina card? But then what: comedic? dramatic? And once you’ve picked one scene, how do you choose the second? You can shoot yourself in the foot with the wrong material. It gets REAL complicated.”

An intangible: at the showcase, says Herron, many scouts will just be “shopping” for specific types — male or female ingénues, certain character traits — to put to work right away. For that reason, “Some UCSD faculty don’t like the showcase. It isn’t the culmination of our work for the last three years.”

And they have grown: when she auditioned for the MFA program, Diaz did a monologue “big and loud and danced a salsa through the whole thing”; two years later, she performed the same monologue sitting down and “dealing with the character through myself and not as a mask.”

Shortly before the graduation ceremony, third-year students will perform their scenes before UCSD faculty, not as finished products but for feedback. If one doesn’t work, they may scrap it, try another, and rehearse the final choices until May. During the entire process, from last summer until the showcase, the students will have logged in as many hours as most take to write a master’s thesis.

In April, as they rehearse, uncertainty will be ever-present: Have I chosen the best possible scenes? Will I do well in the showcase? Where will I live this summer?

The event itself adds more pressure. In New York, Herron and Diaz perform once in the afternoon, again in the evening. After the latter, they’ll “probably hang out backstage” and wait for the scouts to submit their marked forms. These may request head shots and bios or — the major hope — a meeting. A stage manager for each program will collect the forms, put them into packets, and bring them to the awaiting actors. Some packets may be empty.

Herron and Diaz helped third-years set the stage at the two previous Los Angeles showcases. Watching some scouts was disillusioning, says Herron: “Guy sits there with a form to fill out. Actor walks on. Guy checks a box, even before the scene starts!

The showcase may, or may not, be a springboard. In the past, some actors received no responses and are now working professionals. Others got several and have worked rarely since.

“A lot could be at stake,” says Herron. “But once the showcase starts, you block it out. You’ve got a scene partner or partners. Commit to them. That’s it. No choice.”

Since all their preparation points to six minutes in May, it’s hard for Herron and Diaz to look beyond. But asked to name roles that call to her from the future, Diaz said Chekhov (Masha, Arkadina down the line) and Lorca; Herron: Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun and Othello. For both, live theater is their first choice. But if offered three jobs at the showcase — one in theater, one in film, and one in TV — they wouldn’t necessarily choose the stage.

“Right now? I’d take the highest-paying one,” says Diaz. “I’d rather do theater for the art and the love, but I’m just coming out of grad school. I have student loans, bills to pay.

“It’s idealism versus reality. My undergrad goal was travel the world — Prague, Berlin, Spain — doing edgy, movement-based theater. I went to New York and did a lot of that kind of work. And stumbled a lot too. But needs change. You have to be real. Consider your future, your family, health. But,” she adds in a heartbeat, “I’m still making the leap.”

Diaz, originally from Miami, is leaning toward Los Angeles. If she has more responses from New York, however, “then head back East.”

“Most people find it easier to know what’s going to happen every day,” says Herron, a Michigander uncertain where he’ll be come June. “And that’s cool. We all need security. But an actor can’t know what’ll happen even in a rehearsal, say, when a glass breaks and you’ve got to work with that.

“Most of our training is trial and error — and failure — and learning from mistakes, while this culture is infected with avoiding failure as much as possible. But there’s more to be learned when you give something a shot and it doesn’t work. Many actors from MFA programs may not make the next step successfully. I may not, and that’s all right. I’d rather take the leap and not make it than stand on the cliff and wonder.”

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Subs off Imperial Beach, Yamamoto's killer, a kid in WWII San Diego

Tarawa, Japanese POWs, my dad's part in Hiroshima, Iwo Jima, captured in Burma
Next Article

Mainly Mozart's masterful melange

A consistent level of musical excellence that is unrivaled anywhere
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close