Puerto Rican playwright Jose Rivera said this about artists in his USC – School of Theatre Commencement Speech: “We are alchemists and con artists, acrobats and used car salesmen, liars and enlighteners, and we are here to do the earth’s bidding because the earth is screaming out its stories and begging for us to write them down, and act them out, and draw her pretty pictures on the face of the clouds.” It’s this sense of purpose and enlivened passion that brought me to UW’s School of Drama. It’s this conviction to pursue my purpose and dream that has energized me through grumpy mornings due to lack of sleep, long hours in dusty classrooms, and exhausting rehearsals. The struggle has been real, and so has the fight!
There are many moments that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. A few are absolute gems. One of the ones that confirmed how much I absolutely loved this acting thing was on closing night of Pentecost. Over the previous week or so, my body had slowly allowed some illness to creep its way into full manifestation. I felt it stronger than ever before right as I was getting ready to perform a 15-minute story from the Ramayana in Sinhalese while dancing Bharatanatyam, a classic Indian dance form. In Act 2, there’s a beautiful moment when the refugees and hostages share stories, and tell jokes to the whole group. Near the end of Antonio’s story, I run backstage, put on my anklets, run back on stage, and command the audience’s attention by stomping and yelling in Sinhalese, “OK, I have a story to tell!”
On this particular night, I could barely garner the strength to walk, let alone run, dance, and tell a 15-minute story. I had spent 3 weeks learning Sinhalese, researching the Ramayana story, and rehearsing the dance, but at this pivotal moment, I felt too exhausted and nauseous to continue. As I sat on the floor listening to the last few lines of Antonio’s story, I told myself, “I’m not feeling well today, but my desire to tell my story is stronger than my sickness.” And so I marched backstage, put on my anklets, took a long, deep breath, said a little prayer for safety, and told myself, “Leave it all on the floor.” And I did. I cried with exhaustion when it was all over. It was a beautiful moment of surrender to the craft and victory over my circumstances. And thus, my love was fortified.
My time here has also been wonderfully blessed with extraordinary quarters of teaching. I think I learned just as much, if not more, from my students than they learned from me. From them, I learned lessons about confidence, presence, vocal power, responsibility, professionalism, and the importance of being a strong and positive role-model. They encouraged me to become a stronger performer, a generous scene partner, and a more compassionate and communicative human being. I also learned from my students that fear was a perfectly normal response to increased challenge, and it needed to be faced directly – stared square in the eyes – and vanquished.
Now that the finish line is but a few feet away, another, different kind of race begins. Right now, I’m so thrilled to be embarking on this journey with my classmates, and with the well-wishes of my professors and students. And honestly, I feel ready. This program helped me accept and love my faults and imperfections. It aided me in establishing a greater confidence in my skill, technique, and presence on stage, and it nourished an acute sensitivity to the work, to the world, and to the people who interact in it.
Upon completing the Showcases in New York and LA, I’ll be staying in Seattle until I feel it’s time for me to go. It’s as simple as that. I’ve been blessed with a tight-knit, supportive spiritual community and a great network of professionals. Why leave when I’m just getting started? The plan is to work, save, build, and grow! I’ve got a musical lined up for the summer, which I’m extremely excited about, and some fall opportunities that need confirmation. All in all, the future is bright and I’m feeling good!
The Scottish scholar William Barclay once said, “There are two great days in a person’s life – the day you are born, and the day you discover why.” I titled my recent solo show “…And the day you discover why” because at the conclusion of my time here at UW’s School of Drama, those words ring truer than ever before. They, along with the words in Jeremiah 29:11, remind me that I was placed on this Earth for a purpose, and UW’s School of Drama has become a driving force in helping me fulfill that purpose. That purpose includes using the gifts I received to write, embody, and honor the stories and lives of people from all of history and all of the world.