RECENTLY, drama students and faculty at Catholic University assembled at Hartke Theatre to meet Milo O'Shea, the star of "Mass Appeal," which was at Ford's Theater. It turned out to be a delightful experience. "It is important to me to be here sharing my experience with you young actors," O'Shea told us. That he wanted to help our careers had great meaning for me. That word "share" always has been an important reason for my pursuing a career in the theater.
I began dancing at the age of 3. When I was 12 I looked quite old for my age, which enabled me to begin acting early. I said I was 18 so I could join a company performing "Cabaret." I originally wanted to do this to dance, but from that first rehearsal and further acting classes I knew I wanted to become an actress.
I took off what would have been my senior year at Catholic University to join the National Players Touring Company affiliated with the drama department. When Bill Graham, chairman of the department, offered me some financial aid this year from the Young Artists' Scholarship Fund, I was able to return for my degree.
It's been rather tough going financially, but my scholarship has helped me complete my education. Since the federal government has cut back student aid, many of my contemporaries have been forced to abandon pursuit of a degree or work many hours waiting on tables or in other jobs which interfere significantly with their studies. While I continue to work as a waitress, about 20 hours a week, I have been able to limit my work shifts and spend more time on my studies.
But Graham was able to help less than 10 of us this year; many other potential actors, playwrights, directors, designers and teachers, for whom there was no financial aid, could not begin a program of study or had to drop out.
Recently, a scholarship fund was launched to help talented students finance their education and training in Catholic University's drama department. Titled "Adopt a Young Artist," the new program will provide a direct avenue of support between theatergoers and students with promising potential careers in professional theater, film and television. Sponsors will be given an opportunity to act as "cousins," "aunts," "uncles," "foster parents" or "sugar daddies!" by making relatively small grants to specific aspiring students. Grants may range from the cost of one course or even one semester hour to full tuition for a year. In return, sponsors will be kept informed of the progress of their "prote'ge's" and will be invited to special department events showcasing these young artists' work.
In return for the student aid I receive, I am contracted to work in the department's outreach program, a project that enables me to put what I am learning about acting in perspective and to share with younger people my experience in working toward a career in the theater. In the outreach program, four other drama students and I go to D.C. area high schools and speak to juniors and seniors who are interested in the theater. We perform scenes for them, comparing classical with contemporary theater, or we involve them in group improvisation. These students later visit Catholic University's Hartke Theatre, tour backstage, and observe classes.
We are not that much older than the students we talk to, so we are able to have open and easy conversations. I have talked with many high school seniors who have little, if any, experience. They think they will head straight for New York or Hollywood and automatically become actors. After all, it doesn't look very hard on television. Many students have had to defy their parents' wishes to do this and end up friendless, moneyless, jobless and skill-less in a big city for which they are not ready. We tell students that while acting may seem glamorous to them, it is a very difficult and demanding field. We tell them that you have to love it with all your heart or it's just not worth all the sweat. But we also tell them to start now by learning as much as they can, reading every play they can find, seeing every performance possible.
We help give them an understanding of Shakespeare and classical plays. We tell them about several options for a higher education in the field of acting, stressing why we found a liberal arts education important for us. We also suggest alternative professions besides acting, both within and outside the theater.
When one of these groups was visiting Catholic U., I met them in the theater lobby as they ate their brown-bag lunches. The students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. One high school senior said to me, "This program seems to break the feeling of isolation between college and high school students. It helped me see all there is to being an individual." Another said, "I'm relieved to hear that it's worth going with my instincts instead of what I've always been told."
These reactions thrilled me. It is as if we have encouraged them to have minds of their own and go after whatever they most want with all their heart.