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This year’s Actor’s Showcase will spotlight talents of 19 senior theatre students

19 theater students sit in anticipation of their showcase May 30. Eager to enter the professional realm, the students prepared a collection of their best work. (Courtesy of Yua Wantanabe)

By Ruwani Jayasekara

May 29, 2024 5:49 p.m.

This post was updated May 30 at 5:20 p.m.

As the credits roll on their undergraduate careers, UCLA’s graduating class of actors bring their talents to the spotlight.

The annual Actor’s Showcase will grace the UCLA Nimoy Theater stage May 30, celebrating 19 theater students as they embark on their collective journey into the professional world. Presenting a curated selection of two-person scenes to an audience of industry professionals, fourth-year theater student and co-producer of the showcase Juliana Carrasco said the student-run event enables seniors to build a steady network in anticipation of the start of their careers. As a culmination of their time in the theatre, film and television department, Carrasco said graduates are encouraged to explore their artistic voices, showcasing the elements that best represent themselves as actors.

“I think (the industry) is so subjective, … with the arts and entertainment especially,” Carrasco said. “Our goal within that network is showing up and best representing ourselves … it’s just an olive branch towards networking and forming a community here in L.A.”

As the entertainment industry is continuously evolving, the Actor’s Showcase has adapted to include a virtual format, Carrasco said, maximizing the exposure students have to professionals within the industry. Developing a formal showcase website, the production team coordinated a professional video shoot for actors to build their demo reels and expand their online presence, Carrasco added. With the growing prevalence of self-tapes and virtual auditions, Carrasco said promoting the accessibility of actors’ work on a greater scale is crucial to establishing the relationships necessary for their future careers.

[Related: SYNC seeks to harmonize creative efforts of UCLA singer-songwriters, filmmakers]

As networking is inherent to the entertainment industry, the primary focus of the Actor’s Showcase is to connect graduating seniors with professionals ranging from casting agents to network executives, said Kelsie Høj, a fourth-year theater student and co-producer. Consisting of two showings, the hour-long showcases will be followed by a networking event, allowing actors to directly build a relationship with their professional audience, Carrasco added. Facilitated by the UCLA Theater department, the outreach committee utilized department connections to ensure seniors would be met with a high-profile audience that could jumpstart their careers, Høj said.

“There’s no real one path to becoming an actor, as I’m sure it’s very clear,” Høj said. “(There are) ways in which an actor can have agency over their own careers … in order for them to present their best work and show off what we’ve learned.”

While actors are typically cast to serve the needs of a scene, Høj said the showcase reverses that process, encouraging actors to select the scenes that best serve their distinctive abilities. The lengthy scene selection process began in winter quarter, Høj said, as it was essential for performers to identify which scenes and scene partners would both reflect their artistic identity and showcase their dramatic and comedic range in their limited time on stage.

“(The showcase) is less about the scene and more about us as performers, because at the end of the day … in the showcase, we’re marketing ourselves as performers,” Høj said. “My approach to this has been very different than the plays I’ve done in TFT just because selfishly, it’s more about me.”

Although the production is primarily facilitated by students, fourth-year theater student Olivia Braun said seniors received support from the theater department and external directors in their rehearsal process, allowing actors to receive constructive feedback on their performances. Braun said her creative process begins with her own examination of the script, identifying her unique relationship to the character and to her scene partner. In rehearsals, TFT professors take on a mentorship role, Braun added, encouraging seniors to dig deeper into the complexity of their characters through guiding questions.

“In preparation for everything, I’ve learned so much about the industry … and what it means to be a working actor,” Braun said. “Our class has worked really hard to demystify a lot of the industry, … but the more information we get, the more it feels like we have control and agency over our careers, and that is really empowering.”

[Related: Alex Henry’s horror-comedy ‘Goin’ Green’ refreshes coming-of-age genre]

Collaboration has been a key component in preparation for the showcase, Carrasco said, as performers find assistance and encouragement in their professors and peers. As the senior class share similar hopes and challenges in their departure from UCLA, Braun said they have provided immeasurable support in all stages of the showcase process, from identifying scenes that would highlight the talents of their peers to providing productive feedback during the rehearsal process. As the curtain closes on their senior year, Carrasco said the showcase embodies the emergence of a new generation of artists, reflecting on the unique circumstances and challenges her class has faced.

“We’re a group of artists who have a mission to change the industry and a mission to best represent others who look like us,” Carrasco said. “I think that’s what’s beautiful about our classes, we’re going to show up (to) showcase showing exactly who we are and why we want to pursue what we want to do.”

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