Three senior theater major students, who are graduating this June, are ready to move forward and pursue their theater career in their own ways.
June is a season of graduation in the city of Eugene, Ore. Each student is excited and anxious at the same time. Kyle Leibovitch, Derek Verhoest and Sophie Kruip, theater students at University of Oregon, are not the exception. Leibovitch is going to New York to attend a conservatory for acting. Verhoest is starting his acting career in Portland, Ore. Kruip is getting an apprenticeship position at a theatre in Philadelphia, Pa. They have been studying and working hard together on the shows at university theatres with other great theater mates and amazing faculties. No one can argue about University of Oregon theater department not offering one of the top best programs in the country. However, Leibovitch, Verhoest and Kruip believe that a broad range of experiences and its uniqueness of UO theater department made them realize what they really love.
Theater students know that pursuing any types of theater career is not easy. According to John Schmor, the UO theater department head, no more than 10% of the students who graduate move into a professional theater work field right away after they graduate over the last six years. Also, not a lot of students go to a graduate school or conservatory. Many students tend to get a non-theatrical job at the beginning and keep trying for a while, which has always been how theater people start out. For example, a number of students work for Netflix and help the customers on the phone.
“When you are 21, you are floundering to figure out how to break into the business or how you want to do with it.” Schmor says. “It takes a couple of years.”
In fact, theater students have a lot of advantages in the business field, according to Schmor. They are self-disciplined. They know the importance of meeting a deadline. They, especially the actors, are often well spoken and professional when speaking in front of people. They know how to dress. And they know how to cooperate. Because of that, many of the students usually do not have a hard time finding some kind of job as their first step.
“I think we are really good at giving students a broad range of experiences, and we are really good at supporting the liberal arts degree,” Schmor says.
Students in theater at University of Oregon are required to take many kinds of classes, such as acting, stage setting, costume and make-ups, directing, playwriting and drama history.
Verhoest thinks that it is valuable for the actors to learn about the different aspects of theater production. By taking non-acting classes, actors will be able to have different perspectives and build a better relationship with other members of the production staff, such as directors and designers.
Leibovitch says that the comprehensive program gives time to students to deeply think about what they really want to do in the future. For example, Kruip was nominated, as an actor, to join the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival twice. KCACTF is a national theater festival program in every February, which involves 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide to help improving the quality of college theaters in the country. Although she really enjoyed acting, she then realized how competitive the acting world is. It made her wonder whether acting is something that she really wants to do.
At the same time, the UO theater department as “jack of all trades, master of none” could also be a downside in some situations.
“I am just worried that I don’t have enough skills in any one area,” Kruip says. “By the time to you to decide, it is the time to you to leave.” She did not choose to go to graduate school because of the money issue. She did not really want to spend $40,000 more for an education.
The city of Eugene is not a perfect place for theater people either.
Schmor says that there is no theater in Eugene that pays professionally. Though Lord Leebrick Theatre Company pays on a semi-professional basis, there is no equity company.
After Leibovitch moved to Eugene from Los Angeles, where he grew up, and fell in love with theater, he found that the UO theater department was inspiring. He thinks that he could not make a decision to go to New York to pursue his dream without it. But he also admits that he cannot be satisfied by staying in Eugene.
“I want more. I want to really just invest myself,” he says.
Kruip built a great relationship with the faculties, backstage crews and classmates in her four years of college life. She also loves the laid-back atmosphere of Eugene. She is originally from California but does not want to move back to the big cities, such as New York or Los Angeles. At the same time, she is not satisfied with a city with very few community theaters, such as ACE, Actors Cabaret of Eugene.
“I am more ambitious and more driven, so moving to a new city is pretty important at this point for opportunity,” she says.
Despite of these concerns, the students appreciate what UO theater department gave them. One of the things that the students are really proud of about the program is the Pocket Playhouse. The Pocket Playhouse is the smallest theatre in the basement of the Villard Hall, which is completely under the direction and operation of students. The theatre is open to all UO students to hold any kinds of show. Because of the limited number of shows and crews, not all theater students are able to join the main university shows that are performed at the Robinson and Hope Theatres. The Pocket Playhouse is a chance for those students who do not have any former theater experiences. Some students take classes and then do their first show at the Pocket Playhouse, and some does the opposite.
“It’s very experimental,” Verhoest says.
Kruip experienced every aspect of theater at the Pocket Playhouse. She acted. She designed. She stage-managed.
“You can do whatever you want in there,” she says.
Those experiences had greatly helped her building her resume to apply for the apprenticeship.
“This is a special resource that we have, and I wish that more people would take an advantage of it,” she says.
One of the shows that Leibovitch is very proud of is Sonnets for an Old Century, which was performed at the Pocket Playhouse last year. It is a series of monologues written by Jose Rivera, and that was when he realized that he loves to play a serious character, like the murderer that he played at Sonnets. Even though he himself was fortunate enough to get a chance to be involved in the main shows from the beginning, Leibovitch thinks that the Pocket Playhouse is a great place to be seen by the directors, which is kind of like an audition.
“If you are in the theater, you are going to get denied. That’s just inevitable,” Leibovitch says. “It’s a good opportunity to be auditioned and get used to auditioning in a less stressed situation.”
These Students all have different dreams in theater field. What is common among them, however, is that they all aim to make living out of something they really love to do. The dream might not come true right after they get the degree, but they believe it will eventually.
Kruip’s final goal is to own her own theater. Her dream theater is not just for plays but also for many different forms of arts.
“If I do someday own my own theater, I could do acting, maybe in the theater that I own. That would be ideal,” she says.
Leibovitch’s final goal is to act professionally and work. He does not want to be a one-hit wonder. He wants to keep acting.
“I’m totally content with just being able to work consistently,” he says.
Verhoest says, “I will be happy just supporting myself as an actor.”
The most important thing for him, he says, is to keep doing what he really loves.
He says, “The worst thing that can happen is me giving up on the career.”
Kyle Leibovitch, 23-years-old, is going to a conservatory for acting called Atlantic Acting School in New York.
“I didn’t feel like I was ready quite yet to go right into acting career because I was kind of new to theater,” he says.
He was originally majoring in human physiology in his first two years at University of Oregon. But after taking the second year acting class, he just fell in love with theater, especially the people.
“I think my personality fits more towards theater than human physiology people,” Leibovitch says.
He thinks that the human physiology people were more introverted, which did not suit his outgoingness. His personality was more of a weird one, which he thinks who exactly theater people are. The great thing about acting for him is that he can pretend to be and live a life of someone else. He also loves people and to talk to people. So, he changed his major at the end of his junior year and determined to devote his life to acting.
Leibovitch did not have any former theater experiences. However, surprisingly, changing major in the middle of his college life did not scare him.
“It was an easy decision for me,” he says. “I felt at home.”
Derek Verhoest, 22-years-old, is stepping into the film acting. He has already started his acting career by being part of a TV show, Leverage, as well as short films and feature films in Portland. He will pursue his film acting career for the present. In his opinion, there is a lot more job opportunities in the filming industry than in the theatrical productions. Also, theater shows take a lot of time for the rehearsals, which does not allow actors to join several different works. His plan is to work at a deli place and audition in his off time until he can support himself as a fulltime actor.
“I really don’t mind being like a server or a waiter or a bartender,” Verhoest says. “I think it goes well with my lifestyle.”
Verhoest had been a business major for two years until he first visited to the university theatre and knew about the UO theater program. At the same time, Verhoest’s enthusiasm toward acting has been deep inside his heart. He used to play when he was in 5th grade and has always been an outgoing person. So, when he found out about the theatre, he did not hesitate to join the audition to act at university theatre. Since then, he is completely absorbed in acting. He switched his major few months after his debut to the university theatre.
“I honestly don’t know why I wasn’t in a theater major before,” he says. “It’s just like this missing piece of my life that I didn’t have.”
Sophie Kruip, 21-years-old, is planning to get an apprenticeship position at Arden Theatre in Philadelphia, Pa. It is hands-on company management experience opportunities, including box office, fund raising and stage management works. Her plan is to work at small theaters and get part time jobs at restaurants at the same time to earn her living for a while. She is ready for the challenging theater life in front of her.
She has been an actor since her 3rd grade and believed that acting is what she is going to do for the rest of her life.
“I still love the acting and I love the recognition too, and I love working with people so closely in a cast,” Kruip says. “I just love so much about it, except for the lifestyle that professional acting would needs.”
Kruip does not want to live an insecure and unstable life with a lot of moving around for a tour. It is just not her style of life.