As Chapin's Class 11 students begin the college search process, the College Guidance department is close at hand, making sure they have all the tools and assistance they need to succeed. This week, the students received helpful advice from two actors who graduated from The Juilliard School. During several intimate group sessions, Therese Barbato and Eliza Huberth shared their educational background and answered the students' thoughtful questions on everything from careers in the arts to the benefits of graduate school. Below are some highlights from their conversations.
How did you end up where you are today?
Therese: "I grew up in Chicago and had a lot of different interests as a child. I loved basketball, but when I was cut from the team I decided to audition for the school play. Whenever you have a moment where you feel electricity or 'lit up,' follow it. That's how I felt when I started acting. I realized that these were my people and this was my world. I could picture myself doing this for 12 hours a day and loving it. I went to Boston University for my undergraduate degree and then began acting in off-Broadway productions. But in my mid 20's I started to feel like I had hit a wall. I didn't know where to go or what to do, or if I should change my life completely, so I started applying to a wide variety of programs. It was a formative moment for me. I cast a wide net and waited to see what would happen. I got into Juilliard's graduate program – it all happened organically and felt right. Now, I act and host a podcast. I recently returned from a stay in Louisville where I performed in 'Angels in America.'"
Eliza: "I was born in Sunnyside, Queens, but grew up in Monroe, NY. I went to Kenyon College where I majored in drama and minored in music. After graduating from Kenyon, I moved to New York City and started auditioning while working part-time jobs. I started to realize that I was feeling restricted and wasn't the best actor I could be, so I decided to apply to graduate school. I attended Juilliard and now I'm living in Queens, working acting jobs when I get them while working other part-time jobs."
How did you decide between attending a university or a conservatory for your undergraduate degree?
Eliza: "My dad was my biggest supporter and a great influence because he knew Kenyon and he knew it would be a great fit for me. At Kenyon, I got the best of both worlds because I could pursue the arts while still getting a liberal arts education. I knew that I could always attend a conservatory for graduate school."
Therese: "Having a liberal arts education is a really great thing – and you can always attend a conservatory for graduate school. I don't think that an undergraduate conservatory experience is essential."
What are your thoughts on taking a gap year before going to college?
Eliza: "It wasn't really presented as an option or even really talked about when I was your age but I think it can be a really smart thing to take a year off to work or audition or volunteer and to really figure out what you want to do in the world, particularly if you can apply to a college and defer. That way, when you do get to college, you really know what you are there for."
Is it hard to land acting jobs even after attending Juilliard?
Therese: "Yes, it's still hard. It's just a part of what you sign up for with this lifestyle. Almost everyone we know, even those actors who are really successful, would say that it is very hard. You hear 'no' most of the time. That's just the reality of life as an artist. There are too many people for too few jobs, but we find a way to keep going."
Eliza: "Juilliard has helped in that I have more connections that I wouldn't have otherwise, but there is no golden ticket to success in this business."
How do you deal with the fear of getting "stuck" in your career?
Therese: "A lot of us have this fear, but people start new careers and reinvent themselves all the time, especially in New York City. When you feel stuck and get pushed up against the wall, that's when you start to get resourceful and just throw things out there. There are always opportunities – you just have to try to take the pressure off and be open to them."
Is it possible to keep an art form as a hobby even if it's not your career?
Therese: "Of course! You create your own life and it can be full of whatever you want. It isn't binary or mutually exclusive. If you love to sing, look at colleges that have great music programs or performance groups. If you like to dance, find a studio in the area you end up going to college. It is truly a gift to feel joy and passion for something – don't let it go."
What benefits did you receive from graduate school?
Eliza: "I wanted to be the best actor I could be and I wanted to keep learning, and for me that meant going to graduate school. Graduate school helped me to specify what I wanted to do. I loved the environment and I loved being able to continue my education."
Therese: "Graduate school isn't necessary for everyone or every career, but it creates community and connections and puts you out into the world in a new way."
Did you ever have second thoughts about making acting your career? Did you feel pressure to focus on a more academically driven path?
Eliza: "As a student your age, there is a lot of pressure - to have a great GPA, to volunteer, to participate in lots of extra-curricular activities. It's hard. But you'll start to realize that you don't have time for everything. Eventually you have to strip some things away and start to focus on what really matters to you."
Therese: "There's a quote I really like, 'follow your dreams and let your dreams follow you.' Pursuing a career in the arts can be challenging but you'll find little breadcrumbs of encouragement along the way that are helpful. No matter what you do, your passions will always follow you."
How do you handle hearing 'no?'
Therese: As an actor, and I think this applies to the college application process as well, there is a real importance in separating yourself from the 'no.' If you internalize the 'no' and let it make you feel like there is something wrong with you, you'll only hurt yourself. It's okay to feel disappointed, but you have to remember that rejection is not an indictment of who you are. These yes's and no's don't define you – they are just doorways that you may or may not walk through. And it really is true that you learn a lot more about yourself from hearing a 'no' than from hearing a 'yes.' A 'no' will either galvanize you to try harder or it will help you to realize that something wasn't that important to you after all."