THE GRADUATES (clockwise from top left); Lauren Dong, Sarah Frazin, Sarah Sparks, Ella Web, Louis Tonkovich and Ben Susskind.
When the 2020 pandemic led to a global shut-down, students in South Coast Repertory’s Theatre Conservatory were undaunted. They rose to the challenge when their studies migrated online and rehearsals for the Teen Players—an ensemble of advanced acting students—took place on Zoom. In fact, even the Players spring production of Metamorphoses by Mary Zimmerman was achieved through Zoom so that parents and families could watch the show, some from as far away as Washington D.C., New York and Japan.
This year, the Conservatory bids farewell to six high school seniors who now embark on a new adventure at universities around the country.
To a person, the seniors say they’re grateful for the lessons learned, friendships developed and memories created during their acting studies at SCR. Saying farewell is the tough part, though. And they offer up heartfelt thanks to Hisa Takakuwa, Conservatory director, Erin McNally, musical theatre instructor and Mercy Vasquez, instructor and director.
The students will start in the fall at universities in California and New York—some keeping theatre as a focus, others branching out to different fields.
- Lauren Dong will be attending the University of California, San Diego, to study theatre.
- Sarah Frazin will also be at UC-San Diego to study theatre.
- Sarah Sparks will be attending the University of California, Los Angeles, to study playwriting.
- Ben Susskind will also attend UCLA to study playwriting.
- Louis Tonkovich will be attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, to study political science and sociology.
- Ella Webb will be attending New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study acting.
For Susskind, “The past three years I’ve spent in Hisa’s [Takakuwa’s] class have been groundbreaking for me as an actor and a person in general. She treats us like professional adults, while still understanding that we are teenagers and we are going to act like it sometimes. I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to work with her.”
Webb reflects on the impact SCR acting teachers had on her, saying, “They taught me to care deeply about others and to always remain curious about the world around me.”
Some of the seniors’ favorite memories are learning dances. “The collective learning and enthusiasm we all had for the dance always energized me and got me excited for class”, says Tonkovich.
A favorite annual event for Sparks was called “SCRom”—a Conservatory version of the prom, since play rehearsals usually happened each spring during prom season. The acting students created their own special event, drawing names from a hat and then creatively asked out the person whose name was drawn. A student’s family would then host the “SCRom” itself.
“I loved watching the SCRom proposals because you get to see your friends do all these nice things for each other,” says Sparks.
All six seniors say the life lessons learned in acting classes have given them more self-confidence and taught them to have empathy and compassion for others.
“People may not realize, I certainly didn’t, that acting is a very vulnerable thing,” says Dong. “It requires deep human connection, good listening skills and effortful communication. Those three lessons I will cherish in my life, acting or not, forever.”
Frazin agrees, saying, “I have an improved sense of self-confidence and purpose as a result of my experiences at SCR.”
From all of us at SCR to this group of grads—Congratulations! We also thank them and our current and continuing students for their commitment to the theatrical arts.