I'm taking a big leap. I'm headed back to school and back to Los Angeles, but there's nothing backwards about this move. I have accepted a scholarship and place in the MFA Acting program at the California Institute of the Arts, and I couldn't be more excited to give myself a gift of 3 years of immersion into art. I am curious to see what sort of powerhouse artist I become when all my energy and attention is focused on developing my skills, creative mindset, producing skills, and personal passions. I've decided to publish the artists statement I included as part of my graduate application to CalArts, as I believe it accurately describes why grad school, why acting, why now, and why CalArts.
"Artists Statement" For CalArts MFA Acting Application
When I was six, I asked my parents to remove the training wheels from my bike. Then I refused their help learning to ride the 2-wheeler. For three days I lurched up and down the block on my own, falling every few feet. Finally, covered in scrapes and bruises, I learned how to stay up and ride. The rest is history; I’m now a professional cyclist. No, just kidding. In all seriousness, I’m still a determined self-starter, passionately pursuing a career in acting and meeting challenges head-on.
Acting is the lens through which I learn about myself and the world. With each character, I seize the opportunity to examine, exaggerate, and manipulate pieces of my personality, history, voice, and body. I combine introspection with outward focus, incorporating imagination, compassion, and research. In this way, each role is a laboratory exploring how a particular person in a particular situation finds her way. Acting gives me the incredible opportunity to consistently examine and improve myself, connect with artists and audiences, and expand my boundaries of empathy ever outward. It is difficult to remain open and vulnerable despite all the scrapes and bruises of life, but I am naturally exuberant and empathetic. Maturity and training have shaped those raw qualities into artistic tools, and I remain committed to accessing my vulnerability and childlike curiosity. I do this by always trying new things, going towards what I fear with fear as a companion, instead of an impediment.
It is this drive for self-improvement that leads me to apply to CalArts to get the training that will lead me to become a versatile, prolific professional actor.I love that CalArts balances training the body as a physical instrument with rigorous scene training for stage and screen, culminating in professional preparation. Paired with the opportunity to take interdisciplinary electives, I believe this program best prepares me for my professional goals.
Additionally, the CalArts program dedicates its curriculum to collaboration, creating artists who can reach across disciplines; this is exactly the type of training I want. While acting is my engine, my full artistic machine includes writing, directing, and producing for stage and screen. An acting MFA allows me to understand the vulnerability I ask of an actor when I direct, and to access the minds and hearts of characters I write. I have decided to pursue an MFA in acting because I feel acting is the deepest practice of all my professional interests. It asks the most sacrifice and reflection. I can’t fake it or delegate it.
In the years since college that I’ve been living in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, I’ve learned how much I’m capable of and what sort of artist I want to be. I have played an Irish peasant at one of Portland’s Equity houses, Jackie Kennedy in an experimental movement piece, and the femme fatale in a Jacobean tragedy in a theater so intimate it’s called the Shoebox. I have served espresso in a financial services commercial and murdered my lover in a short film, among many other projects. When juicy, satisfying roles haven’t been available, I’ve created them for myself by writing, producing, and directing.
I love the diversity of my accomplishments from the beginning of my meaningful and unique career, but I’m ready to take my artistry to the next level. I want to work at Equity, LORT, and other regional theaters. I want to introduce myself to new markets outside of Portland. I want to explore unconventional styles, venues, and help create new work. I want to act both on stage and screen. With all I’ve achieved through hard work so far, I know that with the proper training and resources, I can become a career professional actor.
Aside from the practical goals for my career, I also place a premium on working on projects and with people and institutions that explore identity. This originates from studying in Dublin where I fell in love with the National Theatre of Ireland and its historical role shaping the Republic. My focus has grown to encompass art about gender and racial identity in particular, but personal and communal identities in general. My interest in gender equity lead me to focus on telling women’s stories like Playhouse Creatures by April DeAngelis which I co-produced in 2017 and in which I played the witchy, unconventional actress Mrs. Marshall. The script tells the history of theater pioneers in 1660s England, and our production and my performance were fueled by experiences of inequity faced by women in performance today. It challenged me to acknowledge and share some of my humiliating, discriminatory memories and channel my anger into a character and story relatable to a greater community.
I combined exploring feminine identity with my love of humor to make Potty Talk, a comedy series that has produced over 40 online videos and about a dozen live events. In addition to writing and directing all the sketches, I’ve acted in them as a pearl-adorned housewife who catcalls young men, a federal agent who investigates over-sharing, and a socialite who loves pimples and scabs, to name a few. Potty Talk originated because I wanted to be as funny as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, but couldn’t find available roles. I decided to make them myself. Similarly, modern actors I admire do not wait to be offered the dream role; they make the art that matters to them. I adore pioneering TV makers like Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, and Issa Rae, who act in comedies that are self-produced and/or self-written. These shows touch on racial and gender identity, politics, community, and also personal stuff like love, sex, and family. Like these artists, I want to write, produce, and direct so that I may create projects in which to shine as an actor while making socially relevant work.
My interests always lead me back to performing. To achieve my goals, I have more to learn. I want to improve my technique all around, but specifically want to expand my voice and breath capacity, increase access to sensitive emotions, simplify and loosen up physically, inhabit bigger and bolder characters, and strengthen my audition skills. I’m currently taking acting classes, Alexander Technique, and weekly ballet and yoga classes, but I am hungry for a more rigorous immersion into further training. I am also looking for connections, advice, and the endorsement of an MFA degree that may get my foot in the door with potential employers and collaborators. In addition to the acting training and career coaching, the availability of electives and workshops in screenwriting and playwriting and labs in other auxiliary skills are enormous attractions for me. I am excited to spend three years focusing on how to be an actor who continually challenges herself, responds to and contributes to public dialogue, creates enjoyable entertainment, and offers a unique and valuable perspective. I believe this program gives me the best chance to launch a fulfilling acting career. It’s time to take off my training wheels.
Brenan Dwyer's Blog
Looking for happiness in art daily.