Q/A w/ Shenyse Harris
From art school to graduate school: With graduation on the horizon, Shenyse Harris, a senior in the Performing Arts Department, recently joined the legions of graduating students from this school and around the country auditioning for graduate performing arts programs. Harris, a BFA Acting major, has appeared in a number of productions during her time at SFUAD, including Dracula, Our Lady of 121st Street, Some Girl(s), and Once on This Island. Harris sat down with Jackalope to discuss the audition process, her prep work with PAD faculty member Jon Jory, and her successful audition for one prestigious MFA program.
Jackalope Magazine: Why did you want to become an actress?
Shenyse Harris: Mostly it was because I missed my sister a lot growing up. My sister is about 13 years older than me, and she moved away to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. I think for me, acting was something that made me feel closer to her and gave us something to talk about, because, you know, when you have an older sister, you sometimes don’t really have a lot in common or a lot to talk about, so it was a common ground for us. Then, from there, it kind of grew and progressed into something that I was good at. I always wanted to do sports. I danced, I did sports, and then acting happened.
JM: Why did you choose Santa Fe University of Art and Design?
SH: The financial aid packet was pretty bomb! (laughs) But at the time, I was in a mindset of just trying to leave the house and I auditioned for a lot of schools at the International Thespians Festival, and I got callbacks…but for some reason my mind wasn’t set on going to a lot of schools that had older programs. I was more concerned about cost and payment and stuff like that. So, my thing was trying to find a good program that I could go to that would give me enough money, but still had good faculty and staff. So I did my research [on SFUAD] and I looked up a lot of the directors. Of course there was Mr. [Jon] Jory, who was a big plus for me.
JM: Why do you want to go to grad school for acting?
SH: I never thought about going to grad school when I first got here. Not at all! I was really convinced when I came here, freshman year, that I would do a couple of shows and leave and go back home and do some shows with the Alley Theater in Houston. I think it wasn’t until my sophomore year, when I was really active in the company, that Mr. Jory sat me down and said ‘you should probably audition for grad school.’ I thought to myself, ‘No, I shouldn’t, it’s a lot more money, it’s a waste of time, I’m probably not even gonna get that far.’ That was my mindset. I thought my work was good but I didn’t think it was substantial enough to thrive at a grad school. But because he said that, it made me think long and hard about grad school. I thought about it for about a year and a half before I said yes.
JM: What grad schools did you audition for and why?
SH: I auditioned for Yale, NYU, Juilliard and Brown University. I did URTA [University/Resident Theatre Association] auditions, which are these cattle call auditions, and I ended up also auditioning for CalArts, UCLA, University of Tennessee, just to name a few. But for the first four I mentioned, I chose those because they have really good programs and I thought to myself, ‘You know, not everyone can say they auditioned for these programs.’ I decided to do it because I felt like, as an actor, I owed it myself to go for the best of the best. I’m not saying that those are just the best, but they’re the ones lots of people talk about and recommend.
JM: What were the auditions like?
SH: Stressful! They’re definitely stressful. There’s definitely this moment where you are about to go in and you realize there’s a bunch of people staring at you and watching you. They’re actually hoping for you to do something good, they want you to be talented…they want to find the good in you. There’s also definitely a lot of energy. A lot of people – I call them ‘energy suckers’ – distract you. You know, you’re sitting there, about to go in, you’re focused, and someone just starts talking to you and you’re like ‘oh great, thanks! You just broke my concentration!’ So that happens a lot. But it’s definitely a learning experience. I don’t want to say they [the auditions] were hard, because nerves can make things harder, but it was a lot easier than what I thought it was going to be because of all the audition work and prep we do here in the department. I felt very prepared in that area.
JM: How did you prepare for the auditions?
SH: Mr. Jory has been my guardian angel. Not only to me, but to everyone who has auditioned for grad schools. I found some classical monologues, mostly Shakespeare, and some contemporary pieces, and worked on them a lot. I’ve been working on them since the beginning of the school year. Mr. Jory was very patient with me, helping me pick which ones to do. Once every two to three weeks, we’d meet up and he’d give me direction and critique, and I would take that and work on it.
JM: What advice do you have for other people hoping to audition for grad school?
SH: Be yourself. The schools I got callbacks from, like CalArts and Brown University, were [auditions] where I was myself for the most part. You can act and portray a character all day long, but if you don’t have a good personality and a redeeming quality in yourself that shows your sense of individuality, then it doesn’t really set you apart. I think that’s one of the reasons I got into Brown University. I think it was based not only on my talent, but the guy who talked to me, he really wanted to get to know me, and I got in.
JM: Wow, so you’re in?
SH: Yeah, I’m in! It’s kinda crazy because it’s an Ivy League school, so it’s totally and completely different from here and where I’m from and what I’m used to. I’m going there this weekend to visit. I’m really nervous, and I think I’m more nervous about this than anything I’ve ever done. But yeah, be yourself, know your material, and don’t half-ass it.