Next fall, six CHS alums will be pursuing theatre as their major in college. Globe spoke to these students about their experiences at Clayton, as well as their hopes for their futures in the limelight.
“I’ve loved dancing since I was young and my passion for theatre was just a slow progression from that,” CHS senior and thespian Kamal Lado said. “It just always felt good to do theatre and to be on stage.”
Lado is starting to look at his future as an actor and as a theatrical educator. He has acted in Cabaret, Middletown, Hairspray and Sweet Charity here at CHS. In addition, Lado has participated in numerous shows at Nerinx Hall High School, as well as shows at The Muny throughout his time in high school.
“I’ve been involved in theatre since elementary school when I started dance lessons at COCA,” Lado said. “I was involved with almost every show throughout middle school and high school. I took acting classes, I was in choir and show choir and basically got involved with anything theatre related.”
Lado will be attending Elon University this fall to study musical theatre.
“I’m most excited to finally be doing what I want to do in college,” Lado said. “I get to take classes in areas I’m passionate about.”
One person in particular, Kelley Weber, inspired Lado to not only pursue acting, but to also become a teacher and mentor. Weber, one of CHS’s theatre teachers, has touched many of the students pursuing theatre, including Lado.
“Kelley Weber is one of the most incredible teachers I have worked with and she inspired and pushed me,” Lado said. “She showed me that I have what it takes to be successful.”
Lado has put everything into the shows that he has been a part of and encourages those who wish to follow in his footsteps to do the same.
“Keep pushing. I know it gets hard but I encourage you to keep training,” Lado said. “Take dance class, get a voice teacher, take acting class and keep performing. You have so much potential.”
“Ever since 6th grade, I really enjoyed taking the acting classes. I kept auditioning and I think it was around the middle of Pride and Prejudice; that’s where I was like, ‘I want to keep doing this’,” CHS senior Luke Elliott said.
Elliott has been participating in Clayton theatre programs since sixth grade. While at CHS, Elliott committed himself to roles in Tartuffe, Pride and Prejudice, Cabaret, Grease, The Tempest, Middletown and Two Noble Kinsmen.
Elliott’s classmates have helped him to better comprehend competition, rejection and what it means to be part of a theatre company.
“It’s bizarre. Usually the senior class has maybe one or two students who will audition for [a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree] in college. This year is absurd; the talent is absurd,” Elliot said.
Elliott hopes to pursue a major in either theatre education or acting while attending Columbia College in Chicago.
His participation in main-stage shows, drama classes with Weber and acting festivals over the summer have allowed him to improve his technique as well as to gain experience.
The fun atmosphere of the theatre community continues to draw Elliott in.
“Be goofy,” said Elliott. “Don’t try to be super professional, because it’s not fun if you don’t let yourself be weird. Just be able to let go and have complete fun with it.”
“Because I have known that I wanted to be an actor my whole life, I am excited to finally be doing the thing that I want to do,” CHS senior Hannah Ryan said.
Ryan has been involved in every theatre production at CHS since freshman year. She has also acted with numerous groups outside of Clayton. For example, Ryan performed in a COCA show called Quilters and The Miracle Worker at the Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis. Ryan also acted in a Mustard Seed Theatre show called Kindertransport with Weber, who is also Ryan’s mother.
“It was really a beautiful show and it was interesting to do a show with my mother,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s parents have been influential in her involvement with theatre in other ways as well. Her mother has taught her drama classes and her parents instilled a love of theatre in her from a very early age.
“I got the onstage love [of theatre] from my mother and my dad would bring me backstage. I gained an appreciation for what it takes to put on a show from my dad,” Ryan said.
Ryan will study at Webster University and major in acting. However, she is sad to leave CHS behind.
“The friends that I’ve made in my grade during theater and the friends that are in grades below me have shaped exactly who I am. I have these really unique relationships with people that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t done a show with them or been in theater class with them,” she said.
Ryan hopes that other students will be brave enough to be involved in productions as well.
“It is all so much fun and you’ll never know unless you try,” Ryan said. “Try to get rid of those fears that you may have because the overall experience is so much more fulfilling than you could ever anticipate.”
“When I got to high school, [everything] just came back to theatre, everything I did was for the goal of getting myself ahead in theatre and improving my skills and my technique and it just was never anything else,” CHS senior Lisi Levy said. “I can’t see myself in a world other than theatre because I don’t think anything else would make me as happy.”
Throughout high school, Levy has participated in almost all of CHS’ main-stage productions. She has also committed much of her time after school to partake in COCA’s honor student program, in which she takes a minimum of seven dance classes per week.
Levy admitted that her schedule can be overwhelming.
“You have these moments where you’re like, ‘why am I doing this, why am I putting myself through this?’” she said.
Despite the difficulty that balancing academics and extracurriculars presents, Levy often experiences uplifting moments on stage that remind her why performing is her passion.
“Hairspray is a good example of like, right before I left for auditions I had that nice confidence boost,” she said.
Although she juggled with the idea of pursuing a different career, Levy decided to focus entirely on theatre and will be majoring in musical theatre at Oklahoma City University this fall.
Levy expressed her fear of the instability within the acting community, joking that she hopes to never become a waitress. One of Levy’s past teachers overheard her and cut in.
“Waiting tables?! A star like you? You were so good [in Hairspray] as usual. What am I going to do without you, Lisi?” the teacher said.
Levy gave advice to students who hope to explore theatre and music as she did.
“Things will not always be handed to you or come your way when you want them to, but being a persistent person and always committing to the material that you’re given–I cannot stress that enough,” Levy said.
“I was talking to my parents about where I should apply for college. The thing that I love most is theatre but I didn’t think that I was good enough. But then I got Mary Swanson in the fall play and Charity in Sweet Charity and it was reassuring to get two leads in one year,” CHS senior Lauren Aiello said.
Aiello acted in the spring musicals during her freshman and sophomore year. She was also involved in all three shows both her junior and senior years.
Later this year, she will also perform in the senior showcase. In addition to the shows at CHS, Aiello did community theatre during elementary and middle school.
Aiello recently decided that she will study acting at Missouri State and will audition for the BFA musical theatre program for the spring semester.
“It’s so scary that I haven’t auditioned yet and I’m going to this school. A big reason that I’m going there [is] because they have a great theatre program that’s growing right now and I’m so scared that I won’t get into it,” Aiello said.
Aiello’s theatre friends have shaped who she is.
“It’s so nice to have a group of people that you can just vent with and talk with and they understand it,” Aiello said.
Although it is important to have a passion for acting, Aiello’s advice to younger actors is that it is vital to take classes.
“The best choice I ever made was taking an acting class last year. I think some people are like okay I can act,” Aiello said. “But no, you have to take a class, because there are so many things that you maybe thought you knew but you learn from an actual class.”
“I started doing theatre in 4th grade. I really liked it and I kept doing it,” CHS senior Tessa O’Bryan said. “I knew then that I wasn’t to pursue it and make a career out of it. It’s funny, because as my senior year has gone on, I’m less sure that I want to be a full-time, professional actress. Regardless, I’ll still do theatre, but maybe just not as my number one job. This is a reason why I want to go to college and figure it all out.”
O’Bryan will be attending the University of Southern California this fall.
“I applied to 11 schools. I got into 7 out of the 11. It’s different because most schools I either auditioned or sent in a portfolio into, and there were two schools I didn’t audition for,” O’Bryan said.
O’Bryan is not interested in musical theatre– instead, she is pursuing acting. In addition, she is also interested in what goes into a play before it is seen on the main stage.
“USC is in the middle of LA, so I’d like to experiment with playwriting and screen-writing and film,” O’Bryan said. “The New York crowd is musical theatre, and LA is more film.”
O’Bryan has acted in Pippin, Charlie Brown, Pride and Prejudice, as well as other shows here at CHS.
Last year she spent her summer at a course at Missouri State developing her acting skills. She’s also been working with Clayton Community Theatre since she was in elementary school.
“We did a production of ‘The Women’ so it was a cast of all women,” O’Bryan said. “So I was 17, and everyone there was old enough to be my mother or my grandmother. It was really cool to be in this company. I was constantly given advice about life and theatre and the world.”
As her final year comes to a close, O’Bryan gives advice to those who are interested in pursuing theatre later as well.
“Keep an open mind,” O’Bryan said. “Some careers are very set—theatre is not like that at all. A lot of me wishes it were. Go with the flow. Keep looking; keep trying.”