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MFA Acting Graduates Take Chicago by Storm

By Amanda Morad | June 14, 2013

2013 MFA Acting Cohort

A group of 11 Regent University students, the graduating MFA Acting cohort of 2013, drove to Chicago in May to present a scene showcase for local agents and casting directors. While the cohort normally presents its work in New York City, Chicago's theatre scene has burgeoned to the point that many students are now being drawn by the more intimate market.

"We presented our 43 minute showcase at Stage 773, a beautifully renovated theatre in Chicago," Professional-in-Residence Mark Paladini reported. "We noticed that more students were moving to Chicago rather than New York, and this year we were encouraged to bring our showcase there by a wonderful casting director named Becca McCracken who attended our showcase last year in Naples, Fla., along with her husband, Chicago agent Michael McCracken."

In between shows, Becca evaluated photos of every actor and gave them professional advice regarding the standards expected of actors in Chicago. Michael shared his perspective from the other side of the aisle as an agent.

"Their generosity helped make the event an encouraging success," Paladini said. "They really helped make the showcase a memory that the students will always cherish."

Several important Chicago agencies attended the showcase, allowing the students to get their headshots and their acting chops in front of people that could potentially help them procure future employment.

"The biggest takeaway for me was that you have to really reach out and network as an actor," said cohort member Ashley Dakin. "You can't expect opportunities to be handed to you on a plate."

But Regent's MFA graduates are equipped to handle the often hostile job market actors must thrive in. "My time at Regent helped me understand the basics of the business," Dakin explained. "'Auditioning and the Business of Acting' with Mark Paladini really prepared me for what to expect. I believe that no matter where I live, I will know how to get connected to the industry from what I learned in his class and through the showcase experience."

As the students got a taste of what professional networking in the acting world is like, they also realized the importance of community. "No matter how talented or hardworking you are, being an actor is tough and competitive," Dakin added. "It helps when you have a support system in place."

"Some of the members of our cohort hadn't toured before, so I think packing a van, driving for two days, and adapting our show to a new space quickly was an exercise in resilience," said cohort member Ashley Manning-O'Dell. She is one of several recent graduates with their sights set on the Windy City.

"We have a group of friends converging there, many from Regent," she explained. "The ten of us or so would like to start doing our own productions for the public. We are all MFAs with solid training, and are able to fill a wide variety of roles on a production team."

Like many of their peers, Dakin and Manning-O'Dell are making contacts and putting applications out to schools and theatres in several markets outside of Hampton Roads where they've been trained.

"I feel totally prepared to take on a new acting market," Manning-O'Dell said. "The education I received from Regent is fantastic; the graduate theatre faculty has become like family, and they've set a strong foundation for us. My cohort-mates and I are primed to contribute to the arts community."

Learn more about the School of Communication & the Arts.


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