I’d never really seen a celebrity before. I thought I saw Gloria Steinem on a public bus once, but other than that I’ve television screen has always separated me from famous people. I thought this was normal until my friends started bragging to me about all the celebrities they’ve met. “I saw Tyra Banks at a restaurant. I spent the entire night smizeing at her.”
“That’s nothing,” someone else said. “I saw Zac Efron at the beach and he said he liked my swim trunks.”
“Oh yeah, well I met Taylor Swift at a cookout before she was famous!” I was shocked and jealous. How come a celebrity never complimented my swim trunks?
Fortunately, amid the chaos of auditions for Titus Andronicus and K’s improv comedy team, Monkapult, the theater department hosted a casual teatime talk with that guy who plays Glenn in The Walking Dead. I realize that might not be as impressive as the three previous examples, but if I’m going to start having casual encounters with celebrities, I might as well start off small. The guy who plays Glenn in The Walking Dead, or Steven Yeun as IMDB has informed me, graduated from Kalamazoo College in 2005 and has since had a successful career in improv comedy and television acting. I also happen to be a fan of The Walking Dead, which is a very well done show about the zombie apocalypse.
After everyone helped themselves to some complimentary tea, cookies and fancy cheese, all the theater students clustered themselves against the back window of the Balch lobby. Steven Yuen sat in the center of the lobby on a folding chair and told us the story of his incredible and rapid success in both Chicago and LA. When you study theater you hear countless many horror stories of ambitious and naïve people who try get a job acting only to ruin their lives. Steven’s story was just the opposite. He was working at a restaurant for only four months in LA before he landed the role in The Walking Dead. “Please don’t take any of my advice,” he kept saying, “I’ve just been incredibly fortunate in every risk I took.” If anything, it was inspiring. I’m not expecting to become a main character in a commercially successful TV show, but I loved hearing about all the things he did, especially about all his improv work and his independent performances Chicago. What made it even more exciting was the fact that when he went to K, he was a Monkapult member, just like me. When he talked about touring with Second City, I started thinking, “Hey, I love performing and if I play my cards right, there’s a career in it.”
I went into Fall Quarter Monkapult callbacks immediately afterwards, fueled off Steven Yuen’s inspirational high. During the audition I was in a scene in which my friend Joe and I writhed around on the floors pretending to be honeybees that had eaten too much honey. “Ugh BZZZZZZ I can’t fly anymore BZZZZZZZ.” As I absorbed the cackles from my peers I kept thinking, “Golly, what if doing this was my job!”
Late that night, the Monkapult team captains emailed out the cast list. I’m excited to announce that I will once again be on Monkapult! My friend Grace and my roommate Sam also got on. Then Grace received a text from Joe: “I didn’t make the team.” Joe was on the team spring quarter and I thought he was a shoe-in. “How can they do that?” Grace yelled, launching into one of her monologues. “I thought his audition was great, how can that happen? This is what I hate about theater. It’s so cutthroat! And this is just a small ensemble. What about big things? Yeah, people like Steven Yuen can come out on top, but there are so many people stuck permanently in showbiz purgatory, cursed to clean countertops while they dream about making the short list.”
Grace was right. Steven Yuen’s story is almost a miracle in the entertainment industry. The world of theater and film is harsh and unforgiving. It doesn’t matter how hard you work. If you’re not the right type, if don’t know the right people, if someone else can do it slightly better, the world will show you no mercy. I think about that all the time, and yet I still can’t imagine happiness comparable to moments when I become another character on stage and I believe everything I’m doing. When I stare down an anxious audience and transform into a flamboyant serial killer, holding an imaginary corncob pipe in-between my teeth, all I can think is, “I love doing this.”