Akshay Sharma, Rachel Teague and Ellis Beardley in After Juliet.
This year, SCR’s Conservatory is saying goodbye to four of its longtime students, a group of talented 2010 graduates off to make their way in the world. Ellis Beardsley (Pacific Coast High), Graham Pezzuti (Irvine High), Rachel Teague (Calvary Chapel) and Akshay Sharma (University High) have a combined total of more than 30 years of Conservatory experience, so before they toss their caps in the air, we asked them to share their favorite memories and pass along words of wisdom to the students who will follow them.
How old were you when you started taking classes at SCR?
Rachel: About 10.
What is your favorite thing about the program?
Ellis: I love how the program has enabled me to grow as an actor while still transforming me as a person. Between all of the classes and plays I have been involved with at the Conservatory, each one has enabled me to learn skills that I can apply to everyday life.
Graham: I would have to give the title of “favorite thing” to the overall philosophy of SCR: process over product. When I did drama at school or heard other actors talking about their experiences with acting, I began to realize more and more that there are many different way to actually act. SCR’s emphasis on the actual acting process, not just putting on a play, allowed me to really explore acting as an art form, and slowly try to find my place, at least style-wise, in the “universe of acting.”
Rachel: Learning is more important than a good show. Process over product.
Akshay: I was able to connect with other young people from around Orange County over a passion for something that did not involve school. These were young artists that were amazingly talented, and the fact that I got to work with them every week really made me excited.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned during your time here?
Ellis: I have truly learned the importance of an ensemble. Throughout the seven years, I have grown with many different groups and casts, each one leaving me with new skills and memorable experiences. A cohesive and trusting ensemble enables an actor to take risks and push themselves.
Graham: One seemingly small lesson that has stayed with me to this day was the power of subtlety when acting.
Rachel: Keep the acting for on the stage. People will love you for simply being yourself.
Akshay: Never say no. In life or in the theater, the most crippling thing a person can do is to refuse to try something new. Taking risks leads to discovery, progress and ultimately the birth of a passion.
What advice would you give students just joining the Conservatory?
Ellis: Don't be afraid to take risks. Everyone is nervous at times, so you have to trust the other people around you. By doing so, both you and your classmates will reach their full potential.
Graham: Open up your mind.
Rachel: Be yourself, do your work (it's fun work!), and cherish your time at SCR. There's no other place like it.
Akshay: Enjoy your time in the Conservatory. Discover something about yourself.
Ellis: I would have to say playing Aphrodite in Metamorphoses. It was so much fun being able to play a character laced with jealousy and anger; it wasn't a character I was able to play too often!
Graham: Probably my role in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, since I technically had three small roles that added up to one role. The three covered every aspect I could have asked for: the dim-witted comic relief, the big guy who gets to knock someone out, and the mysterious, imposing mini-villain.
Rachel: I think the one I am working on right now, as Rosaline in After Juliet. It is a very challenging role for me, which I love, but also I have found that I can relate to her more than I thought. The sword fighting is also a plus.
Akshay: Tom Gradgrind from Hard Times.
What’s the hardest thing for you about acting?
Ellis: I have always had a hard time erasing my self-consciousness and taking bold risks. It has been a long process over the past seven years, but I know that I have made huge leaps since I started. SCR has shown me that it's OK not to be perfect, as long as you're giving it your all.
Graham: Remembering that there is an audience that has to actually hear what you are saying.
Rachel: Coming up with the specific details about characters, and making sure what my character is feeling is specific as well.
Akshay: Keeping the work very simple. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in yourself, and push a little too hard. I guess I've learned that acting is not "trying to act" but really "trying to be."
What’s the most rewarding thing?
Ellis: The feeling I get after we've had a good run-through of a show. There's a certain feeling that comes when the cues were tight, emotional connections were being made, and you gave the show 100 percent of your efforts.
Graham: Getting to step into another reality for a little while.
Rachel: I get to experience things that I never would go through in my own life.
Akshay: At the end of rehearsal, I come home and I am mentally and physically exhausted, but at the same time I feel I have actually accomplished something. It feels good to rest after a good day's work.
What are your plans for next year?
Ellis: I will be going to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I hope to continue working in their theatre program along with my other interests.
Graham: Attend Academy of Arts University in San Francisco to major in motion pictures and television.
Rachel: Just going to OCC.
Akshay: I will be attending Harvard University.