a. full disclosure
b. being vulnerable
c. revealing my process...
I have posted my past two years' Personal Statements for NYU below, which were submitted with my application for the MFA in Acting program, first in 2010 and then in 2011.
For continuity's sake, I've just included the essays for NYU. I wrote something similar for Yale each year as well; Though I did make some adjustments for each Yale essay, since the schools are different and therefore my reasons for being attracted to their program were changed accordingly.
But essentially, I am the same me, so the "personal" essays I wrote for each school are fundamentally reflections of my own personal perception of my own story at the time that I auditioned.
My past essays will have no bearing on what I choose to write for my 2012 application. However, since this blog is all about examining my process, I feel it may be helpful to show here what I have written about in the past.
For my 2010 NYU Grad Acting application...
If you want to be a professional actor, here’s my advice: Get your undergraduate degree in anything you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be in theatre. In fact, it might be better if it’s not. Good actors need a broad education. Travel. It’s a great big world. Encountering other cultures will teach you to appreciate just how different and how similar we humans are. Grow up. Live life. It seems simple, but it’s really important. There’s no substitute for experience and maturity. After all that, if you still want to get the kind of specialized training you’ll need as a foundation for an enduring acting career, go to graduate school.
These words, as I recall them, were spoken by my then-on-stage-father, Richard Seer, after a performance of The Real Thing. I was at a crossroads in my life and as I listened to his sage advice, lightening bolts of joy electrified my 19-year-old creative soul.
“You mean that I have the freedom to expand myself as a person and know that anything I do in my life will help me grow as an actor?... Brilliant!!!” In that moment, I embraced the concept that constructing an acting career is a unique journey for every individual. I didn’t have to limit myself to a “traditional” path; I could find my own.
As Anton Chekhov famously said, “If you want to work on your art, work on your life,” and that is what I joyously set out to do. I have spent the last nine years living my life according to this paradigm.
As an undergraduate at Cal State Fullerton, I dedicated myself to my second love, History. I was fascinated studying about the religious beliefs of ancient Persians, the causes of the Srebrenica genocide, the impact of the women’s movement on modern Japanese culture, the sociopolitical effects of the U.S. industrial revolution, the evolution of historiography throughout the ages and so much more.
I’ve never read so many books in my life, and I loved every second of it. It was a triumphant moment as I walked to the podium with the handful of other magna cum laude graduates and became the first person in my nuclear family to earn a Bachelor’s degree.
Studying at CSUF was more than fascinating; academia gave me invaluable writing, editing and research skills which have made me a better equipped and more knowledgeable actor.
Traveling beyond my native California has opened my eyes to the varied life experiences of the many people that call Earth home. Building a dormitory for orphans in Mexico taught me the pleasures of service and the power of generosity.
Six months spent traveling around Northern and Western Europe made me realize that the United States is a very young country with a lot to learn about diplomacy. Visiting North Africa, I experienced, first-hand, the stifling feeling of otherness as a Western woman walking, head covered, in a Muslim neighborhood, as well as the disturbing exploitation of historical sites for short-term profit.
While living and working this year in Shanghai, China, what struck me most was how the differing social expectations of Western and Eastern cultures can lead to misunderstanding and unintentional offense, sometimes resulting in serious conflict. Artistic aesthetics also are subjective and shaped by cultural norms.
My time abroad has taught me that as an actor, it is essential to truly grasp an audience’s world view in order to most effectively connect.
Amidst my travels and academic pursuits, my experience and maturity were growing all on their own. Just as Richard had urged me to do years ago, I have grown up.
I have moved to New York City in search of opportunity, felt the satisfaction of supporting myself financially, fallen deeply in love… a couple of times, had my heart broken… a couple of times, proudly watched my three younger brothers develop into men, discovered the joys of practicing yoga, continually refined my vision an artist, learned to cook, took up counted cross stitch, have become an ardent journaler and, all the while, continued to work as an actor.
In 2009, I attended 211 auditions in New York City and was confronted daily with the limitations caused by my lack of formal training. Therefore, I’m eager to venture into the next step on my career path and to expand myself as an artist by attending graduate school.
NYU’s location, in the heart of the cultural center of the United States, makes it an especially exciting place to study. New York’s best creative influences are available daily. I look forward to artistic growth in the care of both Tisch’s world-class faculty and veteran guest directors.
Tisch provides classical training in the traditional sense while also providing the opportunities to work on new works that push theatrical boundaries and expand the growth of the art form into the future.
Working with talented, innovative, promising artists with a passion and commitment to explore and support each other in the creative process is my idea of pure joy.
Life experience has taught me that there is a vast amount that I don’t know, but what I do know is that I have the willingness to be taught and to contribute to the learning process.
After nearly a decade of preparation, I am ready to undertake graduate school. I look forward to emerging from NYU changed, with a deep sense of connection and community as I continue to build my professional career and create meaningful work over the breadth of my life.
For my 2011 NYU Grad Acting application...
To say the expectations for me were low growing up is an understatement. As a woman in my family, if you managed to make it through high school, without ending up pregnant or addicted to drugs, you were a cut above the average.
In my parents’ household, we constantly struggled with the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes several months behind on rent, because my dad’s business as a handy-man was slow.
Neither of my parents have Bachelor’s degrees, yet when I told them that I wanted to attend college, Dad laughed incredulously at my declaration and said, “That’s great, Virginia. How are you going to pay for that?”
He wasn’t joking. I was on my own if I wanted to go to college.
Expensive drama schools felt so far beyond my reach, they may as well have been on the moon. So I chose to take the best path that I believed was realistic for me at the time.
I applied for and was awarded a full scholarship to Solano Community College’s two-year acting conservatory and later transferred to California State University Fullerton. To me, this was a huge personal accomplishment. I was the first person in my immediate family to attend University.
I paid for school all on my own, applying for student loans, working part-time, managing to do theatre on the side and graduated with my BA in history in 2005, magna cum laude.
After graduation, I made it my personal goal to find a way to support myself by making a living as an actor.
In the Bay Area, even after earning my Equity card, I was a starving artist. In 2007, dreaming of becoming a thriving artist, I moved to New York.
Impelled by the prosperity and opportunity all around me, I attended over 200 auditions; I got four callbacks and booked two shows.
Though these odds were depressing, two is better than none. The first job sent me jaunting all around Europe for six months on a cruise ship and the second was a five month sit-down half way around the world in Shanghai.
Europe? China? Can this be real!?!
As a girl who had rarely left California, I knew that life-experiences like these were possible; I had just never thought that such things were possible for me.
I was empowered to reassess my expectations for myself in my career.
Why couldn’t I dream bigger? Why couldn’t I create the kind of sustainable artistic career that would bring me a sense of purpose, lasting happiness, fulfillment and the ability to pay my bills with the fruits of my craft?
I was exhilarated to begin the process of transforming myself from an invisible-dime-a-dozen-second-rate-cruise-ship-actress to becoming a fearlessly honest actor, a true risk-taker, capable of working comfortably at a higher level of skill and with more authentic vulnerability and openness than I could once imagine.
This transformation is sure to be a challenging life-long journey, but my next step is clear.
I know that by spending the next three years focusing on craft 24/7 with no need for a “survival job,” strengthening my connection with my voice, body and soul, and surrounding myself with trusted teachers that have a deep respect and compassion for their students, I will be moving toward my ultimate goal of personal artistic evolution.
All the while, as I progress, I will be building relationships with fellow actors, professional directors and designers in a close-knit artistic community based on collaboration and mutual respect, preparing to launch back out into the professional world with a family of artistic allies.
I know the “odds” and I acknowledge that there are obstacles before me, but rather than retreating, I choose to see them as a sign that my dream is probably more worthwhile than I have previously imagined.
Though this is my second time auditioning, I’m not daunted. I’ve spent many years compromising my choices because of my self-imposed limitations. I don’t have to compromise any more. I want my MFA from NYU.
Also, I attached my Grad School Vision Board Collage to my 2011 application (stapled to the back), which, as you can see, I am using as the background art for this blog.
You can read my 2012 Personal Statement for Juilliard by clicking HERE.