by Jasmine Batchelor, 2nd-year actor
“When you want something with all your heart, that’s when you are closest to the Soul of the World. It’s always a positive force… All the Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
-Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
7 AM, Saturday, January 22, 2011: I am walking thirty-two blocks in thirty-seven degree weather to The Juilliard School from the NJ Transit corridor of Penn Station. Being brand new to the city and its public transportation, coupled with the strange superstition of having to walk off any resident nerves, finds me sweating profusely beneath my winter coat; my backpack filled with my audition survival kit (a few snacks, a change of clothes, my head shots, a journal, wallet, etc.) growing heavier with each block. I’d woken up at five to leave Madison, New Jersey (Where I was working as an actor at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey) and take the first steps on the road to what I considered, and Paulo Coelho calls, my “Personal Legend,” the road to my destiny, success; dream. In the cold and early of the morning, I remember how different my reality is than a mere eight months ago, and how, already, I am much more capable of listening to the Soul of the World than before.
Shortly before graduating college in June of 2010, a family fallout left me homeless and destitute. To the outside eye, I had everything going for me: I graduated magna cum laude and at the top of my acting class, I had been the star of several university productions and was the go-to actress for the school’s film department, I’d just performed professionally and begun my road to Equity, and my professors, peers, and visiting master teachers praised me, destined me for greatness and assured everyone that I was the actress to watch. They praised my work ethic and performance, and gave me confidential assurances that I was going to take the professional world by storm. The cruel truth was utterly contrary to this praise. Because of my family’s rift, I no longer had any financial or emotional support, which left me no room to travel to auditions during my senior year. I could hardly buy groceries. I barely drove because I couldn’t afford to put gas in my car. I missed school functions to work late shifts at Starbucks after class so I could keep a roof over my head. I missed the opportunities that my peers were using to start their careers immediately after college. The star student was becoming the girl who got left behind.
One afternoon at work, a friend came in to see me at work and it dawned on me – is this what I want my life to be? Do I want this to be my work? I made a plan then and there; the musical theatre seniors were taking a class trip to New York for their showcase, if allowed, I would go too. If they were going to meet agents and managers, I would be in the right place at the right time to meet them as well.
I scraped three hundred dollars together, bought a round trip ticket to New York, and ate very little for three weeks in order to join them for their showcase. I stayed with Monica, a generous friend in Brooklyn, who saw how frustrated I’d become with my life, and at the time, my trip. I spent my time in New York as the unofficial assistant to my fellow students – stirring their coffee, refilling their water bottles, safety pinning their gowns – I knew there was more that I was destined to do, but when I attempted to meet and greet agents, I was shot down by people of my own school. They had become competitive and selfish, telling me I’d “better stick to helping out.” I was devastated. One night, I stayed in Brooklyn and avoided the heartbreak of another round of agencies coming and going, and Monica, to my surprise, gave me an invite to a talkback at Juilliard for The Public’s recent production of, “The Neighbors.” After considering it, my depression turned it down. “No thanks,” I sighed. “I don’t feel like moving.” Monica looked at me fiercely, waved her hands in the air and said, “Honey! When you get an invitation to ANYTHING at Juilliard, you GO!” So, I went.
It was at that talkback that I found what’d been missing. Here was a place where art brought people from all walks of life; every ethnicity, every political background, every economic status, every area of performance, every part of the world was represented in one building. It blew my mind. The space itself felt welcoming to all. After the talkback, the woman who’d invited Monica approached me with a question. “Have you ever considered applying to Juilliard?” “No,” I blushed. “That’s kind of impossible,” I laughed. She shook her head. “Come with me,” she said as she led me to the Office of Admissions. She gave me a few pamphlets and a calendar of events. “You’re too late to apply for this upcoming school year, but you should apply for fall of 2011. You sing?” “Yes,” I told her, my voice almost cracking. “Good. We need singers in the Drama Division. Look it over.” I smiled, thanked her, and went back to Monica’s apartment. Something had changed. The next morning I just knew – I was going to Juilliard.
8 AM of January 22, 2011: I am climbing the grand staircase of The Juilliard School. I’m about an hour early, but I am still greeted by two friendly drama students. After signing in with one of them, I am led upstairs to the third floor. There are smiling students everywhere; they wear name tags and welcome me to the place they call home. Somehow, this just feels right. Although somewhere in consciousness there is the recognition of the gravity of this moment – I’m at Juilliard, the number one performing arts college in the country – I am still caught in the tangible support and love given by all of these smiling faces and welcoming words. After being led through a group warm up by voice teacher Kate Wilson, we are given kind words by acting teacher and director, Richard Feldman. Both of these teachers, people, are so kind and openhearted, it’s almost impossible to feel nervous. We are led back to our communal room and given times to audition; until our individual audition we are given free rein to relax, utilize the plentiful practice space on the fourth floor, and talk to the current students made available for questions. This environment makes all the difference – they make it clear that we are welcome, we are valued, and we are here to be seen, not judged.
My audition is in studio 306. I am led by yet another friendly, easy going student to the hallway outside of the studio and introduced to the, now alum, Joaquina Kalukango (recently seen on Broadway in the revival of Godspell and off-Broadway in the Signature Theatre’s premier of Hurt Village) who makes me feel even more at home. We chat and laugh until it comes time to audition – it feels completely normal to be here. By the time I am called in I feel as if I, like her, own this space. These halls are mine, this studio is mine, and these walls are mine. These are to be my friends, my teachers, my dressing rooms; this is my destiny. I walk into 306, an oversized studio with beautiful overhead windows and two entrances, with a sense of ease and calm. The midday sunlight poured through the windows and spilled along the studio floor as if to welcome me. The Soul of the World had never spoken so clearly. “You are here.” I turn from these magnificent windows to see the smiling faces of Richard Feldman and Mina Yakin. “Hello, Jasmine,” smiles Richard. “Good morning!”
I instantly feel at ease. “Do you mind if I take off my shoes?” I ask, already removing one slipper.
Richard laughs. “Of course. This is your time, you do whatever makes you most comfortable.”
It was the best audition I’ve ever had. I don’t say that to praise my piece selection, or to brag about auditioning in sweatpants instead of dressing up, I don’t say that to give myself a pat on the back at all – I say it because of the love and welcoming I was given. In the following eight hours, I met the entire faculty, including Drama Division Head, James Houghton, who is also the artistic director for The Signature Theatre. I got to know some pretty amazing people (Some of whom are in my group!) and go through an initial callback with them in front of that faculty, and then stayed for an interview with James Houghton and second-year acting teacher, Becky Guy. Everyone I encountered that day received me with open hearts, open minds, and open ears. I left the building around 9 pm, physically exhausted but spiritually renewed – I’d just taken the first steps toward the rest of my life, and I felt it in every bone of my body. I was finally home.
9:30 PM, Saturday, January 22, 2011
Decided to take the 1 Train back to 34th Street – it’s safer that way. =)