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Articles by Tyler Esselman

In Defense of Honors Students

In high school, I was an honors student. Like, I mean the textbook definition of an honors student. Anxiety-ridden, stressed and overloaded with positions on the executive boards of student groups. You know the one. That was me. The long-term effects of my honors-induced anxiety is a subject for a novel of Russian proportions, but the benefits I have reaped from the AP​/IB​/honors seeds that I sowed in high school are undeniable.

The later years of high school consisted of a combination of AP and IB work that helped me take care of a goodly amount of liberal studies requirements during my first couple years of college. I didn’t even get the highest scores on any of those exams and DePaul was still pretty generous with accepting the credit. I was able to complete all of my liberal studies requirements by the end of my second year. This opened my schedule up to take classes that I wanted simply for the fun of it. I took an Islamic studies class, a couple French classes, a German class, and a creative writing class. I was very glad for the opportunity to diversify my class experience outside of The Theatre School. But beyond that, the time gifted to me allowed me to see more shows, get to know more theatre companies, experience more around the city and figure out what my real goals are after school. That’s the biggest benefit. You have to have breathing room in school to be able to build relationships and just wander. 

In essence what I’m getting at is that if you’re in the thick of an AP or IB course load in high school right now and you want to pull out your hair, stuff it into your textbook and eat it with mustard, you’re going to survive. And you will reap some reward from the experience. I guarantee it. If nothing else, you’ll know that you can accomplish something you set your mind to and that’s a feeling worth its weight in gold. 

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

Future Islands - Seasons (Waiting on You)







Showcase!

One week from today, I will be in New York City​ doing the first part of one of the major closing events of my time at The Theatre School​: Graduate Showcase. During the first two weeks of June, my class and I will showcase our wares in New York, Los Angeles, and here in Chicago for industry professionals. It’s our chance to blast off into the professional world as a team.

Since the beginning of spring quarter, we have been presenting scenes and monologues to our showcase director Lisa Portes to find a piece that works best to showcase our strengths as performers. The people that will be in attendance are agents, casting directors, and alums in the respective cities. Once they watch our pieces, there will be networking events where we can introduce ourselves to those people as human beings. In addition to the actual events planned for showcase in each city, there will be plenty of time for us to explore the cities and see shows. It’s a great opportunity for us to get a feel for the place and see if we could actually see ourselves there. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends in both cities and also taking a little road trip up the coast in California​. It’s going to be perfect to see the ocean in all its vastness before graduating and starting the next chapter of my life.

Ideally, some of the agents that see our work in any of the cities will call us in to audition specifically for representation but it’s best to go into the showcase just focused on the work. In my opinion, this event is going to be great because it’s one last chance to work with this ensemble with whom I’ve gone through so much these past four y​​​ears. One last hurrah is just what we need. And we’re going to do it in style.

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

Just trying to keep moving forward, ya dig?









Getting All the Nuts and Bolts

This quarter, my class has a tandem of two weekly classes at the Acting Studio Chicago​. The Acting Studio is a center for classes focused in acting technique and also the business side of the entertainment industry in Chicago. The classes we are taking are an acting for the camera class and also an audition technique class. They present an interesting one-two punch every week introducing every week to what it might really be like to work as an actor in Chicago.

In acting for the camera, we go through scenarios every week that resemble an actual on-camera audition that we would go on. We read commercial copy and learn how to most effectively use our training to make this sometimes dry text unique to us and boil down what will help us get callbacks on these auditions. It’s a subtle technique and looking at yourself on the screen once we’ve filmed the segments is very weird at first. I’m getting more used to it with each class but it can make you pretty self-conscious. It really just comes down to practice, I think. Doing this kind of material is something very few people in my class have ever done but we’re getting better. In addition to reading copy, we’ve gone through scenarios for auditions with no written text and worked in pairs. We are certainly getting an advantage because so many other actors our age not coming out of a program such as ours don’t have this opportunity to learn the industry and the technique before jumping in to an audition.

Speaking of auditioning, our audition class on Fridays is an extension of the audition class we had last quarter. We are learning what it takes to get in the door with agents and do our best work when we get in the room for those auditions. I guess the biggest thing that I’m taking from all of it is that there is no right way to do it, really. The most important thing to me is that I don’t feel like I’m compromising any part of myself to get work that I think I “should” get or “have” to get. I want to and will do it my way and I am confident that, because of that, I will do the work that I want to do.  Rock on, amirite?

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
Say what you will about Beck, but the dude can really write a jam. 





Tech week update

 This past week has been a doozy. I've been in tech rehearsals for my show The Memo by Vaclav Havel. The piece is an absurdist play from the 60's satirizing communism within a corporation. It's been a fascinating process to unpack this play and figure out how it is relevant to my generation. Even though it is not a terribly complicated show in terms of its technical effects, tech week has still been pretty exhausting. 

For those of you have never done a play, tech week is the time during a play's production where all of the design elements are incorporated before opening. As such, it necessitates going through the play moment by moment and folding in lights, sound, and transitions. I personally love tech because it demands a high level of focus as an actor and allows you to feel out, in a deep way, what it will truly take to perform the show each night. The key is to take care of yourself, especially during the winter. You have to make sure you have enough food at home to sustain yourself because you probably won't be making it to the grocery store any time soon. It also always helps me to have my room clean and laundry done for the sake of my mental state. That way, even if I'm stressed about rehearsal or class or whatever else, at least I know that I have clean clothes and sheets waiting for me at home. 

I'm very excited to open this show and share our ensemble's work with the community. It's a wacky piece that I think will be very interesting to perform for The Theatre School.

Tyler's Hot Track of the Week:

I'm a big fan of Bon Iver and have also started taking in Bon Iver creative force Justin Vernon's other work as well. This song from his band Volcano Choir called Byegone is particularly good and I hope you'll give it a taste.



Winter quarter with Sanford Meisner

The fourth year of the BFA Acting program here at The Theatre School is largely an exit year. We take classes like audition technique, acting for the camera, and voice over to help prepare us for the realities of being a working actor in Chicago or elsewhere. Important stuff like how to format headshots and resumes, and how to interface with agents and casting directors is covered. All of this in addition to some more acting technique. One of the pure acting technique classes this quarter is Advanced Meisner and it is a fascinating course.

Many of you have probably heard, at least in passing, of actors using Meisner technique. It is a study of the teachings of a man named Sanford Meisner. The idea, as with most acting training, is to help the actor personalize text to a high degree and be able to fully exist with his or her scene partner in the moment. The training starts with what is known as “repeating”. This is where two actors will sit across from one another, observe each other, and state what they see. For instance, I may say to my partner “You have a blue shirt.” And then he or she would repeat, “I have a blue shirt” and I would say my statement again until one of us made another statement. Eventually, the goal is to be able to make statements about what your partner is doing or feeling and the partner can agree or disagree with them and make observations about you. 

It is an excellent tool by which to drop in to meaningful presence with your partner. Another aspect of the training is personalization and emotional preparation. This uses the given text of a play and helps the actor make it mean something very deeply to him or her in preparation for a scene. Ideally, this preparation takes the actor to a vulnerable place in some way and then when they enter the scene, they do not have to consciously think about it. It will be there in them and they can be fully present with their partner and the circumstances of the text. 

The emotional prep stuff can be scary. It leads to some very strong reactions during the training but, as far I have seen, can also lead to some decidedly truthful and vulnerable work if handled in the correct way. We’ve only had one class so far but I’m looking forward to diving deeper into this training. It’s a great class to have at this stage of my training.


Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:
I’ve been feeling sentimental this week and Marvin Gaye always has a way of encapsulating what I am feeling or what I want to feel. Here’s the real jam for the week.



Friendly Fighting

​During my formative years, one could definitely say that my taste in movies, TV shows, and books leaned towards the epic. I was, and still am, a huge fan of fantasy and science fiction material with "Star Wars", "Lord of the Rings", and the like occupying a place in me especially close to my heart. I think it has to do with the scope of things and the romance of all of it. I just dig that stuff. But the battle sequences sure don’t hurt either.

As I have grown, I have maintained my love for the epic content on which I cut my teeth but have also developed that love into passion for other things. My appreciation for the large scale combat in so many of my favorite films and television shows has led me towards a keen interest in the art of stage combat. For those of you not familiar with the concept of stage combat, it is basically a blanket phrase that encompasses all violence that occurs on stage during a play that must be choreographed specifically so that all those participating will be completely safe. In my program at The Theatre School, all BFA Acting students are required to take the basic level of combat so they will be prepared for any combat that might be required of them during their shows at school. This class covers all of the basics of hand-to-hand combat and also fighting with a rapier and dagger. For those who have an interest in learning more, our Combat teacher Nick Sandys offers an advanced class every winter and spring quarter. In this class, we learn additional weapons such as quarterstaff, broadsword, and knife while also deepening our skills in hand to hand, rapier, and dagger. What I love about stage combat is how much it requires you to be fully present with your partner and really take care of each other. For stage combat to be successful, one must be absolutely specific about what he or she wants from the partner and act on it, so it is a great tool in acting. I also just really like fighting with swords and stuff! So the next time you watch a battle in a movie or a fight in a play, just remember that it should feel very real but it should also be completely safe if the fight choreographer is worth his salt. If you want to learn more about the community of stage combat enthusiasts, visit the Society of American Fight Directors’ website here


Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

We listen to a TON of jazz in my Movement to Music class and this is one that always gets stuck in my head without fail. Robert Glasper is the real freakin’ deal.




Five Year Plan

​At my stage of the BFA Acting program, the focus shifts towards what actually happens after graduation. We have classes focused in the subtle technique of auditioning and acting for the camera that take all the technical acting skills we have been sharpening over the past three years and teach us how to direct them for very specific purposes. In addition, these classes have a component where we must create a five-year plan and a ten-year plan for our post-graduation years. This has been a both daunting and empowering experience so far. It has given us a lens through which to prioritize our goals in all realms of our life: artistic, personal, financial, educational, and in service to the world. If you read my post about Meg Jay’s book "The Defining Decade" you can imagine how reading that book while also completing this assignment has been advantageous. I think it’s easy for people my age to become overwhelmed with the scope of paths our lives can take in the coming years. I get that and have totally felt that way quite often. But I am realizing that it is far more important to simply take a path rather than worrying if it is the right one. Certain friends of mine would roll their eyes at the last sentence and grumble something to the effect of “That’s just some optimistic hooey.” (And yes, I do have friends who use words like hooey. They’re a silly bunch, my buddies.) But, to paraphrase David Mamet, the only pragmatic way to be is optimistic. It will work out one way or another. 

Anyway, pardon my dissertation. What I hope to impart by saying all of this is that I think making some kind of five year plan is something all people my age should do. It helps you to organize your dreams and start to figure out ways to actually achieve them in a real-world sense. It may seem overwhelming at first but I think you will find that it can produce some seriously rad results if it is done earnestly. Give it a shot!


Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

David Bowie is your required listening for the week, blogosphere. Specifically, his album Hunky Dory. This is my favorite track from his colossal discography.

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New Play

​As any returning readers of this blog will know, as an Acting major, I am cast in one curricular play per quarter at The Theatre School. This quarter, I was cast in a new play by my dear friend Janie Killips. She is a fourth year in The Theatre School’s BFA Playwriting major and has written an epic tale of which I am very lucky to be a part. Not only is this experience notable for me because it is Janie’s play, it is also my first time working on a brand new play and the unique process that that entails.

Up until now, every play I have worked on in a full production sense has been a published piece with a production history. For this, I am originating a role in a world premiere. Our director is TTS faculty member Damon Kiely who I have had as a professor previously and had always hoped to collaborate with on a show. The fascinating and exciting part about this process is that Janie is in the rehearsal room with us almost every day. She and Damon work in tandem to see how myself and the cast use the text and tweak it from there. Now, about halfway through our process, the play is wildly different from what we had not even two weeks ago. And I’m sure by the time we close the show on October 26th, it will have undergone even more changes. The script evolves right along with us as actors throughout the entire experience. This encourages us to stay on our toes and be prepared for any changes that might be thrown our way. While that might sound daunting, what is comforting is the fact that Janie has created such rich, complex characters that as long as we hold onto that identity that we have been cultivating, the text is the icing on the cake.

We have one more week until tech starts so things are starting to get all kinds of real in that rehearsal room. I certainly think our show will be a rousing success. More to come soon from the land of rehearsal!

Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week:

Rufus Wainwright is the truth. That’s all there is to it.

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Reflections of a Rising Senior

Well, it's nearly arrived. I'm just about entering rising senior status here at DePaul. That's a scary thought. It's one of the biggest cliches but it really does feel like just yesterday I was standing on Clifton with several plastic tubs full of stuff that I thought would allow me to survive on my own, waiting to move into University Hall. A lot has changed since then, obviously, but perhaps just as many things have stayed the same. Im now thinking about how I want to make my senior year the best it can be.

For starters, with all my non-major required courses fulfilled, I'm going to fit in as many extra, personally interesting classes that I can. I'm slated to take a German class in the fall, which will be a great help in pushing me down the path of knowing as many languages as possible. I also intend to take as many advanced stage combat classes as my schedule will allow. I took one advanced combat class this quarter and it was truly awesome. I learned a more refined level of unarmed and rapier & dagger combat, which I had started in the basic combat class, and also learned quarterstaff combat, which I had never done before. Quarter staff, a six foot long redwood staff, is a weapon designed for guys like me. It was a blast to use the full length of the staff and alternate between very rapid and slow and deliberate passages of combat. This coming year, the featured weapons, in addition to more rapier & dagger and unarmed, are broadsword and knife. I freaking can't wait.

Among my other goals for the next year are to write an at least ten minute play, learn how to play guitar, and take a significant camping trip with my buddies. But, in a less concrete sense, I think this year will be especially important in figuring out how life after college will be. What it will look like and how I will handle it on a day-to-day basis. What's fortunate is that The Theatre School does a great deal to prepare its students for life as theatre artists after college. And, ultimately, I know it won't be that different besides the fact that I won't go to class everyday. Instead of that, I'll go to my job. Weird. But just the natural progression of things, I guess. As someone who worries quite a lot, I just need to keep reminding myself that I know how to survive and finishing school is something I can totally handle.

So, for the next year, I hope to soak up as much experience as I can from DePaul and my status as a student in Chicago and then figure out that whole being a functioning member of society thing. Piece of cake, right? 


Tylers Hot Track of the Week:

Heres a moody lil one for you. Foals hail from Oxford, England like another English band that I sort of like a little bit (cough Radiohead cough). This one's perfect for expressing that early summer angst that might be boiling right under the surface for many of you. Enjoy, friends.




BFA vs. BA: It's Your Choice

​So you’ve decided you want to major in theatre, huh? As a wise professor of mine would say, welcome to the group. As you, you budding theatre artist, will find out, if you intend to major in theatre, you’re going to have to choose between pursuing a BA or BFA. The Bachelor of Arts versus the Bachelor of Fine Arts essentially differentiates between a non-conservatory program and a conservatory program. And they each have their merits. 

Let me just preface this description by saying that The Theatre School here only offers a BFA in terms of an undergraduate theatre major. We do offer a theatre studies minor but the BFA’s all we got for majors. Just FYI. Anyway, the inclusion or exclusion of that F in your degree abbreviation is going to denote the volume of curricular theatre work you do. In admissions, we say it’s about an 80/20 split. 80% Theatre School classes and 20% liberal studies classes. In a BA program, that split is going to be slightly closer to even. In addition, the BFA is more focused in a particular field. For instance, the BFA in Acting focuses nearly all of its curriculum in acting related classes with the same being said for the BFA in Lighting Design, Sound Design, Playwriting, etc. You get the picture. The BA is going to have a much broader scope of curriculum. You might have the option to take a lot of classes in a variety of different branches of the theatre. That presents one of the advantages of a BA: it is more flexible and if you want to have a broader education in theatre that might be the option for you. It all depends on the college theatre experience you want to have! 

I’m very happy with choosing the conservatory path because I knew I wanted to have a very focused, pre-professional education in acting and TTS has given me just that. One of the best things about it is that it is a combination of abstract and technical. I am taking a movement class right now that is focused in the Michael Chekhov acting technique which is based on how we move our energy around on stage and how we can use the dynamics of our body and energy to great effect on stage. I’m also taking an audition technique class where we do mock auditions and learn in a very technical sense how to best audition for professional productions. Both are essential to a theatre artist, but very different in terms of how they fit into the actor’s toolbox. 

So you’ll have to decide which path is for you. As we all know, many very important theatre artists come from very different educational backgrounds and some from none at all but, in my opinion, having the hunger to learn the craft is the most important part. 


Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week: 

Some Blur for you this week. This one always gets stuck in my head for a good couple days after I hear it or think about it. Enjoy. 

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Show and Tell on the next Level

​In the third year of the BFA Acting program, the focus is on classical text. As such, our first two quarters were focused on Shakespeare and I loved that. I really came to love the Bard’s work on a much deeper level through the fall and winter. This quarter, however, we have shifted gears and will be exploring the work of noted South African playwright Athol Fugard during the second half of the quarter. For the first half, my class is actually doing something that we haven’t done too much of as part of our curriculum in the program but has always been meaningful when we do: writing and sharing our own text. 

It’s a special kind of sharing to share something that you have written yourself. There’s a very particular kind of vulnerability in that but it has been very enlightening so far this quarter. We have written open scenes that explore relationships that intrigue us and play with the physical sounds of language, a monologue adapted from an established piece to fit our own experience, and a letter from a person of our choice to another to explore how that particular person might employ language. It all comes down to the appreciation of language in all its forms and how it encapsulates our humanity. To me, that is the baseline passion that an actor must have because really relishing and rolling around in the spoken word is what brings a performance to life from the very beginning and will lead to a true physical embodiment of a role. 

Writing our own work is also useful in a practical sense as theatre artists. Going into such a competitive field, the only way one can guarantee his or herself work is to make it on their own. If an artist has the ability to audition for other work while also composing and developing personal work, then he or she will never be unemployed. If you’re going to be an artist, you can’t wait for anyone to give you permission. You have to go out there and just start creating. That’s an important lesson that can serve many young artists trying to find their sea legs. 


 Tyler’s Hot Track of the Week: 

This weekend, I saw The Theatre School’s production of a play called Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph. Besides being a very well-done production featuring two of my friends, the sound design by first year BFA Sound Design major Connor Wang was fantastic. The incorporation of this little ditty particularly hit me. Enjoy. 

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