The Challenges and Rewards of Acting: A Conversation with Students Viviane Ortega and Ella Southard

Students Viviane Angélique Ortega and Ella Stillion Southard recently participated in “An Evening with Shakespeare,” a show organized by the Performing Arts Company, an initiative of the JCU Student Services team. This was the Performing Arts Company’s first theater production since before the pandemic and consisted of a selection of scenes from Shakespeare’s most notable works. The show was directed by British actor Douglas Dean and included both comedies and tragedies such as Hamlet, Richard III, As You Like It, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, among others. Student Activities Coordinator Federica Bocco took part in leading the newly-reborn company. “Drama is a fundamental form of expression and art,” she said, “We were immensely glad to be able to offer it again as an extracurricular activity to our community. I was positively overwhelmed by the attendance and dedication of our students this past semester, and we’re very much looking forward to the musical production we’ll put together in the spring.”

Born in Nicaragua, Viviane Angélique Ortega grew up in Switzerland and Laos. In 2015 her family moved to Rome. After graduating from high school at the French Lycée Chateaubriand, Viviane found John Cabot University and decided to pursue her studies here.

Ella Stillion Southard is from Athens, Georgia in the United States. She moved to Rome because she wanted to live abroad, and JCU presented the best opportunity for that. She is majoring in  Humanistic Studies to explore her interest in philosophy, art history, English literature, and history.  

Ella Stillion Southard

Ella Stillion Southard

Tell us about the show you participated in.
Viviane: An Evening with Shakespeare was a lovely production with a wonderful group of people, which took place over two nights at Teatro delle Maschere, in Rome. I got involved with the JCU Performing Arts Company when I saw a flyer around campus at the beginning of the semester. I met with the group and our wonderful director Douglas Dean and that was enough to lure me in. It was also my first experience acting in English on stage, which was very exciting.

Ella: An Evening with Shakespeare was a showcase of various scenes from different Shakespeare plays. Our amazing director Douglas Dean guided us through the difficult old English that Shakespeare wrote in and equipped us with strategies to make the text understandable for the audience. I got involved in the Shakespeare performance by consistently attending the JCU Performing Arts Company meetings on Tuesday evenings. After doing acting activities for a few weeks, Douglas assigned us parts in different Shakespeare scenes.

How did you become passionate about theater/acting?
Viviane: My mom took me to the theater multiple times to see the plays of Molière when I was younger, and I absolutely loved it. I also remember that I was always wondering about what was happening backstage, and how the actors were getting ready.  I then started doing theater in Laos when I was ten. I joined the French Institute’s theater department mostly as a way to make friends and to belong somewhere. I wasn’t thinking about the art of acting too much. But I was already an extroverted kid and I had done 6 years of ballet, so I was comfortable with performing for an audience. I continued with that theater group and my passion for acting grew gradually. The years passed and I never stopped. I then moved to Rome and immediately looked for a theater company to join. It progressed naturally and I never asked myself, “Should I keep doing it?” The only thing I knew was that when I wasn’t doing it, I wasn’t feeling good. That’s why I joke sometimes about the fact that acting chose me and not the other way around.

Ella: Before high school, I participated in our community theater back home. It was always an outlet to have fun with people who were as creative and passionate as me. In high school, I participated in every show (plays and musicals) we put on because it was a way to continue expressing myself outside the classroom, which can be very stressful at times. Theater and acting have always been a side activity for me, but after my experience at JCU and the English Theater of Rome, my passion for the art has grown significantly! My love for theater largely comes from the community. The unique bond you create with the people you collaborate with backstage and on stage is something you can’t find anywhere else. But the art form also requires you to learn more about yourself, and what you’re capable of doing.

Viviane Angélique Ortega

Viviane Angélique Ortega

What are the challenges and rewards of being an actor?
Viviane: I think there are as many challenges as there are rewards to being an actor. But while the challenges are very big, the rewards are even bigger. I have met along the way a lot of people who think acting is easy, that it is just about playing pretend and having fun. And while those things are part of it, it’s not all there is to it. It takes a lot of work, dedication, and time. We see great actors on the screen or on stage, playing a part so well that they make it seem like it’s easy. Just like classical ballerinas who are so graceful and precise, it almost seems like they are as light as a feather and that you could do those movements too. Being an actor also involves training, trying, failing, trying again, not being convinced, trying something different, liking it, not liking it anymore, failing, trying again, and on and on. If one does not have the patience and dedication, it is very easy to get frustrated and give up. But as I said, the rewards are even bigger. The opportunity to work with people who share your passion and drive, the ability to relate and be relatable, to share your work with an audience. Those are all things that bring me much fulfillment and make all the hard work and frustration go away.

Ella: Acting involves incredible courage and vulnerability. Often, you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve, whether you’re playing a grieving mother as I did in our Richard III scene, or you’re playing a character in love, you cannot hide from emotion when you act. This poses a challenge for actors because we must be real and raw, but not as ourselves. You must separate your ego from the performance yet build a subjective connection with the character and scenario. Nevertheless, the empathy that acting requires is the reward. The joy of collaborating with people who bring the performance out of you, who support you when you must push yourself and be emotional, is incredibly special. The connection with the audience is the ultimate reward of acting.

What are your plans for the future?
Viviane: I am moving to Los Angeles in December, where I will start a two-year conservatory training program at the Stella Adler Art of Acting studio. I cannot wait to keep learning about the craft, getting better at it, and finding wonderful people to work with. Someone once told me that “there are places you have never been, where you already belong.” I think that where I am headed is one of those places, and I am so excited for the future and for what’s next.

Ella: I plan on taking theater more seriously. What that looks like, I’m not sure, but I do know that I just want to keep doing it and be the best performer I can be!

If you’re interested in joining the Performing Arts Company next semester, please email Federica Bocco at [email protected].