Senior Joel Perez came to Tufts as a pre-med student. Little did he know that just four years later, he would be graduating with a degree in drama and a promising acting career on his horizon.
Although he had been involved in theater at his high school, it wasn’t until the end of his freshman year that Perez landed his first role in a Tufts production, when he appeared in Torn Ticket II’s “Children of Eden.”
At the beginning of his sophomore year, Perez was still unsure of his plans for the future. But a performance in Torn Ticket II’s “Hair” that year cemented his love for acting.
“It was the most amazing experience I ever had,” Perez said. “We created a great environment onstage, and I was able to be a part of something that creates such an emotional response in the people around me.”
During the second semester of his junior year, Perez auditioned for and was accepted into the British American Drama Academy in London. Last summer, he was an acting apprentice at the Williamstown Theater Festival and had a small part in a commercial for Air Jordan shoes that aired last February. These achievements went a long way in reassuring his parents, who were initially “a little apprehensive,” Perez said.
This year, Perez was awarded the Goddard Rhetorical Prize by the faculty of the Tufts Department of Drama and Dance. According to Barbara Grossman, the chair of the Drama Department, the award “goes to two members of the graduating class who, in the opinion of the department faculty, are the most outstanding actors.”
The prizes are awarded each year, always to one male and one female. Senior Kasey Collins received this year’s award alongside Perez. Created in 1862, the Goddard Rhetorical Prize is one of Tufts’ oldest awards. It “shows the long-standing history of the performing arts at Tufts,” said Grossman. Perez received the award for his theatrical development and flexibility.
“People felt that he really demonstrated enormous growth, achievement and versatility in a variety of productions,” Grossman said. “He just seemed to be the most deserving recipient. He shows excellent promise.”
Perez plans to get straight to work this summer. He has won a full scholarship to the Springboard NYC Program, a two-week course in June that helps college graduates transition into the acting profession in New York City. It involves many networking events with professionals, helping graduates make connections within the industry.
Perez has no illusions about the difficulties of breaking into an acting career.
“The truth is that your background means absolutely nothing. You go into an audition, and they don’t care what your GPA was or where you went to school,” Perez said. However, Perez feels that his liberal arts education will give him a slight advantage in the field.
“There are a lot of dumb people in the entertainment industry,” Perez said. “They just can’t have an intelligent conversation. I feel like having this education, people can take you more seriously. Also, I feel like I’m a pretty level-headed guy. You prepare yourself for what happens if it doesn’t work out.”
Grossman said that she and her colleagues make sure that students interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry are aware of the difficulties they face.
“It’s a difficult career choice, that’s for sure, because you know the statistics are daunting,” Grossman said. “At any given moment, for every hundred professional actors in New York City, only two are employed.”
Despite the challenges, Grossman said Tufts students – and Perez in particular – are capable of accomplishing their professional goals.
“We’re very mindful of doing whatever we can to send students in with their eyes wide open,” Grossman said. “Everybody knows that it’s hard and there are challenges, but if you believe in yourself and have passion and determination, those play a large part in success.”
She said a Tufts education helps students down this path, citing alumni William Hurt, Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria as examples of Tufts students who have succeeded in the entertainment industry.
“Tufts students are ambitious, bright, determined, tenacious, imaginative, creative and incredibly capable,” Grossman said.