Graduating to The Tosca Project

posted by Kyle Schaefer, cast member of The Tosca Project 

Kyle Schaefer, who graduated from the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program in May, writes about his experience performing on the A.C.T. mainstage and the joy of working with the artists of varied backgrounds who make up the ensemble of The Tosca Project.

The Tosca Project is my first job as a professional actor out of school. It feels oddly like home, however, and I think I’ve been realizing how prepared I am for the nuts and bolts of this profession. In many ways it has felt like any other production I’ve been involved with: get together in the room, rehearse, take breaks, rehearse again, argue a point, take direction, joke around, work hard, get frustrated, have fun. I’m certainly familiar with life at 30 Grant and the American Conservatory Theater.

However, there are also many firsts for me in this new world of postgraduation life. I don’t take it lightly that I am employed directly out of school on a world premiere at A.C.T. with seasoned actors, dancers, clowns, directors, and designers from all around the world. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I fit right in.

I don’t feel like an actor, or a dancer, or a clown. I feel like a collaborator. As a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none, I have had to dig down into every corner of my artistic toolbox to help tell a story being discovered in the room. We are constantly reminded that the piece is bigger than the sum of its parts; and there are many parts! But with such a talented and diverse group of people, it is easy to trust the ebb and flow of the process. This trust and ease has been the surprising factor for me. I knew that I graduated as a skilled actor, but was unsure whether my experience would add up to being more than just a “green” actor with a lot to learn.

Of course I still have a lot to learn, but I will be able to hold my own through the early stage of building my career. So, this is why I have been training at a conservatory affiliated with a professional company! Instead of graduating as a cookie-cutter actor doing “everything I’m supposed to,” I have been allowed by my A.C.T. training to grow into an all-around artist. I am acting and dancing with some new faces, but also with people who have been my classmates, teachers, and directors and actors in projects I’ve directed. In short, this company is a community of artistic peers and creators breathing life into our love letter to San Francisco.

I’ve been somewhat self-involved and thoughtful about my personal life recently: What happens when I move? Will I get an agent? Where will I live? How am I going to make ends meet? Will I be artistically fulfilled? How awesome will it be to have a social life? How will I be able to sustain it?

But with Tosca, I just show up and get to work with an amazing group of people on a project with a lot of question marks. My training, my own life filled with question marks, and this eclectic group of bright and passionate individuals form the ideal environment in which to jump into the unknown. Much like my character at the top of the piece, I am myself embarking on a whole new life filled with surprises. The main difference is: I don’t have a mustache.

Kyle Schaefer in The Tosca Project (l to r): as the young Italian Bartender who founds Tosca Cafe in 1919 upon his arrival in San Francisco; as a sailor returning from World War II in the 1940s, with Sara Hogrefe; as a disco-dancing boy in the 1970s, with Pascal Molat. Photos by Kevin Berne.

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