It’s the cliché of the struggling artist: waiting tables, penning screenplays, waiting for that elusive big break. But four young Marquette alumni are finding a way to fulfill their dreams and pay the bills. A dancer, theatre actress, television actor and casting agent talk about making a living in the performing arts.
|Nick D’Agosto is a regular on the hit primetime television show Heroes.
As a young Catholic growing up in Omaha, Nick D’Agosto had no trouble choosing his confirmation name: Genesius, after the patron saint of actors.
Maybe St. Genesius is looking out for him. D’Agosto, Comm ’02, recently scored a recurring role on the NBC hit show Heroes and starred in the critically claimed indie film Rocket Science. In the superhero drama Heroes, D’Agosto plays a teenager who can fly.
D’Agosto started acting at 12 and earned his first film credit by high school, when film director Alexander Payne, an Omaha native, decided to cast some local kids in Election. D’Agosto got a role — and a chance to work alongside Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. “It was one of those breaks that comes out of nowhere,” he says.
“You can’t plan for that.”
At Marquette, he double-majored in theatre and history. “I just love the storytelling aspect of history,” he says.
“I think it goes hand in hand with theatre. You can’t write a better play than the play of history.”
He hired an agent after his sophomore year at Marquette, when Election came out. Then he had a choice to make: Should he drop out of school to go to L.A. or finish college? He decided to stay at Marquette. “The theatre department was absolutely wonderful for me. I grew so much as an actor under Phylis (Ravel) and so many others,” he says.
After graduation, he made the jump to L.A. and immediately won the starring role in the television pilot Cracking Up. But when the Fox network picked up the show, it replaced D’Agosto with actor Jason Schwartzman. “That was a pretty hard lesson,” he says. “There was a 10-month period when I wasn’t feeling very on top of my game. Then I started getting some other roles.”
Before Heroes, D’Agosto had guest appearances on The Office, House M.D., Without A Trace and ER, among other shows. It’s a very different experience to be a series regular, he says. “It’s been a really wonderful consistency to have a job, to have an arc of a story line, and just to be able to develop a character,” says D’Agosto.
But if he had to choose between the big or small screen, he’d go big. “As an actor you don’t ever want to be stuck in something,” he says. “You want to get in and do something and then get out and do something else. It’s a real honor to be a regular on a show like Heroes, where 16 million people see you every week and you can build a real fan base and you can make a lot of money. But the trade-off for being in TV is you’re not very readily available for films. They own you for nine months out of the year.”
With a name like Beth Hollywood, it’s no wonder she moved to L.A.
The recently married Hollywood-Day, Comm ’02, works for 20th Century Fox as the assistant to the senior vice president of feature casting. She has worked on films such as Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Live Free or Die Hard, Night at the Museum, The Simpsons Movie, and Alvin and the Chipmunks. “It gives me a good excuse to watch TV and see a lot of movies,” she jokes.
For Hollywood-Day, every movie and television show is another chance to scout talented prospects, especially among the ranks of guest stars and the supporting cast. “Actors can go from unknown to star very fast, and I need to be on top of the hot talent,” she says.
She got her first taste of theatre in high school and then double majored in theatre and communication at Marquette. Even then she knew she wanted to work in entertainment — but preferred to do it behind the scenes. She loved seeing how it all came together — the set design, the lighting, the costumes.
Before her senior year, she started cold-calling Hollywood studios about internships, which led to a summer job with the casting staff of 20th Century Fox. She learned about casting on the job. “It’s not like you go to school for casting,” she says. “It’s just something a lot of people fall into.”
After graduation, she immediately relocated to L.A. “I knew if I waited, I wouldn’t do it,” she says. After a few casting jobs, she returned to 20th Century Fox.
Hollywood-Day usually juggles five movie projects at a time and spends her days on the phone dealing with agents and managers. Although her office often hires outside casting directors for movies, she loves when she gets to be directly involved in casting. When searching for the right actor, she looks for confidence, ability to take the direction and a believable performance. “If I can forget that I am in an audition, that actor has won me over,” she says.
Ten to 13-hour work days are the norm, but the long hours can be worth it. “When you get to say you work on The Simpson’s Movie, people think that’s really cool,” she says.
The biggest joy in her job? “When you find an actor who isn’t really known yet, and you give them a job that sends them from unknown to known,” Hollywood-Day says.
She advises other aspiring alumni to just do it — take the leap and go to L.A. — and make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. “I tell actors all the time, it’s not about becoming another Brad Pitt or another Meryl Streep,” she says. “It’s about working consistently and being proud of what you do.”
| Andy Herro (standing) travels the globe as co-captain of the modern dance troupe Pilobolus.
Before Andy Herro came to Marquette, he had no idea what modern dance was. Now Herro, Comm ’03, travels the world as co-captain of the renowned modern dance company Pilobolus. The company is known for innovative, collaborative dance arrangements that seem to defy the limits of the human body. A funny fact: the company is named after a fungus that explodes with remarkable force and speed.
Herro always loved physical activities — wrestling, tennis and other sports. His curiosity about dance led him to Marquette’s Department of Performing Arts, where he worked with Darci Wutz, who was then director of dance. “I took every class that she taught, twice, plus, I was doing musicals and a dance concert,” he says. But he wasn’t sure yet that his dabbling in dance would lead to a career. “I just thought it was fun,” he says.
On a post-graduation whim, he drove to New York to audition for Pilobolus. He didn’t get the job initially, but he was later invited to substitute for an injured dancer. That two-month substitute gig turned into four years and counting.
As one of seven dancers in the touring company, Herro plays an integral role in creating new pieces every year. “You get a lot of freedom in the company — you’re not just a dancer, you don’t just follow directions. You’re part of the creative process.”
With dancers supporting each other’s weight and some suspended in the air, the group can look like an elegant and avantgarde version of the game Twister. “We pull our movement from everywhere. It’s not just pointed feet or pretty arms, it’s a lot of theatre.” he says.
Herro is on tour for seven months of the year, traveling to destinations as far-flung as Iceland, China and Italy. He has performed on the Academy Awards special, a national Hyundai commercial and Oprah. The dance company’s popularity is a blessing, Herro says. “I’ve been to other dance performances where the audience is only half full or a quarter full. Ours are always full. We can go to any theatre in the world and sell out,” he says.
On the rare occasions that Herro is home, he lives in New York City with fellow theatre alum and wife, Julia. He commutes two hours each way to Pilobolus’ rural Connecticut headquarters. But all the travel comes at a cost. When his son was born this fall, he could take just two weeks off before returning to the tour. “It’s kind of a blessing and a burden,” he says. “I get to see the world, but I’m always on the road.”
Monica West stars as Baby in Dirty Dancing.
As a kid, Monica West wasn’t allowed to watch the popular movie Dirty Dancing — her parents thought it was too risqué. Ironically, she’s now the star of the North American premiere of Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage. West, Comm ’01, plays “Baby” in the Toronto production that opened in November. And despite her late introduction to Dirty Dancing, she’s been training for just such a role since third grade.
She came to Marquette to study advertising. Her parents encouraged her to audition for Marquette’s plays and before she knew it, the theatre program sucked her in.
After graduation, she moved to New York to pursue musical theatre and quickly learned that patience is a crucial survival skill. “A lot of people who actually do pursue theatre professionally are the people who played the lead in their high school and college plays,” she says. “When I got to New York, I had to wait a good two years before I got my first job and (union) card.”
She paid the bills working as a waitress, coat check girl and nanny. To get her name out there, she also wrote a one-woman show titled Dear Dad, Confessions of GoGo, and the show was scheduled to debut at the New York International Fringe Festival. Then Dirty Dancing happened.
The directors called her back a day after her first audition and offered her the role on the spot. What’s even more amazing is that she had recently left her managers and was auditioning without representation. “To be without representation in New York can be difficult. But I called one casting director, and sure enough, I landed the biggest role of my life,” she says.
West is hopeful that Dirty Dancing will open other doors. “It’s really about making your name somewhere,” she says.
She’s not married to the stage and would love to work in television and film. But in the meantime, she’s having a blast playing Baby. “I’ve never had so much fun working with a cast and creative team,” West says. “We just have to pinch ourselves every day.”