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Collegiate Theatrics: USC's CHANTAL NCHAKO

The next generation of actors will come from all over the globe, to be certain - and they are now likely honing their craft, polishing their skills, and burnishing their timing on stages and in academic settings - but somehow there's an astonishing concentration of impressive actors to be found on the campus of the University of Southern California, where the list of candidates for the Master of Fine Arts in acting rivals any group to be found anywhere.

A perfect example is Chantal Nchako, a native of Douala, Cameroon, and a graduate of Howard University in Washington, D.C. On her burgeoning resume, you will find such projects as The Vagina Monologues at New World Stages; All American Girls at the Actor's Temple; and Henry V at the Classical Theatre of Harlem. In addition, she starred as Agent Cooper in the feature film Raltat, which was nominated in the Pan African Film Festival.

Nchako joined her USC classmates, her friends, her comrades - her very theatrical family, to be sure - onstage in this year's MFA Acting Repertory at the Scene Dock Theatre, bringing to new life onstage productions of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera (adapted by Marc Blitzstein), Anna Deveare Smith's Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, and The Oresteia Project, inspired by Aeschyus' Oresteia, written and directed by David Bridel in collaboration with the MFA Acting Class of 2016.

Here is your opportunity to get to know USC's Chantal Nchako in this week's edition of Collegiate Theatrics, as she offers up some intriguing - and interesting - answers to our questions, giving us insight into what informs her career as an actor.

What's been your favorite part of studying at USC? My favorite the part of my training at USC is the physical component of the Grotowski technique because it helps me to reach my highest potential as an actor. As an actor with a formal dance background, this technique of finding my animal body helps me to understand and focus consistently on physical and mental reactions. When working on different roles, I love to identify with an animal species to be more instinctive and to unlock my inner power.

Has USC lived up to its advance hype? In training an actor to create a foundation and discipline of longevity, USC has lived up to its advance hype. The intense training at USC helps me to anchor my calling as an actor. Also, it helps me to be creative and spontaneous in ways that bring my inner being into the roles. Essentially, the focus on individual experiences and diversity meets the expectations of a USC graduate degree.

What's the most memorable event during your time at USC? What's had the biggest impact on you as an individual? Playing the lead role of Rosalind, in Shakespeare's play, As You Like It is my best-favorite-most impactful experience in graduate school. This experience stretched me not only as an actor but as an ensemble member. Rosalind dominates the play because she is a complex character with a range of emotions and limitless possibilities that through her journey the audience witnesses her growth from an ingénue into a woman. Most importantly, leading the highly acclaimed Shakespeare play allowed me to benefit from the skills and coaching of the USC professors and directors who are renowned for producing leading ladies.

How has your graduate school experience differed from undergrad at Howard? In undergraduate school you study from a perspective of discovery of the academic field, the industry and yourself as an actor. In graduate school, you begin to learn about yourself as a product and at the same time as an artistic medium - your individuality and your potential for standing out, yet fitting into the cast. It also grounds your self-image and helps you to be accepting of the range of people and talent that is needed to tell the story and connect with the audience.

Have your dreams/aspirations changed over the course of time spent at USC? Definitely! USC is known for its global outreach. This has had a profound impact on me. At USC, learning how our voice as actors are able to influence change and bring to the screen experiences and ideas that affect people globally has changed my dreams and aspirations tremendously. Now, I look forward to being amongst the voices that make positive impacts in global issues that affect society.

Where do you hope to find yourself in five years? In five years, I see myself in the fourth season as the lead of a successful TV show. Also, I see myself starring in a feature film that is globally successful. I would like to be a Goodwill Ambassador, as it is important for me to represent Cameroon and highlight diversity worldwide. Of course, I intend to be an asset to my family in ways that promote inter-generational legacy and wealth transfer.

If anyone could play you in a stage or film version of your life, who would it be and what would the title be? It would be difficult to think of someone who could play me right now because of the range of my background and cultural mix. I don't know anyone with similar background in the acting world. So, I would say I would choose myself. My life story could best be told in a script called Cleopatra Retold.

Following a three-show repertory in early March, USC's MFA Class of 2016 will be featured in a pair of showcases next month in New York and Los Angeles:

  • NEW YORK: Wednesday, April 20, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at The Ailey Citigroup Theatre at The Ailey Studios, 405 West 55th Street
  • LOS ANGELES: Tuesday, April 26, at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, April 27, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Boulevard

For more information about USC's Class of 2016 MFA Actors, who also will be featured in Collegiate Theatrics for the next few weeks, go to 2016/mfashowcase/

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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)

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