Hamming it up with funny, personal anecdotes and plenty of heartfelt advice, stage actor Forrest McClendon ’89 (SFA) recently shared valuable insights on how to launch an acting career with students at UConn School of Fine Arts.
McClendon advised the small group of graduate acting students to focus on finding jobs, not just landing auditions. He encouraged them to start building a professional network by reaching out to a broad range of industry contacts, from artistic directors and agents to playwrights and even interns.
His visit marked the first in a new series of career development workshops for students in the School of Fine Arts. The series was developed by Anne D’Alleva, the School’s dean and interim university provost, and funded by Barri Marks ’69 (CLAS), a longtime supporter of the performing arts.
McClendon, a Tony-nominated actor who has worked on Broadway and around the world, is also a frequent visiting professor at various universities. His unique perspective helped him tailor his message. He advised the students on who to invite to see their final “showcase” performance next year before they graduate. And he asked them each to pinpoint three cities where they could envision themselves happily working as actors.
McClendon also recommended several books he uses as career guides, ranging from contract-writing to self-marketing. To the students’ surprise, Marks, who was attending the workshop, announced that her fund would pay for all the books for each student.
McClendon was surprised too—and roared his approval. “This is support you deserve, and I think it’s so extraordinary that somebody’s prepared to provide it!”
During the workshop, McClendon told the students that when he went to UConn, he lived in a dorm filled with business and engineering majors.
“When spring semester came, they would walk across campus and do on-campus interviews and get the positions that many of them they would be doing for the next 10 years of their lives,” he says. “What I didn’t see in School of Fine Arts—for people who were at high risk in terms of employment—was the same level of professional investment. This workshop is the beginning of something that bodes very, very well for where we are going in the industry.”
D’Alleva says she is grateful for alumni like McClendon who return to campus to share their insights.
“One of the School of Fine Art’s greatest assets is our network of successful alumni who are willing to come back to campus and, alongside the faculty, guide our students in taking their next steps toward professional achievement in the arts,” D’Alleva says. “I’m so grateful that a star of the Broadway stage like Forrest McClendon spent this time with our students and shared information and experiences.”
After the workshop, the students were enthusiastic about McClendon’s visit and career tips.
“It’s extremely valuable as we go into our last year,” says Tony King, who is finishing the second year of his three-year Master of Fine Arts program. “This is what we’re thinking about: where are we going to move, what theaters are going to accept us, and how are we going to set our careers the way we want them. It’s amazing that he’s willing to step off Broadway and come share with us.”
His classmate, Katelyn Trieu, agreed.
“I thought it was so wonderful being with somebody who is actively in the industry and knows what that journey is like,” Trieu says. “It was great to have an artist help build that pipeline for us, show us the way, and lead us as a mentor.”
Marks, a member and former chair of the School of Fine Arts’ advisory board, says performing arts students in particular need this kind of hands-on advice due to the unique nature of their careers as independent contractors.
“Often artists of any kind come out of the school not really having the sense of how to further their careers and how to support themselves. Like any college student, they’ve been in a somewhat sheltered environment,” Marks says. “They’re not going to be going to a corporate job where they work 40 hours a week, get a regular paycheck and benefits. They are in a different kind of career, and they need to be able to develop that career realistically.”
Marks, of West Hartford, Connecticut, is a long-time philanthropist and volunteer for the performing arts. Following a 20-year career in the corporate world in IT, she now does what she is most passionate about: donating her time and resources to support various arts groups. She currently serves on the board of directors for Hartford Stage and on the board of trustees for Shakespeare & Company, a regional theater company based in Lenox, Massachusetts. She also previously served on the boards of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and the Hartford Ballet.
“I love the performing arts so that’s where my focus has been,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to able to be involved for the last 30 years in supporting the arts with both time and money.”