UF's aspiring actors visit with 'Rent' star

Anthony Rapp, star of the movie and stage version of the musical "Rent," talks with graduate and undergraduate students Wednesday in the Constans Theatre at the University of Florida.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
The Constans Theatre at the University of Florida was heavy with anticipation Wednesday as about 45 aspiring actors awaited the arrival of "Rent" Broadway actor Anthony Rapp.
As the noise died down, two figures walked onto center stage: Tony Mata, an associate professor at UF, and Rapp, star of the Tony Award-winning musical.
And the question-and-answer period began.
Many students asked the actor about his experiences in "Rent" and for advice about their own aspirations in acting.
Many students were curious about how to get an agent, be successful in New York and how to deal with rejection and criticism.
"Acting is like going to the gym," Rapp said. "You have to keep yourself in shape and concentrate on your core."
Rapp, who sat with his legs crossed, said he feels that it is important to retain authenticity as a person to succeed with acting, he said.
He also spoke about coping with rejection in the business.
"If you are rejected, it is absolutely not because you're not good," he said. "Imagine being on the other side of the table. They want you to be great because there isn't investment for sucking."
Rapp, who has had an agent since he was 9, said he was unaware of the difficulties most actors encounter when trying to break into the business.
But patience, he said, is what you need to have when you look for an agent.
Midway into questions, Rapp critiqued two student monologues, giving them one-on-one feedback on what was good and what could use some work.
Graduate student Robyn Berg transformed into "Billie," a character in "Women of Manhattan" obsessed with shopping who believes she has too many clothes.
Rapp said Berg's performance seemed too much like a prepared presentation.
"Acting doesn't have to be torture," he said. "Don't be too analytical and be your character, marry it."
Berg was followed by Ryan Burbank, another graduate student who said she has followed Rapp's career since "Rent" hit the stage. Her nervousness showed. Just as she was about to begin, she stopped, staring at the audience. She said aloud that she should have taken a minute to gather her thoughts before performing in front of her peers.
Burbank found her character soon after, breaking into "Roma," a lonely woman who believes she is an alien in the play, "Night Luster," by Laura Harrington.
Rapp told Burbank that no one could tell "Roma" was a lonely woman and that she needed to give the audience some insight into the character from the moment she uttered her first words.
After a nervous start, Burbank got some tips from Rapp on her portrayal of a lonely woman who believes she is an alien. Burbank took the criticism well.
"I am genuinely surprised with him," said Burbank of Rapp's easy manner. "He is the big reason why I'm here. He inspired me to come back to school and do what I love."
As the class came to an end, students listened as Rapp gave them one last piece of advice.
"I am not trying to scare anyone," he said. "But if you are not ready to get on the ride with all its ups, downs and devastation, then get off. But if you stay on, it will be worth it."

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