By Ollie Rasini ’99
Last November I was asked to come to TASIS "to share my story and passion" with the Middle School community.
My first instinct was: Yay! (This is often my first instinct.) TASIS was my home for six years: I was prefect, class salutatorian (for what that's worth), gave all the speeches, did all the plays, took all the trips. I loved it.
But “share your story with the Middle School community” meant I had to speak. In public. As myself. Of course, on stage I have done all kinds of embarrassing things: but that was in character. As myself? Ugh.
And “share my passion”? Improv has trained me to say exactly what I am thinking in any given moment, so that doesn't always make me a great role model for children. What am I even going to say?
And, more importantly, what am I going to wear???
Needless to say, the experience was wonderful.
I was nervous before going on stage at the Palmer Center, but I received such a warm welcome from students and educators alike that I instantly felt at home. The students were enthusiastic, vocal, and asked a ton of questions. [Middle School Theater Director] Matthew Frazier-Smith and Dean of Student Affairs MJ Breton were perfect hosts and mediated the conversation expertly. When it was over, I wished it had lasted longer. (By the way, I ended up wearing my only clean pair of black jeans. Not sure if patch pockets are legal dress code now. I decided to risk it.)
Role models are so important for young people. I had some wonderful teachers at TASIS who were fantastic role models as teachers and educators, but what about other jobs? I didn't know any actors growing up. My parents weren't actors. And even if they were, there are thousands of ways to be an actor—how was I supposed to know about them? There are plenty of books and blogs of course, but having an actual person tell you about their life choices is a different thing. Sometimes inexperience pushes us into a generic vision of things: I'm going to be the kind of actress who gets an MFA at Yale and then lands a job on Broadway. I'm going to be the kind of actress who moves to LA and gets an agent and stars in films. I'm going to start with improv and go on SNL and become a standup comedian. These are sort of generic paths. But what about the actor who studies clowning and becomes a clown tour guide/town council member in a small town in the Alps? What about the ballet dancer who goes to acting school, acts in classical theater for several years, and then gets her M.A. in movement therapy and works to bring theater to the lives of people with disabilities? I never would have imagined these paths if I hadn't met someone who lived them.
In theatre as in many fields, there's a lot of competition. And often our default mentality is to compare ourselves to those around us, even though those people have had a completely different background than us. Is there a faster way to disrespect ourselves? Each of us is different and each one must find his or her own way. Which means combining our passions, talents, opportunities, and (of course) flaws and handicaps in a unique way.
Environment plays a key role in all of this. As legendary improv teacher Viola Spolin writes, “No one teaches anyone anything. [...] If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he (sic) choosed to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him anything it has to teach.” (Improvisation for the Theater, 1963)
TASIS for me was the ideal environment. We were surrounded by beauty, by art, by people who appreciated art, and, most importantly, by artists. The Arts Festival was a chance to meet professionals from many artistic fields. We used to have John Watts come to our drama class every year and teach us about Shakespeare: his passion was contagious. In college we had actress Kate Burton and playwright Eric Bogosian come and speak with us. The most fascinating thing was just hearing them talk about themselves: how they had spent their time after graduation, their ups and downs, how they had stumbled upon their careers. And perhaps the most valuable stories that my teachers told us in class were based on their own life experiences.
If you're a student, the best advice I can give you is to look around, ask questions. When you get out of school, find people whose work interests you and bug them with your questions or ask if you can meet them for coffee. More often than not, people will be happy to share their stories with you.
And to my fellow alumni: If you can, take the time to make a visit to campus and talk to current students. You will be surprised at how valuable your stories are.
Highlights from Ollie’s Visit
Ollie, who attended TASIS for grades 7–12, discussed how her time at the School gave rise to her love for theater in spite of her natural shyness:
She told a number of funny stories about her theater experiences at TASIS, encouraged students to take on the challenge of trying theater, and answered questions from students and faculty members. She answered a question from Mr. Frazier-Smith regarding the advice she has for students who are disappointed when they don’t get the part they most desire:
Following a hilarious improv game carried out by six student volunteers, Ollie wrapped up her presentation by reminding students how fortunate they are to have the opportunity to try so many new things at TASIS: