From school to the stage

Twenty-three-year-old U of C student Jennifer Connolly isn’t used to interviews quite yet which is, in a way, appropriate. After two years writing for the Gauntlet, I’m still not quite used to giving them.

“It’s kind of scary,” admits Connolly. “I’m afraid I’m going to say something stupid.”

I assure her not to worry. As a student journalist I’ve already mistaken a prominent local filmmaker with the late George Burns, as well as misquoting dates, names, even whole events. Hell, for this interview I tried to interview the wrong Higher Ground patron.

It’s tough starting out but, in the end, we can’t stay in school forever, can we?

For many University of Calgary students, the professional world is approaching quickly. Connolly, a fifth-year student, has already made the leap from academia to acting, landing a role in Ground Zero Theatre’s production of Blue Surge which begins its run Fri., Feb. 17 at the Pumphouse Theatres. Though it isn’t her first time collaborating with the U of C alumnus theatre company, it does mark her first major, professional involvement in front of the curtain.

“I really met Ground Zero through Bobby Supreme, stage managing for the show,” recalls Connolly. “I’m certainly more passionate about acting, so it was kind of surprising getting outside work.”

From the hallowed halls of learning to the proscenium arch of a professional production, it’s certainly easy to imagine a frightening world of professional actors with years of experience and glowing red eyes.

Connolly assures me it isn’t always so.

“This has been nothing but fantastic,” she says. “They’re all so encouraging and it makes it much easier to have something like the university in common. Professional, student–after a five-hour rehearsal you just feel like going out for a beer together.”

Speaking with a prospective actress named Jennifer Connolly, two obvious questions present themselves. The first is shot down quickly.

“No,” she says, “I’m not worried about being confused with Jennifer Connelly. We spell our names differently.”

Fame and fortune are quickly dismissed as well. As far as Connolly is concerned, acting is a liberating experience that doesn’t require gobs of beautiful money. Finding a paying role is just a side benefit of a career that offers the chance to step outside your own skin.

“I live a lot in my head and in many ways that’s exactly the opposite of what you do on stage where you have to live firmly in your body, your voice, your characters,” explains Connolly. “It’s an empathetic experience, experiencing and learning about different people. The great thing about theatre is being someone new–it isn’t a coincidence that it’s called a ‘play.’

“Obviously, if you can make money doing what you love you’re set for life, but I’d rather be happy than employed. Even if I couldn’t act I’d still remained involved with theatre, whether that’s the academic road, dramaturgy or teaching.”

Despite her recent success, Connolly is already looking beyond the stage and back to post-secondary education. Though she hopes to attend graduate school in Guelph, specializing in dramatic literature, she admits the lure of the stage is still strong.

“I don’t want to lose what I’ve gained here,” she says. “If there was an opportunity here, I’d come back in a heartbeat.”

Check next week’s Gauntlet for another in our continuing series on young, emerging artists and artistic opportunities.

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