Acting on My Instincts by Zachariah Gonzalez

DSC_4493My journey at Middlesex started as a last-minute decision. Like many students, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was smart, kind of awkward and financially motivated, so I entered program that I was unexcited about knowing I could find a good job quickly. A year later I was making strides career wise, but I could not be any more miserable. Looking for something to reignite my passions I stumbled upon an audition flyer for the school show Skin of Our Teeth, which I briefly considered auditioning for. I had always loved theater and had acted in the past, but was too scared to pursue it, until I noticed another flier for the improv troupe Random Acts. In an act of bravery I decided to try out, and to my surprise I got in, starting me on a path that would change my life.

I looked forward to improv each week. It was a warm, welcoming time that helped me remember parts of myself that I had long forgotten. I had become very reserved and afraid in recent years, but could feel all of that melting away as I put myself out there on stage. That semester I withdrew from all of my classes, simply not wanting to continue down my current path. I loved the duality of theater’s permanence – how the dedicated time and effort from an array of like-minded people could culminate into a powerful, artful display that despite its brevity, delivers profound lasting impact to those involved in its creation and observation. This thought came back to me first, after seeing the school’s production of Skin of Our Teeth, and then again after a night at the Merrimack Reparatory Theater with the other members of the theater program seeing the shows Silent Sky and Kynum. The moments of freedom and self-actualization I had after each show was all the proof I needed that I had found my passion: I discovered a burning desire to be able give that gift to other people.


After some deliberation during the winter break I enrolled in all theater classes, auditioned for the spring musical Spring Awakening, and got in! The semester that followed would become one of the happiest times of my life. I was eager at the opportunity to learn as much about the theater world as possible and could feel myself grow with the effort I put into my classes. Perhaps the most influential was my directing class, where I had written, casted and directed a piece for Little Left of Center Fest. The process was incredibly informative, and immensely satisfying. I got a real glimpse of all the facets behind a production and was able to co-create my vision with my actors to greater heights than I could have imagined. I felt incredibly blessed to have Karen Oster’s tutelage and guidance, as well as the cooperation and trust of my actors, classmates and friends.

Spring Awakening was my first return to the stage in a long time, but I was too excited to be scared. The show was so emotionally profound and powerful, as well as an absolute blast to work on. Throughout the process I felt a sense of camaraderie and openness that, until I had entered the theater program – starting with the improv troupe – I had never experienced. We were a cast, and a family. My voice was always heard, and I found myself able to hold the kind of space for people that they held for me. Our approach toward the piece centered around telling the story, but not getting caught up in playing the mood. We ended the show with a message of hope rather than despair, and after all was said and done, I could not feel more proud. I had been able to inspire emotion and thought in the audience and was hungry for more.

Tackling well known and beloved characters is always a challenge, and I wanted to make my Mercutio authentic to the character as well as unique to me.

The following fall semester was a special one. The new Academic Arts Center was to open, and I was thrilled to have the chance to take class and perform in it. I was blown away by the state-of-the-art equipment, beautiful facilities and welcoming design of the building. The inaugural performance was to be Romeo and Juliet. I was cast Mercutio – much to my glee – and soon dove into the world of Shakespeare. The rehearsal process was fun, but a lot of hard work. We began with many sessions of table readings and MCC18_8623language workshops to make sure that we not only understood that language, but that it felt natural and comfortable. Soon we moved onto blocking, when we stage the movement, and got off book, which is when we have to have everything memorized. It was a blessing to be able to rehearse in the space we would be performing in, including the set, something that many productions don’t have the opportunity of doing until soon before opening night. Perhaps my favorite part of the process was the fight choreography. We were fortunate enough to work with a professional fight choreographer and real rapiers. We started early on, learning all the basics and practicing religiously before eventually creating phrases that we would blend into the fights. I learned so much from our choreographer Ted Hewlet. His knowledge on stage combat, Shakespeare, acting and theater was invaluable.

Out of all things in the production, I was most proud of my character work. Tackling well known and beloved characters is always a challenge, and I wanted to make my Mercutio authentic to the character as well as unique to me. I spent countless hours poring over the text and creating a backstory for him before fully allowing him to take shape in my body. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support and direction of Karen, Ted, our assistant director John Bachelder, and our stage manager Kaitlyn Krockett. After our performances I was brought nearly to tears with all the praise the show received, my friends’ performances and my own performance. We had gone above and beyond expectations, really touching our audiences.

The love and acceptance I’ve experienced in the theater program at Middlesex has truly changed me. I feel so free and aligned with myself. Two years ago, I was a completely different person and could never have imagined my life as it is today, but now I don’t want to imagine anything else.

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