With the Arizona Repertory Theatre season on pause, this fall semester our Acting/Musical Theatre students instead engaged with industry professionals during a new Professional Development Series. Through regular online interaction with more than a dozen notable alumni and special guests, students gained up-to-the-minute insight on how to prepare for careers as freelance professional actors in an evolving industry. Speakers included Broadway performers Tamika Lawrence (’10) and Betsy Wolfe, Tony nominee Michael McElroy, SAG-AFTRA commercial contracts strategist Adam Green, casting director and alumna Marisa Ross, and comedian, writer and actor Zackry Colston (’16), who conducted a 3-day intensive on short- and long-form content creation.
On graduating with a BFA in Acting from the School of Theatre, Film & Television, Zackry moved to Los Angeles armed with one connection. The School’s Head of Acting, Hank Stratton, had introduced Zackry to Tony Sepulveda, Senior Vice President of Casting at Warner Bros. Television and, according to Zackry, it opened up a whole world.
Tony introduced Zackry to The Groundlings Theatre, the renowned improv and sketch comedy theatre and school whose many alumni include Will Ferrell, Lisa Kudrow, Melissa McCarthy, Will Forte, Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. In a little over three years, during which he honed his comedy writing, monologue and performance work, Zackry was voted in as a Groundlings Sunday Company member. His first official performance as one of the newest company members was to have taken place in April 2020, but the pandemic arrived and the hotly anticipated show will now take place next year. In the meantime, Zackry keeps busy with virtual auditions and commercial work.
In his sessions for TFTV’s Professional Development Series, the ascending actor discussed the vital importance of networking and how to get your work seen by the people who can jump-start careers.
Zackry talked about how to create feature-length content and brought in his comedy partner, the actor Tru Valentino, to discuss diversity in the sketch world. Together, the two led fast-paced exercises with students in which they were encouraged to write short character-based comedy and dramatic sketches. They led a ‘random word generator’ exercise in which students were tasked with coming up with quick pitch ideas based on random words.
“The response from the students was really awesome – they were excited,” says Zackry. “As soon as we gave them something active to do, they just took off. I was jealous of their ideas! They were on fire. I remember being intimidated to create your own content and felt that it was separate from acting. My goal was to help students feel comfortable applying their acting knowledge and finding their own content. It’s not as scary as you think, and it’s an exciting time to enter this part of the industry. What better time when everything is starting afresh?”