Shoot for the Stars: Two UCSD acting students triumph over adversity to reach their dreams
By Will Bowen
“Everyday should be extraordinary,” claims Regan Linton, 30, a second-year student in the MFA acting program at UC San Diego. Linton is herself quite extraordinary — she is the first person with a disability admitted into the program. Ten years ago, the car Linton was riding in was rear-ended on the Interstate 10 in L.A., while she was a student at USC film school. Linton’s spinal chord was injured and she became paralyzed from the chest down.
But Linton doesn’t like the value-loaded and sometimes judgmental term “disability,” rather she says, “I have a different physicality,” which she is learning to know better and adjust to.
It is a more equalitarian way of looking at things, an “I am mine,” response to the societal coercion to see things in certain preconceived ways. “We are all different and we need to accept our differences. We are not all cookies made from the same cookie-cutter,” she said.
Linton was born and raised in a musical family, “a bunch of hams,” she said, from Denver. She was athletic growing up and threw herself into theater in high school, where she was also elected Head Girl (read ASB President).
After her accident, Linton went back to Denver to recover. There she became part of a theater for disabled people called “Phamaly.” She won several awards for acting, including a Denver Post Ovation for playing Aldonsa in “Man of La Mancha.”
“Phamaly gave me inner strength. It basically saved my life by pulling me out of the shell I had retreated into and helping me realize that I could be who and how I am.”
Later, Linton returned to USC where she graduated with a degree in American Studies. She then decided to apply to the UCSD acting program.
Linton has been in several plays at UCSD, including, “Three Penny Opera” and “Glass Menagerie,” performing all of her roles in a wheelchair. The set crew constructed special ramps to allow her access to the stage.
Linton said the interdisciplinary character of the department has affected her most. “The program has helped me acquire a toolbox of techniques with which to approach my roles and given me a strong sense of self so I can go in and out of character without a lot of difficulty.”
After graduation, Linton plans on opening her own acting school for “unique people.”
Gabriel Lawrence, also 30 years old, is another extraordinary student in the MFA program. He was born and raised in a broken family in the African-American ghetto in Houston. His said his Christmas gifts were provided by The Salvation Army, and at night, he often heard gunshots.
A highly developed ambition for success is what makes Lawrence extraordinary. “By the time I was in the third grade, I had decided that I would do everything and anything to get out of the ghetto … and hopefully end up being a movie star.”
Gabriel said he worked hard in a number of areas but had the most success in speech/debate and power lifting. He made the nationals in both while in high school. When he was 17, he benched-pressed 274 pounds, dead lifted 578, and squat thrusted 515, to become first in the nation.
Lawrence ended up with 24 scholarship offers to college. He decided on Texas A&M in Amarillo, where he earned a degree in Mass Communications.
After college, Lawrence went to Los Angeles where he worked as a video editor. But he did not find his job fulfilling. “I am not getting any younger,” he thought, so he decided to pursue his dream of acting, at UCSD, “because I wanted to be with the best.”
Lawrence said he lives his life by maxims like, “You have got to treat your talent like it was your woman. If you don’t care for it and nourish it, you will lose it.” And, “The sky is the limit but you have to shoot for the stars.” And, “Never admire another man’s swagger more than your own.” And “If you don’t go, you won’t know.”
Lawrence said UCSD’s training has helped him better become the characters he plays. “I’ve learned to drop in, to embody, and go deep into how the character lives in my body, so as to be the person in a believable manner,” he explained.
Professor Kyle Donnelly is head of the MFA acting program. A director by trade, she has an uncanny ability to help students learn how to perform.
“I am part of the quest for The Great American Acting Method,” she said. “I try to teach each student how to make best use of himself. I teach the students to seek the truth on stage in an honest and transparent manner.
“I help them to find their own unique and improvisational way into a role, with the text as the map to guide them. We want the audience to feel as if the acting is truly happening right in front of them, for the first and only time.”
Want to know more?
• Regan Linton appears in the Janet Hayatshahi performance installation piece, “The Rest is Silence,” 8 p.m. Feb. 29 and March 1-3 in the Mandell Weiss Theater, UCSD.
• Gabriel Lawrence can be seen on March 25 in the Graduating Students Showcase at the Forum Theater, UCSD.
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