On the eve of their graduation, MFA candidates Michaela Petrovich (Costume Design) and Pankaj “J” K. Jha (Professional Actor Training Program) sat down to reflect on their grad school experiences, Seattle, and what’s next.
J: What has Seattle given you that no other place could have?
Michaela: The range of people and the range of personalities, collaborators, and friends that I’ve made here have been unlike any other group. The feel of life and the appreciation of the arts here – it may exist in other places, but it feels right in Seattle.
J: When I came to Washington, besides the natural beauty of the place, the first thing that hit me was the sense of freedom to just be. When it came to my creativity there was no stopping. I was never told “This is too much.” I had a long history of thinking in a certain way and my brain just rejoiced in the freedom that it got when I came to Seattle. What do you plan to do after graduation?
Michaela: I’m going to stay and work in the Seattle theatre community for as long as I love the area and am getting work. I’d also like to branch out to film and television.
J: I’m going to San Francisco. I’ve made a community there, and during the first couple of years after graduation – which are going to be extremely tough in terms of calibrating yourself with the demands and the expectations of the industry and your own self-image – it will be really important to have that community. And it’s a very vibrant, artistic city. What about Seattle – its artists and the work happening here – inspires you?
Michaela: The people I went to school with have been some of my favorite people to work with and I will gladly take the opportunity to work with them longer. The range of theatre in this city is exciting to me and will provide opportunities to get my hands into a little bit of everything.
J: In terms of diversity, I think San Francisco will have more opportunities that challenge the gender boundary, that will challenge the color matrix, and also challenge the fact that there is an international actor working with the specific aesthetics that he or she brings, but not allowing that to be an intervention in storytelling.
Michaela: What was your favorite role at UW?
J: Has to be Ralph in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherf**ker with the Hat. The fact that it was a studio, not a main stage production, allowed me to become even more available in terms of instincts. It was my first project, and I’ll be doing another scene from it for our Showcase. It’s a beautiful closure. Same to you, what was your favorite project?
Michaela: Tennessee Williams’ One Acts. I got to work with [Professor] Tom Lynch. He and I got really excited about each other’s research and it just became this giant love affair with decaying, downtrodden people, and the poetry of the piece. If you couldn’t be an actor, what profession would you pursue?
J: When I was still finding my balls to become an actor, I thought about using my MBA education to become a talent agent. I’d just seen Jerry McGuire and I felt the honesty of the product. You’re selling a person to the world, with all their strengths and their failings.
Michaela: I would like to think that I would have become a children’s book illustrator. There’s something about creating a whole world. It’s what I like about my job now.
J: Let’s flash forward 20 years. Everything happened the way you wanted it to – you’ve had your struggles, of course – what are you doing?
Michaela: I’m still working as a designer in theatre. I’ve done at least a little bit of film work. I’ve been teaching for a while, helping younger artists discover who they are, what their voice is, and how to hone it. I’d love to say that 20 years from now, my friends and I have a summer stock theatre in a barn where we’re having fun and clearing chickens out of the way to put on the plays that we want to put on.
J: I’ll have a strong presence in the field of acting across theatre and film and across countries with a strong network of theatre activists fueling a diverse set of causes. I will start a scholarship for queer men in India, so that they can fulfill their dreams regardless of how big they are.
Michaela: I see you doing that much sooner than 20 years from now.
[Editor]: What about grad school has surprised you both the most?
J: I thought it was going to be a great party, but grad school takes all of my life. It is a total commitment. My classmates have been my family for the last three years. It is amazing to have been vulnerable with them, and to have seen their vulnerabilities; to have experienced the joy in each other’s successes and the fear in our failures.
Michaela: I didn’t know I was capable of producing this much, this fast, and all the time. I still haven’t felt like I don’t have something to say, or that I don’t have work in me, or something to share. I thought at some point everybody just runs out of ideas, and that’s not true at all. In our collaboration class the very first quarter, we were creating new, flushed out pieces every single week. Sometimes I think of a thing we did and I just want to share it with more people.
J: That class was brilliant. And that bonding has kept us all close – designers and actors. It eliminated barriers to creating work together.
On Sunday, April 13, J begins his Showcase Audition Tour in Seattle before traveling to New York and Los Angeles to perform for and meet industry professionals. Michaela will head to Los Angeles for the Design Showcase West.