Their paths to acting were all different, but for four University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts theatre graduates, the ending point was the same: as the founding members of a brand new Milwaukee theater company, Youngblood.
When Theresa Cinpinski (2009), Michael Cotey (2008), Rich Gillard (2010), Andrew Edwin Voss (2010) and Benjamin James Wilson (2009) graduated from the Peck School, they decided they didn’t want to wait around for acting opportunities to come their way. ”We just had to make it happen for ourselves. It’s not luck; you have to go do it. We thought: we have to be together as a group to do this. We chose yes,” Cotey says.
The six were not all in the same class at the Peck School, but each credit their experiences here with influencing their lives and careers today.
“What my professors said to me in class stays with me to this day,” says Cotey, the group’s founding artistic director. “The professors all bring some unique perspective to the table. All their strengths balance each other out.” Cotey started his time at UWM as a journalism major, but switched his major after learning about the launch of the new BFA Acting program.
Wilson was also influenced by the Peck School’s faculty, particularly Professor Rebecca Holderness, who he says opened his eyes to a different way of thinking about texts. “I remember reading a piece called Delirium Palace and it was unlike anything I had ever read,” he says.
He adds that one of his biggest challenges through the program was learning to trust the artistic process. “The training is so different than other programs – actually performing (Jerzy) Grotowski as opposed to just reading it is a lot different,” he says.
Gillard echoes Wilson’s opinion about the challenge of the Peck School’s theatre program: “It’s a BFA at the level of a graduate training program.”
For Cinpinski, learning how to juggle her studies was one of the program’s most challenging aspects. “Time management was challenging – working and taking GREs and working on productions at the same time,” she says. “In the end I became more responsible and learned that I had to take care of myself.”
Wilson advises other young actors to never stop working if they want to succeed. “You have to be in the room. Even if you’re having a bad day, you have to do it,” he says. “Don’t stop, don’t stop, don’t stop! You have to be an artist – this is what the company has allowed us to do.”
Youngblood is now entering its fourth year of putting on unconventional productions in unlikely places and continues to draw praise from area theatergoers and reviewers.