An interview with Devon Wyckoff, class of 2012

devonwyckoffYou graduated in 2012, can you fill us in on what adventures you have been on since that time?

After graduating I went straight to college, attending CU Boulder as a film major. I stayed at CU for two years before transferring to a drama school here in New York City. I finished up at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting last September. Straight out of drama school I made my Off-Broadway debut in an original show called Dead End. Following the close of that show I went to Chicago for a Bollywood Dance show. In the middle of a performance, when I was giving the people of Chi-Town just the most and extra, I decided to not just toe touch, but toe touch FOR MY LIFE! Well I ended up hurting my sciatic nerve in the process. I flew back to NYC the next day and had to take a break from auditioning and performing. This city is not kind to one’s wallet and so I needed to find another way of paying rent. I hate clichés and therefore I just could not bring myself to be waitress/unemployed actor, so I searched for a job that would still keep me close to the theatre. I had previous experience as set-costumer (someone who dresses actors on film sets) and had worked at the Denver Center as a dresser for the Broadway touring companies, so I decided to drop off my resume at every stage door between 42nd St and 54th st (that’s Broadway for you country folk), and a day later Broadway called! I started dressing at Aladdin as a swing dresser, which means I learn every dresser track at the show (a track is the dresser’s trajectory through the show, covering everything from costume presets, the details quick changes to the back stage choreography and costume care). I have 15 tracks in my head that I can be called to cover at any time. I also work at another Broadway show, She Loves Me, where I am responsible for 9 tracks. Between the two shows I work 8 shows a week, our only day off is Monday. I have recently started auditioning again. I will be starring in an Independent Feature this fall and will be doing a NetFlix series later in the year (but I can’t say which one…yet!).

What inspired you to pursue a career in the performing arts? (OR – What is about acting that calls you to pursue it?) And when did you know that you wanted to be an actor?

I always used to say the worst advice you could give me is: “Devon you’ll be fine… just be yourself!” I would always be left thinking “WHICH SELF?” The human psychology and emotional spectrum is so enormously complex and vast that we are capable of inhabiting so many different “selves.” Society, however has a norm and a (albeit varying) social, moral and ethical standard to which we tend to conform, therefore we bury our inner psychopath or monstrous rage. We tend to project our developed “default setting” yet rarely get a self place to explore our deeper darker sides or perhaps the common emotions we so often stigmatize. On stage you are applauded for inhabiting that “self” that society would isolate and reject. I enjoy the safety the stage provides so that I can experience the the human condition in its many fascinating and intricate layers.

Can you describe your process of work from the moment you take a character on, to that first moment in front of an audience when you “are” that other person?

First I will read the script in it’s entirety so that I understand the story. Then I ask myself “what does my character want, what is my motivation in each scene and how do my characters actions help or deter me from my over-arching goal.” I’ll do a bit of character research. The more specific and thorough I am in my research and character preparation the more freedom I have when performing. Knowing that my character is from New York is not good enough. Is she from Queens? Brooklyn? Rochester? As that will affect my accent. Was she born and raised there? What kind of family was she born into, what kind of education does she have? All these details will inform and dictate my character choices.

Next I will do what is called a “beat breakdown.” This is when I assign a transient verb to each line and every single sentence I speak. This helps take the focus off myself (which is what we call indulgent or masturbatory acting… and NO ONE wants to work with that kind of actor) and put it on my scene partner. For example if I am in a heated fight with my boyfriend because he warned me “if you fall down that hill and break your crown one more time, I’m not coming after you, Jill….I swear….” and I respond “Jack, please calm down. I am not going to tumble down the hill. Here look, I brought you a pale of water.” I would break those sentences up and assign an action, i.e. “to pacify,” to the first sentence, “to reassure” to the second and “mollify” for the third. When I speak the first sentence I have the goal of pacifying Jack. This gives my choices specificity and direction… generality is the death of an actor and a scene.
Once I am on stage and at performance level, however, all of this should be so within me that I don’t think about it. The audience doesn’t want to see your technique, they want to see a fully developed character. They paid to be a voyeur, to be privy to your private moment on that stage while you grapple with the human condition and the nature of this fickle thing called life.

Horses have always been a huge part of your life as well. Have you continued to find connection into that world while living in NYC? And, how has the transition to life in NYC been for you?

Yes, horses were a huge part of my life. One could even go as far as saying “horses were my life.” I started riding when I was three and started competing when I was eight. Every summer from 2011 to 2014, I qualified and attended the North American Junior Olympics. I trained year round for the summer show seasons. I was often at the barn before and after school. I knew from a very early age however, that I did not want to be a career equestrian. It came to a point where I was turning down roles because of traveling and showing with my horse, and I realized I needed to shift my priorities and focus on my career of choice, and so I stepped away from the horse world. That was an incredibly painful time plagued with self doubt and I, in essence, recreated how I identified myself.

I haven’t been on a horse in nearly two years, which is shocking for me to think about, seeing I rarely went a day without riding before.
The transition to the city was incredibly difficult. There was definitely a bit of culture shock in going from riding a horse to a subway every day. I also had to work incredibly hard to set my ego aside and go from having international success and momentum in one field to be at the very bottom of another field. I have had to learn how to find happiness in places other than my career or accomplishments, because you honestly have no control over a career in the entertainment industry. If I rely entirely on the joy being on stage brings me I enter into dangerous territory, because there can be very dry periods where I may not step foot on a stage for months at a time. I have made a incredible group of friends and support system through the Broadway community and at the moment my main focus is to learn how to live and experience life, because you cannot be a good actor without being an experienced human first.

Have you met any other Waldorf alumni in your years since SMWS? If so, did you feel a kinship? 

Absolutely, and funny enough they have all been in the entertainment industry. In 2012 when I did my senior placement in NYC I stayed with an entertainment lawyer who had kids in the Brooklyn Waldorf School. She has become an incredible and invaluable mentor to me over the years.

Describe those people (be they actors, scientists, lawyers or other) who inspire you.

Oh man, cue the waterworks as I think about the hundreds of people who have inspired and supported me over the years. At the moment I am inspired daily by the people I work with in the theatre. These are people I have admired from afar for years, these are ensemble members who perform FULL OUT every night, eight shows a week with a passion and energy that is tangible from the back of the house. These people are Tony and Oscar winners who give their time, advice and support graciously. These people are kind, these people show a loyalty and compassion I assumed I would not find in this industry. These people are my friends and I am humbled to call them such….but mostly these people inspire me to keep going in an industry that will give you 100 “no’s” for every one “yes.”

What are some of your fondest memories from SMWS; what were some of your greatest challenges?

Performing…I mean come on… A production I didn’t have to audition for? I had no idea how good I had it! The memories from the stage at SMWS are some of my happiest and that is something I pull from when this city and industry start become too much and the joy of acting fades.

Greatest struggle: math. It’s been 1,467 days since I graduated, and I have not used Algebra once. Just saying… I’m looking at you, Mr. York.

What quote plays itself in your head these days as inspiration? (could be a song lyric too)

“You are enough, you are so enough, it’s unbelievable how enough you are.” – Sierra Boggess