If the trend continues, school administrators might need to consider renaming it: New York University at Reston. For the third time in as many years, and the fourth in the last five, a South Lakes High School drama student is a freshman at NYU's famed Tisch School of the Arts.
And with as many as six current South Lakes thespians expressing an interest in following suit, the Reston-to-Manhattan train shows no signs of slowing down. "It seems to be some sort of Tisch tradition that we are starting here," said Maria Harris, the longtime South Lakes drama director. "I feel very blessed to have given them a little taste or a little inspiration to pursue their love of performance." Harris said that each of her former South Lakes-turned-NYU theater majors are living out their dreams, "and enjoying every minute of it. How many of us can say that?"
Looking to follow in the well trodden footsteps of Tisch alumni like Oliver Stone, Spike Lee and Marcia Gay Harden, former Seahawks Alex Strain, Marisa Harris, Amy Dellagiarino and Amy Lerner have migrated north to the West Village in recent years to follow their dreams of studying to become actors, directors and playwrights in the shadow of Broadway's bright lights.
"If you are going to do theater, New York is the place to be," Harris said. "If you are lucky enough to get into NYU, oh my, what an education they are getting."
CRAIG HARRIS, the senior captain of the South Lakes Dance Team and a drama student, has his eyes set on NYU for one main reason. "Location, location, location," he said.
The aspiring Broadway actor, who wants to "do it all," likes the fact that NYU seems to "focus on the development of the art of acting." He says that South Lakes has helped him prepare for the next step with all of the different auditions. "Plus, I am used to the long hours," he said.
Marisa Harris, an NYU junior, said the hours in college are even more "brutal" and "rigorous" than high school. Harris, a journalism and theater double major, keeps an exceptionally hectic schedule. In addition to her regular workload and her work in the school's Playwright Horizon Studio, Harris interns for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is a newscaster for WNYU and writes for the campus newspaper.
"They teach us how to be independent here," Marisa Harris said. "The playwrights are the busiest students in the Tisch School. We've had more 10 to midnight rehearsals than I care to remember."
While the hours can be tough, Marisa Harris says she has never once regretted her decision. Even the events of Sept. 11, which occurred just a few weeks after she arrived at the Lower Manhattan campus, didn't deter her. "I have loved every minute being here. I followed my dream here and I wasn't going to leave it because of 9/11. That would be wimping out and that's not what artists do," Marisa Harris said. "To be honest, this was the only place that I wanted to come. For journalism and theater, it is the best place to be in the United States, in my opinion. It's the number one news market and the nexus of theater in the free world. It's either here or London."
The city is enticing, said South Lakes senior Derek Yale, who is currently working on his NYU application. "I love film. NYU is film."
"The fact that there were people have been wanting to go to New York from here got me interested," Yale said. "I figured I should take a look at it and when I did I was very impressed with what I found. New York is just such an exciting city — the city of lights and all that jazz."
THE SOUTH RESTON to West Village migration began five years ago, Harris said. "It all started with Alex," said Harris. "I had had other students look to NYU, but Alex was really one of my strongest male actors I have ever had. He was very passionate about his craft and he was clear about what he wanted to do and where he wanted to do it —NYU. I just feel lucky to have worked with all of them. I am beaming with pride."
Harris credits Strain, who graduated from NYU this past year, with helping to encourage other South Lakes alumni to follow his path. The first one to do that was Marisa Harris. "My daughter was very inspired by Alex. He would come back and talk to my theater kids about his experiences," Harris said. "That's when she knew and, in her sophomore year, she just set her cap for NYU ... All four of them knew that what they wanted and they knew exactly what they had to do to get there. They were all just well-rounded intelligent people, and that's important."
Harris said NYU, and programs like it, are not for everyone. Because the school offers something for every theater-persuasion, NYU is a very attractive choice for high school theater students. For
Samuel Repshas, a South Lakes junior, NYU's is attractive because, Repshas, who has been acting since the fifth grade, says he has always been fascinated by acting methods. "I love to experiment using different methods."
"It takes a very special student to find that love and pursue it with that undying passion because what we do is not easy," Harris said. "We put everything we have into our performance."
Harris' daughter agreed. "People who aren't dedicated don't last long here," Marisa Harris said. "They don't last in this city and they don't last at NYU."
Katie Cohen, another South Lakes senior, thinks she is up to the task. "I started out in high school not really knowing what I wanted to do or what I was really interested in," she said. I tried track and cross country. Nothing really seemed to fit."
During her sophomore year, a friend convinced her to try out for the musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." It was then that she found her niche.
Cohen is confident that her hard work at South Lakes will help her at the next level. "Unlike with sports, people don't realize how many hours it takes to do what we do. It is so much more work than people realize," she said. "All they see is the finished product and don't realize what went into it. You really can't know just how much work it is until you experience it."
GEORGE DELLAGIARINO, whose daughter Amy is a sophomore at NYU, has been very happy with her success in the Big Apple. He credited South Lakes theater department with preparing herself for the next level. From Cappies to one-act plays, South Lakes provided Amy an opportunity to diversify her portfolio and her experiences, her dad said.
And while the cost is expensive, Dellagiarnino is confident that the experience she is having will "pay off" in the future.
"She's in her element," the Reston geologist said. "She's having the time of her life. She knew what she wanted and that helped a lot. It was almost like it was her destiny."
This year, Dellagiarnino's best friend, Amy Lerner, a NYU freshman, became the third female South Lakes graduate in a row to attend the New York school. Lerner said she is not surprised that South Lakes continues to turn out NYU-bound graduates. "South Lakes was a very competitive program and that really helps," she said. "All three of us were IB [International Baccalaureate] students, that says a lot."
For the trend to continue, Lerner recommends that applicants show a lot of enthusiasm. "They love that here."