Senior Tyler Esselman will graduate from DePaul on June 13. In the essay below, he reflects on five of his favorite moments in the past four years.
As a soon-to-be-graduating BFA acting major at The Theatre School (TTS), I’ve been part of this community during a fascinating time. For my first two years, we occupied our old building on Kenmore Avenue before moving into our shiny new complex on Racine Avenue at the beginning of my third year. I like to say that I had the best of both worlds—I got to work in that rundown old building with all its history and charm, and I also got to experience the transition to this incredible new space with all its resources, new beginnings, and the attention from the DePaul and Chicago community that came with it. With each day that I tick off the calendar, the idea that I won’t be coming back in the fall settles in a little bit more. To that end, here are the moments that will stick out in my mind when I look back on my years at DePaul.
5. Moving in to University Hall
Living on campus was a no-brainer for me. I was so looking forward to living in a residence hall, meeting people and taking part in that American college tradition. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous. Was my roommate going to like me? Would I for some reason become completely socially incompetent and not make any friends at all? Would I want to move back home immediately? These questions were there, but I also knew that I would make it work one way or another. I don’t give up on things easily.
I was lucky because my family was able to help move me in. We showed up early on the ordained morning with coffees in hand and nervous smiles on our faces. It ended up being a too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen situation with my four family members, both of my roommate’s parents and us newly introduced roomies in a small space, so we asked that the families split for a bit while we got things started. My mom will never let me live that down! It was a rollercoaster of emotions and anxiety, but I will never forget that day, so it had to make this list.
4. My First Day of Classes in Our Old Building
I loved that building. It was the place that I took my tour the summer before I started school, the place where I auditioned for the acting program and, obviously, the place where I spent half of my college career. I’ve always been a nostalgic guy, so a place that felt so lived-in and charged with exciting energy was the kind of place I wanted to be. And I knew it the moment I stepped into the building for my tour that previous summer. It was love at first sight. So starting classes in that building was tremendously exciting. Returning students zoomed past me as I just looked around open-mouthed and overwhelmed. I don’t think I had any idea the extent to which I would transform during my time in that building, but I knew on that first day that I would certainly be different by the time I left.
3. My First Day in Our New Building
My first day in our new facility was notable for a very different reason than my first day in the old one. It was the beginning of my third year; I was about to audition for our major productions for the first time; I was getting ready to move into a new apartment; and I felt like I was really a part of the TTS community. I got into the building a few weeks before most students because I was working in the admissions office over the summer. It was incredible. Everything felt like it was wrapped in plastic, but an air of excitement and expectation was everywhere. At that point, the thought running through my head was that I was a part of something big. I was helping move TTS into the next generation of its existence. I would be among the first to work in those spaces and leave a mark on the new face of The Theatre School. Pretty awesome, right?
2. My Time at the Centre Artistique International Roy Hart
If you’ve ever read my DeBlog, you might have heard about the time I spent at the Centre Artistique International Roy Hart in Malérargues, France, two summers ago. I know, I know. This isn’t technically a moment at DePaul. But it was huge for me, and I never would have gotten there if I hadn’t been at DePaul. So it counts. Count it!
Anyway, Roy Hart is a voice and speech training program in the south of France that my professors recommended. The program is focused on unlocking the power of the human voice as it connects to the body, making it more expressive, assured and healthy. I spent a week there with two of my fellow TTS students, and it was a truly transformative time. I met people who were exploring their voices simply for the joy of it or because they were sick and the work was healing for them. I met people from Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Korea and many other countries. My friends and I were the youngest ones, and the week that I spent there completely changed my idea of who I am as an artist. It gave me perspective on just how big the world is and how we have to get out there and experience as much of it as possible. A week was too short, so I’m sure I’ll go back again someday—and when I do, it will be thanks to the opportunity DePaul gave me.
1. Opening “Hansel and Gretel” at the Merle Reskin Theatre
My first show as part of the Acting Company during my third year was a children’s show for our Chicago Playworks series. Directed by faculty member Ann Wakefield, the performance was her interpretation of Moses Goldberg’s interpretation of Hansel and Gretel. TTS produces its children’s shows at the historic Merle Reskin Theatre downtown. This space is just classic. A beautiful Broadway-style house with all the ornamentation and ghosts that you’d hope a place like that would have. It was an incredible experience because I was so proud of that show and the ensemble that created it. It was one of my first opportunities to show my community a side of myself that I don’t reveal too often. It was also incredibly refreshing artistically because I knew that every time I stepped on that stage, I was giving some kids their first theatre experience. That inspiration still lives in me every day.
Summing It Up
It was incredibly difficult to pick just five moments that ostensibly defined my experience at DePaul. I have so many small moments from the last four years swirling that I think about on an almost daily basis, but I chose these particular moments because they were all beginnings. They signaled a shift in my experience that was significant and unique in that moment. That’s how I am choosing to view the next big one: graduation. It’s the beginning of the next chapter of my life, and the pages are all fresh and ready to have ink spilled upon them. I walked onto DePaul’s campus as an idealistic boy, eager to please and find a place to belong. As I’m leaving, I think I’m a man that’s a little wiser, more focused, and ready to put one foot in front of the other and do good work. And I’m definitely still idealistic, too!