School of Theatre and Dance acting major Joshua Thomas was recently announced as the 2022 recipient of the Sutter Family Shakespeare Scholarship for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival (ISF).
The Sutter Family Shakespeare Scholarship is made possible by the generous support of longtime ISF patron Craig Sutter, who created the scholarship in memory of his parents, H. Everett and G. Jean Sutter.
Awarded annually to a School of Theatre and Dance acting major with a high level of acting talent, the scholarship also guarantees the recipient an acting internship position for one season with the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. This experience will provide Thomas with the opportunity to work side-by-side with leading professionals from around the country, as well as an academic scholarship of $500 per semester.
We interviewed Thomas to learn more about him, his journey at Illinois State, and his audition for the scholarship.
What made you decide to come to ISU?
When I was a junior in high school, I knew I wanted to pursue acting as a career. I was in a physics class, and we had to do a capstone point which had us visiting colleges. My professor suggested I visit Illinois State. I visited in the spring, and I fell in love with it so fast and the ambiance. The marching band was on the Quad, and I remember it so vividly. The students were graduating, and it was so amazing. I could see myself being here for the next four years. So, I turned to my mom and said I wanted to go here. I applied early in the summer for early admission, and it was the first award letter I won. I got my acceptance to ISU, but I still needed to audition for the School of Theatre and Dance. I was nervous about that, but I auditioned in the spring and fortunately made it in.
What was the audition experience like for the Sutter Scholarship, especially with it being virtual rather than in person?
It was more relaxed than I thought it was going to be. I remember for the first round of auditions, we were in the Zoom room with three faculty members of the School of Theatre and Dance. I was convinced I was going to mess up my monologue, but I did not. It was so funny because as soon as I logged on to the Zoom video my phone went berserk. I had it set up with a tripod and the light was glowing and I looked great, but my phone shut down. So, I ended up doing my audition on my iPad instead—I had to hold it up and it was kind of intense!
The second round of auditions and callbacks was a prerecorded video, so you can continue to retake the video until you get it right. I am a perfectionist and was so paranoid about getting it perfect. Because it’s prerecorded, you want to redo everything and then you ask yourself, “Am I supposed to look at the camera to make eye contact, or do I look at my focal spot? If I am not looking at the camera, do they know I am looking at a focal spot?” There are so many different things that you would not have to think about if you were in person.
How did you react when you found out you won?
I was so surprised. I was in the car on a road trip to a ski resort with my friends. At that point, it had been two months since I had submitted to the audition. I did not think too much about it because I did not want to stress. John Stark, ISF artistic director called me, and I was not even thinking about the scholarship. He offered me the scholarship, and I was just in a state of shock.
Who was the first person you called?
I texted my mom immediately. She was ecstatic because she knew I had been auditioning for this for the last three and a half years so then she sent me a picture of her crying and then she told my whole family. She sent the audition videos that I posted on YouTube to our whole family group chat.
Have you had any previous experience with Shakespeare?
When I first got to ISU as a freshman, I had no previous experience with Shakespearean text other than a literature class I took my senior year when we read Macbeth. I was in a THE 440 scene featuring a Shakespeare scene, and then I was asked to audition for the ISF Bard in the Box where we toured different schools performing a Theatre for Young Audiences version of Romeo and Juliet and was in that for a year. I was also in Twelfth Night at ISU my sophomore year. I played Antonio, and that was my biggest exposure to Shakespeare’s text.
Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?
I really love Hamlet. There are so many layers to each character and underlying meaning that you must unravel as you keep reading.
What has been your experience with working in professional theatres or seeing professional productions?
When I was nine years old my grandma saw a news article in the paper for a program called Summer Stage, and they were putting on a production of Alice in Wonderland at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. I was so shy back then, and my mom suggested I audition to get out of my shell. I ended up getting cast and performing on the Paramount stage. After that, I spent every summer on the Paramount stage up until my junior year of high school.
What are you most excited for this summer?
I am excited to work with professional actors who have already established the way they approach roles. Being able to network and learn as much as I can from them is my ultimate goal.
What are your plans after graduation?
My plan is to not stop until I get a job. I am 90% sure I am going to move to Atlanta, Georgia because that is where a lot of the Netflix movies and shows are filmed. From the research I have done this past year, it seems like it is a very welcoming place for new actors trying to make a career and make a living. If not, then I will probably stick around Chicago because that is familiar territory to a lot of people, especially acting students here at Illinois State, to help with some connections as well.
The Illinois Shakespeare Festival begins its season on June 3, 2022, with the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. For more information on the 2022 season, please visit IllinoisShakes.com.