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Action! New College arts student eyes career in Hollywood

May 03, 2010

With apologies to Lana Turner, Daniel Rojas is going to rely on something more than good luck to make his name in Hollywood.

Turner, who starred on the silver screen and won fame as “The Sweater Girl,” was “discovered” while sipping a soda at the Top Hat malt shop as a 15-year-old skipping a high school typing class in 1936. Rojas, instead, plans to use the lessons learned at Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and his growth as an artist during his four years as a student in interdisciplinary arts and performance (IAP) to earn his fortune in Tinseltown.

“My plan is to graduate, move to California and work in Hollywood,” Rojas said confidently, eyeing an IAP bachelor’s degree (his minor subject is film and media production) in May. “I have tremendous support groups – here in New College, on the West campus and at home – and this is something I’ve been doing on progressing levels nearly all my life.

“People would have a hard time understanding why I wouldn’t pursue such a career.”

Rojas, who graduated with honors from Phoenix Deer Valley High School, has among his cheerleaders a pair of New College faculty members, Charles St. Clair and Marianne Kim.

“Over the four years since he sat down in my office and announced, ‘you’re my mentor,’ I’ve come to realize through his many projects and performances that he is extremely innovative, but very, very practical,” said St. Clair, who is the technical director for the New College Division of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies and boasts a résumé with 300 productions and events, an Emmy Award for his NBC special “With These Hands,” and a three-time Emmy-winning effort as co-author, producer and director of the PBS special “Beauty and the Beast.”

“Daniel has a natural affinity for excellence, an undeniable desire and dedication to his work, and it affects everyone around him," St. Clair. "It’s very rare to encounter a student with such a diverse set of skills and personal and professional maturity. I feel certain he will continue to have a positive effect on the entertainment industry and everyone he collaborates with.”

Rojas said the lightbulb went on early in his life, as he inherited his father John’s love of music and his mother Andrea’s flirtations with stage acting. He performed in theatre plays at Deer Valley High and served as the technical director of the school’s morning announcements. As a member of the media club, he filmed commercials for campus clubs, sports and other activities and events. He chose ASU’s New College for the training the school offers in acting, digital media, music and art history. He said he has never looked back since coming to ASU’s West campus in the fall of 2006.

“During high school I decided that I wanted to make films and write music,” he said. “The interdisciplinary arts and performance major was available through New College, and that sealed it for me. Plus, I had heard from students who had been through the program that it was solid and offered a very interdisciplinary curriculum.

“I have learned so much here. I realize now that coming out of high school I didn’t know as much as thought I did.  What I am doing now is so much better, it is so much more technically correct, and I have grown so much through the knowledge that has been imparted. It was Charles who inspired me to pursue acting and directing, as well as to branch out and try film school.”

Among his credits at New College are roles in “Hamlet (Redux),” in which he was cast as Laertest, the killer of Hamlet; “War Play;” and a handful of appearances in short productions, including interdisciplinary studies Assistant Professor Kim’s “Miss Representation” in 2008.

“Daniel’s interest in music, movement, theatre and video has been an ideal match for the interdisciplinary arts and performance program,” said Kim, who has taught Rojas in several performance classes. “He is a thoughtful and humble artist. He is a performer and director who doesn’t create a lot of ‘drama’ around him.

“He has grown into a confident interdisciplinary artist who can clearly articulate his ideas, and his discipline, passion and collaborative spirit will take him far in the art world and in life.”

As he readies for his shot in Hollywood, Rojas is using the technical, acting and even business lessons he has learned at ASU to finish his senior-year project, a 15-minute dark comedy he is writing, directing and producing. The work, “Entendre,” counts five actors and a crew of 20 and has shot at a number of locations around the Valley. He calls it his “résumé,” the culmination of his college career. He rattles off a list of artistic elements that are featured in the film and that he has learned through his coursework, elements he says are “totally relevant” to a professional career in the industry: technical directing, acting, lighting, concept development, budgeting. And then there’s the blister packs that must be tested to make sure the spurting fake blood doesn’t stain the costumes he has secured at no cost with a promise to return unscathed.

“I can’t afford to rent everything that is needed,” he said. “I went to thrift stores for costumes, but couldn’t afford them.  I ended up approaching a local discount retailer that loaned me what I needed. But, before we could begin shooting, I had to make sure the blister packs wouldn’t leave blood stains on the clothes; I had to get them back to the store clean.”

Rojas’ classroom successes, his directing eye and his acting talents have caught the eye of local talent agencies and he has appeared in a variety of local and national print ads. Last spring he landed an extra’s gig in the Lifetime TV network movie “Maneater,” starring Sarah Chalke. He is awaiting word on a recent audition to appear in a 30-second TV spot for the Arizona Lottery.

Kim, whose creative works encompass dance, theatre, and video art, said Rojas’ success is all part of the IAP experience.

“In the program, we emphasize experimentation and presentation that reflect all aspects of our personal, social, cultural and political lives,” she said. “The cornerstone of the IAP program is that it offers tools and strategies that allow students like Daniel to articulate physically and conceptually their vision for interdisciplinary work and also fosters a space for reflection, courage and rigor.”

Once he lands in Hollywood, Rojas said his preference is to act, although directing is not out of the question for this first-generation student.

“Given my choice, I would definitely go actor,” he said. “I feel most comfortable in front of a camera. Behind the camera, you have to be a leader, which is nice for the challenges it presents, but it is more difficult to take on additional projects. You can say, ‘this production is mine,’ but, after six months, you may look back and realize it is the only thing you’ve done.

“There is so much variety in acting," he said. One day you can be a boxer, the next a scientist, the third a pirate.”

Meanwhile, St. Clair is excited to see his teaching and mentoring leading a student toward a career opportunity made from the stuff of dreams.

“It is in the classroom where the relationship of teacher and student and the creation of art and artist are bound together,” he said. “It is important to create an environment where students feel they can attempt, stumble and fall and attempt again, and where they can learn to trust themselves and others.

“Daniel has learned love and respect – love of the art and respect for the artist. He has learned that creating a work of art takes commitment, careful preparation, a responsible attitude, boundless energy and collaboration. He has learned and acquired the tools to be successful in a very rewarding career field.”