Many people watching a terrible television show might think they could do a better job acting. Some might have the audacity say it, and others – like graduating theatre student Mary Hill – will have the guts to prove it.
Hill only transferred to Cal Poly Pomona in fall 2016, but has enjoyed numerous accolades and instances of success — playing significant roles on stage, writing a play that was produced earlier this year and making it to the final round of a national scholarship competition for acting.
When she graduated from Rosemead High School in 2011, Hill followed in her sister’s footsteps and enrolled in a medical trade school. A few months later, however, she found herself watching that terrible television show.
“I told myself I could act better than that,” she says. “That’s when I began to think about going into theatre, because I knew I could try doing something like that.”
For the next four years, Hill attended community college, where she took her first theatre classes. With no acting experience yet under her belt, Hill decided she’d try to audition for the college’s production of the musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Although a natural comedian, Hill says her vocal experience at the time was limited to a few nights of karaoke. So when auditions began, she walked out of the room and waited in the hall to reconsider. A little while later, however, she steeled herself and returned to deliver her audition, which earned her the very first role she’d play on stage.
“Ever since then, I wanted to continue and search for new characters whose stories I could tell and give voices to,” Hill says. “That’s when my acting career really began because I wasn’t afraid to audition after that.”
When it was time to transfer, she applied to Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona. Hill, who will earn her degree at the commencement ceremony on Sunday, June 10, is the first member of her family to attend a four-year university. When Hill was accepted to both, her community college director encouraged her to consider CPP more seriously.
“I appreciated Fullerton and its program, but I wanted a more personal learning experience that wasn’t so competitive and a little more hands-on,” she says. “I was afraid when I first walked arrived, but a new love for theatre began for me here too.”
Without skipping a beat, Hill auditioned for the Department of Theater and New Dance’s 2017 production of “Pride and Prejudice” and earned a supporting role. It was through this experience, she says, that she began to make connections and feel she was a part of the department.
Around the same time, Hill took a playwriting class where she penned a short play about an African-American slave who confronts her feelings for a slave-owner’s son.
“That was one of my greatest moments, and I never knew I had a story to tell before I wrote ‘Daisy.’” Hill says. “I didn’t know how my writing would impact people. It was life-changing and it opened up another door for me because it told me I could write, and that telling stories didn’t just mean I had to be on stage doing it.”
“Daisy” was one of a few select plays produced by the Theatre Department during its 2018 Student-Playwright Festival, but not before Hill would play the lead role in the department’s fall 2017 show “Intimate Apparel.” That show made its way to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 8 this year.
During the festival, Hill was selected to compete in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition, which required her to undergo numerous rounds of performing partner scenes and monologues from “Intimate Apparel.” As the pool of candidates thinned and Hill remained, it became apparent that she needed more material to compete with than the show provided her. Almost on a whim, Hill decided to introduce “Daisy” to its widest audience yet, selecting scenes from perhaps the one play she knows best – her own.
“I introduced it as an original piece and people really loved it,” she says. “I can’t even explain the amount of joy I had just being on that stage, even before we started. When we walked on, the people who saw us before in the competition cheered us on. They were genuinely excited to see us there and to know we had all of our Cal Poly Pomona people there to cheer us on too was even better.”
As for where she’s headed after graduation, Hill says she doesn’t know what’s waiting for her, but she’ll just keep moving forward.
“I’m trying to figure out directions of where to go. I know I want to write and try to get my work out there and continue as a performer and entertain, and be someone’s go-to for escaping reality and inspiration,” she says. “I didn’t even know I was going to be here now, accomplishing and failing a lot, but moving forward.”