Dancing his way to stage career
Marcus Smith is making his dreams come true in Manhattan. He's a junior at New York University, studying drama and dance at the renowned Tisch School of the Arts.
The National Dance Foundation of Bermuda is helping him on his way. For the second year in a row, the 20-year-old received the prestigious Catherine Zeta Jones Award in honour of the late Bermudian ballet dancer, Patricia Calnan. He spoke with Lifestyle about dance and drama and how he is making them part of his future.
Where are you studying?
I'm currently studying at the Experimental Theatre Wing of Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
Was studying there a long-held dream?
No. It was actually suggested to me by my scholarship adviser. I was an Orbis Scholar and Richard Calderon said it was a great school and that I should give it a whirl. And so I did.
It's especially great as, since it is so close it gives my parents [Carla and T. Leroy Smith] a chance to come see me whenever performances and things come up. [I'm currently] in the ensemble of the Tisch Drama StageWorks' production of In the Heights.
So you're not a dance major?
I'm studying drama with a minor in dance and child and adolescent mental health studies.
Have you acted a lot here?
I did a lot of shows in Bermuda. [Among them] two Gilbert & Sullivan productions, I was in BMDS's The Railway Children and the Christmas pantomime, The Firebird. I was also in every Saltus production from 2007-2013.
Has the transition from Bermuda been difficult?
I've managed to make a name for myself here too. I'm a pretty social person.
I'm known as the kid who walks around in winter in the zebra onesie.
I've been on a [NYU] dance team called Synchronic for the past three semesters and I did NYU Cheer for all of last year, so I've covered a lot of ground.
Was it difficult to get on the cheerleading team?
There's a lot of people who try out. Also, I'd never cheered before so it was interesting to be out of my comfort zone. But a lot of cheerleading is gymnastics-based and I did gymnastics for four years with the Bermuda Gymnastics Association. I was also on the first all-man gymnastics team to represent Bermuda in the NatWest Island Games when Bermuda hosted a couple years ago.
Have you had any moments of fame in New York?
I think there have been a series of things. My biggest at NYU thus far, was getting People's Choice at So You Think NYU Can Dance in my freshman year; I came back and judged in my second year. I also danced for the Science of Happiness final.
The professor was one of the judges for So You Think NYU Can Dance and he asked if I could dance for the final because watching people do what they love makes people happy.
It was a class of over 400 people and they cheered the whole time. I included the video in my one-man show on December 28.
Was that here?
Yes. We weren't sure if I had enough money to make it back to school so I did a show and raised $5,000 at St Paul AME Centennial Hall.
What's the most important thing you've learnt so far?
I think the biggest thing I've learnt is to stay true to yourself. I said that before I left Bermuda but it rings very true here. There's a million people that will tell you that being you is wrong.
The only way to get past that is to be you, bigger and louder than you've ever been,
Has it been a confidence boost that your talent is being recognised outside Bermuda?
So many people will tell you you'll only be a little fish in a big pond but to still be able to make an impact just means you have what it takes. I believe I have what it takes. You have to want it.
Where from here?
I just want to be on stage. I want to perform. The only thing set in stone is I want to join a dance group called Witness Relocation with my freshman movement teacher Dan Safer. They do shows across New York and I had my second off-Broadway debut with them last semester.
You suspected you were talented when?
My drama teacher at Saltus, Rebecca Dorrington, was the one who really phrased it for me. I said I wanted to [study] somewhere where they had sports and she asked whether I wanted to act all day or do sports all day. In Bermuda you don't see drama and the arts as a substantial career.
I think it speaks to how much you want to work for what you believe you deserve. I know I'm meant to be onstage and I'm not stopping until I'm on a stage. It can be done and it is being done. You just have to tell yourself you're next.
Support along the way?
My family is the most supportive family ever; my friend circle is amazing. My family is coming to see me in [In the Heights] in a week. They're flying from Bermuda to New York just to see me in my first main stage [production].
I also can't thank the National Dance Foundation of Bermuda enough for their support — for the second year in a row.
I can't wait to give back to Bermuda the first chance I get; they're helping me reach my dreams.
The National Dance Foundation of Bermuda 2016 scholarship recipients:
• Marcus Smith received the Catherine Zeta Jones Award in honour of the late Bermudian dancer Patricia Calnan. The $15,000 award will help further his studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
• Eryn Beach received the Argo Foundation Scholarship in memory of Georgina Mary Russell Hill, a former member of the National Dance Foundation’s board. The $7,500 award will help further her studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London, England.
• Taylor Railton, Mikayla Wilson and Malachi Simmons received bursaries from the Argo Foundation. The awards will help the first two further their respective studies at the State University of New York and the Grier School in Pennsylvania. Mr Simmons’s bursary will help advance Island Mentality, a project he formed to establish a professional hub for Bermudian artists training overseas.
• Jada Pearman received the BF&M scholarship in honour L. John Profit, a founding member of the Bermuda Ballet Association. The award will help further her studies at the University of Arizona.
• Sasha Dill and Ravi Cannonier received bursaries from PartnerRe. The $7,500 awards will help them further their respective studies at the College of Lake County in Illinois and the Royal Ballet School at White Lodge.
• Shanna Henry received the Hamilton “Be More” Bursary Award from Hamilton Insurance Group. The $5,000 award will help further her studies at Montclair State University.