in Avenue Q at SBCC, July 2012
A Community to Tackle all of Life’s Challenges
Theatre education is not just learning lines and blocking but is also about emotion
by Ben Crop
Daniel J Herrera – SBCC class of 2003 – came to SBCC in 1999 from northern California, originally interested in SBCC’s well-regarded Marine Diving Technology program. “I started off very interested in the sciences and specifically marine biology,” He recalled. But after diving into his general education courses, he realized that he preferred studying why people do what they do, more than studying the ocean. So he began a degree in Communication.
One day, in one of his communication classes, Herrera’s public speaking instructor pointed out the ease at which he spoke in front of the class and asked if he took acting classes. Sometimes it only takes one suggestion to influence a student’s trajectory, Herrera said “Before that, acting was never a consideration for me. I figured I would take a beginning acting class to see if I would enjoy it.”
So the next semester, Herrera enrolled in Ed Romine’s acting class. “It was a blast!” he said, “He urged us to get out of our comfort zone and told us we should all audition for an upcoming play. I barely knew what an audition was, but I was in.” Although Daniel did not get the part after his first audition with director Rick Mokler, Herrera said, “It stoked my love for theater.” Herrera went on to take many theatre classes and get heavily involved in the program.
“SBCC Theatre always felt more like a close community rather than a group of people competing for a part or opportunity,” said Herrera. There’s something about the community created around a group of theatre collaborators. For Herrera, “SBCC Theatre was a place that made us feel like we had somewhere to go no matter what else happened.” The finest example of this in Herrera’s memory was the events of September 11, 2001, and how the SBCC Theatre Arts department came together over these events. Herrera said:
“I remember when 9/11 happened. I woke up to my cousin, who I carpooled with, telling me to get up and turn on the television. We then were just watching the news from home. A lot of students at SBCC stayed home that day, but I couldn't think of not going as that day was my day of theatre classes. Class ended up being canceled but I noticed a lot of theatre students and faculty decided to come in. A lot of us stayed around and talked about what was going on. It wasn't a place we had to be, it was a place we all sought out. I try every day to make a similar environment for the students at UCSB. SBCC Theatre prepared me by showing that theatre education is not just learning lines and blocking but is also about emotion and connection.”
It's difficult now that students all-over need to be off campus due to COVID-19. Herrera and his colleagues at UCSB make a conscious effort to, as he said, “focus on the education and the good of the students. We are constantly having meetings about what more we can do to support the students with what they need right now, keep that sense of community, and make sure that the hard work is being put in by us and by the students.”
Whether attempting to solve the current COVID-19 crisis for his students or raising his two-year-old daughter Evangeline, Herrera is always drawing on his theatre education. He said, “When trying to come up with current solutions I often think back of what helped me as a student and why I never felt that I had to go up against any challenges alone.” Even today, the connections Herrera made at SBCC Theatre Arts follow him and nurture his decisions.
Herrera was lucky enough to make lifelong friends from SBCC. In Herrera’s current position at UCSB, Herrera gets to work with another SBCC Alumni Sandarbh Tripathi. Mokler – the director who originally did not cast Herrera – is still a mentor to Herrera in his retirement. In fact, Herrera works on 20 productions ever year, and his favorite production that he worked on after graduating from SBCC was Avenue Q with Mokler. But even more than that, Herrera met his wife Marissa at SBCC Theatre. He said, “She did a general audition for a festival of One Acts that I was one of the directors for. I didn't cast her for that one, but I did for the next full length production that I directed, so she forgave me (I think?).”
When asked what advice Herrera had for current SBCC Theatre Arts Students, he said “Try to avoid concrete statements for your plans in life.” It’s the same advice he gives his students at UCSB, “Have goals to work towards just don’t be hesitant to allow those goals to evolve.” He follows this same advice with his daughter. He knows that he and his wife, are very into theatre and they plan to share that love with their daughter. He said, “We are so into theater; we assume she is going to be an accountant or something just to rebel against us. We are going to be the only parents out there saying, ‘I wish you would close that math book and focus a bit more on the arts.’” But Herrera plans to follow his own advice, “Change the wording in your own mind to, ‘I'm going to go try this out. I can't wait to see where this leads me.’ That way, you are instead on an adventure to see where life takes you.” Who knows, maybe Evangeline will follow Herrera’s love of video games and become an Esports champion as opposed to a math-a-thon mathlete instead, Herrera is open to anything.
As Herrera was remembering community and his life trajectory, he couldn’t help but recall, “I can't imagine having such a positive and huge life changing experience as I did while in the SBCC Theatre Arts department.”