Who: Titus VanHook, CTC conservatory actor.
Like other members of the conservatory, VanHook has had a busy summer. From the beginning, he took on two roles at once, playing a variety of characters created by local elementary school students in the Young Playwrights Project, while donning the personas of Duke Theseus and Fairy King Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He currently takes the stage as Garreth and a police officer in CTC’s mainstage production of One Man, Two Guvnors.
Although he has worn many hats this season, VanHook said his time working on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is his standout experience of the summer.
“It was a fast, furious process,” VanHook said. “But I’m proud of how well it all came together. It was a really fun play, too, because it was outdoors, and each show was slightly different and still fresh.”
As the show traveled from venue to venue, VanHook remembers some locations being more dynamic than others. At Children’s School, actors had to climb in and out of windows to make their entrances and exits, all while sprinting through the pouring rain.
“The energy was kind of electric that day,” VanHook said. “It was hectic, but so much fun. Those changes kept us on our toes.”
Where he’s from: VanHook hails from Oakland, California, where he lived before heading off to college.
He spent time in southern California while getting his degree in Africana studies with a focus on history from Pomona College, and now resides in New York City, where he is pursuing his MFA in theater at Columbia University.
Despite the fact that he’s now fully committed to theater as a career path, VanHook didn’t even begin to consider acting until his final year at Pomona.
“Basically, I needed an art requirement to graduate,” VanHook said. “I thought, ‘Sure, acting should be easy.’ So I took the class, had a great teacher and just fell in love with the stuff.”
VanHook said acting gave him the opportunity to experience and experiment with concepts and feelings that he wouldn’t be able to explore in daily life.
“I get to be as open, as vulnerable, as big, as small, as scared, as in love as I wanted to be,” VanHook said. “It was a freedom that I found that I think people don’t normally get to have.”
Favorite theater memory: Although the experience was a harrowing one, the chance to produce a play on his own stands out as one of his proudest moments.
VanHook pulled together and staged a performance of Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks, with minimal outside assistance. He recruited a director and stage manager, booked the venues for the show, gathered the props for the play, worked on getting publicity and acted in the performance himself.
“It was so much work,” VanHook said. “I was incredibly nervous too. It felt like I was about to jump out of a plane. But at the end of it, I was so proud of myself. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had doing theater.”
Favorite food: Pound cake. But not just any pound cake.
“It has to be my grandmother’s pound cake,” VanHook said.
According to VanHook, the recipe is fairly simple, but when he’s tried to recreate the dish, it just hasn’t been the same.
“There has to be some kind of extra, special ingredient she puts in,” VanHook said. “I’m sure it’s love. Maybe when I get to be her age, I’ll be able to figure out how to make it all work just right.”
What he’s reading/watching: To prepare for his showcase at Columbia, he’s going through a lot of older, black comedies for inspiration. “Key & Peele,” “In Living Color,” “A Different World” and “Martin” are all on his radar.
“Comedy works really well for showcases because people are always willing to come in and have a laugh,” VanHook said.
Favorite part of Chautauqua: The sheer creativity that surrounds and permeates Chautauqua’s grounds.
Being around so many talented artists and creators, VanHook said, has been an inspirational and enthralling experience. Whether it was living with his fellow actors and getting to see their processes, or visiting the other students on the grounds and witnessing other visual and performing arts, VanHook said his time here has never ceased to be exciting.
What’s next: In his immediate future, VanHook will return to Columbia to prepare for his final year, as well as his showcase.
Looking further down the line, VanHook said he hopes to break into the film and television world in New York over the next few years before potentially moving somewhere like Los Angeles or Atlanta to continue working on the big screen.