An athlete wants to be first string; an actor pursues the lead role. After Ira Conklin ’17 hit the stage as a bit player in “Damn Yankees” three years ago, he set his sights on bigger and better. “I fell in love with performing and wanted to be the best actor I could be,” said Conklin.
Patrick Hitschler, Conklin’s English teacher and Theater Director, noticed the sophomore could do masterful impressions and encouraged him to audition for the spring play. Sure enough, Conklin was first to be picked and his acting career was up and running, culminating in five plays over three years.
The aspiring actor worried initially that people would criticize him for not doing a competitive sport. However, the school community proved supportive and encouraged him to pursue his passion. “People really respect you when you do a good job,” Conklin reflected in a recent conversation two hours before his final performance in The Producers. “You don’t just have to be an athlete at T-P.”
Conklin admits he used to be a shy kid but acting has given him direction and quiet confidence. “Acting lets me immerse myself in my character and drop the worries of the world. I walk through these doors and become King Arthur or Max Bialystock.”
Conklin describes his daily routine as “School, theater, bed. I’m basically King of Gardiner Theater,” he said with a smile. “I spend every afternoon and evening here, practicing my lines, learning the songs, playing piano. I also work on the tech end with Mr. Dinsmore. I dedicate as much time to theater as varsity athletes spend on their sports. The School has given me the space and support to develop this talent. Theater is just like a team, with cast mates and coaches.”
A defining moment in his career as a thespian? “After the final performance of One Man, Two Guvnors last November, the cast was taking their bows. I was to go out last as the lead actor. The music kicked up, there was an uproar, and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Thinking of that moment still gives me chills.”
Conklin had originally planned to study environmental science but once he decided on theater, Slade Mead, Director of College Counseling, suggested he consider Hobart College. “I reached out to Ira’s parents to make sure they were supportive of his change in focus,” said Mead. “Hobart built the $28 million Gearan Center for the Performing Arts in 2016, a reflection of their commitment to the arts.” Along with his application, Conklin submitted a highlight tape showing him in his lead roles and shared the link to his Senior Independent Project, a short film written by Hunter Olstein ’17 in which Conklin starred.
According to Slade Mead, “Ira was the only student out of 25 applicants to earn the Edward E. Griffith Theater Scholarship, receiving the maximum award. The Admissions Office was impressed with Ira’s extensive resume and the media he submitted. They said his senior project and highlight tape reflected his creativity, adaptability, and passion for acting and set him apart from the rest of the pool.”
Conklin’s response? “I never dreamed I would graduate with an acting scholarship! I think that finally convinced my dad I can go far with acting. Now I can spend every day in the theater. This is truly my home.”