On Feb. 19, Professor Terra Vandergaw and alumnus Jaquair Gillette co-hosted “Life After Po: Alumni Creative Conversations” featuring theater alumni Kevin Sebastian, LJ Hickmon, Josh Ritter and Jackie Byrne.
Gillette is known for his work on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and his poetry. During his section of the event, he read his poem "Rebels For Life” which discussed his personal dedication to creative arts. In 2018, Gillette produced and starred in the film “3rd and 4th Chapters,” which will be screening at the Garden State Film Festival on March 28.
The event continued by introducing Sebastian, an award-winning actor who graduated from Ramapo in 2004. As an actor, he uses his platform to create and produce stories that could influence the perspective of the audience.
Sebastian claims that since he has graduated from Ramapo, the support has been immaculate, and he chooses to give back by returning to chat with students, which sometimes leads to him being asked to participate in odd projects. Sebastian thanks Ramapo’s “Voice and Movement” class for his success because of the techniques that he learned from it.
The audience was then met Byrne, who has been featured on Funny or Die and Buzzfeed. Byrne gives credit to Professor Maria Vail, as she believes she wouldn’t have found success without her help.
Byrne elaborates, confessing she dealt with a lot of self doubt and did not believe she would find success after graduating. However, she has proven herself wrong and is now thriving in her career.
Hickmon performed a Shakespearean monologue, then an excerpt from the beginning of his own play “On The Run,” which focuses on military institutions. Hickmon’s current project is titled “Black Lives Blue Lives.”
Ritter was the final alumnus of the night and graduated in 2002, double majoring in acting and literature. Though Ritter has been an alumnus for over 20 years, his legacy still lives on at Ramapo due to him being the co-founder of the comedy troupe "Peanut Company."
What stood out the most about Ritter’s section of “Life After Po” was his experience alongside director Harmony Korine on the set of “The Beach Bum,” which was released in 2018.
Ritter said he was close to giving up on his dreams when he found out that Korine would be cutting his only scene in “The Beach Bum.” In response to the commotion about the potential cut, Ritter’s castmate Isla Fisher gave advice that every contemporary arts student needs to hear.
“You are irreplaceable, you have to know nobody can do what you do,” Fisher said. “If you do not create a space for yourself, you’ll be left in the dirt.”
Fisher let Ritter know that Korine is a big fan of improv, and Ritter took this guidance by turning up the action in his scene, which caused it to make the final cut of the movie. Ritter’s experience teaches students that they have to have tough skin to make it in such a competitive industry, and it is required of CA students to believe in themselves more than anybody else.
The co-hosts and panelists ended the night analyzing nostalgic photographs and telling the stories behind them. For these alumni, life after Ramapo seems to be tremendous.