Las Vegas Academy’s Awesome Alumni

Rutina Wesley, star of HBO’s True Blood, class of 1997, theater and dance major

“I was very grateful that LVA came around when I was a freshman in high school,” says Wesley, who went on to study at theUniversity of Evansville and at Julliard before her big break in the 2007 movie How She Move, and garnered an NAACP Image award nomination this year. “LVA teaches us to be the best that we can be whether it’s in biology class or up onstage. … You can’t just fly by the seat of your pants. Everyone assumes that you get lucky and get that big break—and that happens, too—but how can you sustain that break? How do you sustain your career? LVA teaches you [how to do] that instead of being a one-hit-wonder. … Sometimes you kind of think the Academy can save people’s lives—not necessarily physically, but it could give you direction. It can help kids who are sort of lost but have so much talent they just don’t know what to with it.”

Baron Vaughn, actor/comedian, class of 1999, theater major

“LVA nurtured and fed young creative minds to actually explore what those things mean a lot earlier than I think many people get to,” Vaughn says. Now an actor and stand-up comedian with appearances on Conan, a comedy album, Deep S##! podcast, a stint on USA’s Fairly Legal and a forthcoming special on Comedy Central, he’ll be returning to the LVA stage as the emcee for the alumni showcase. “If I hadn’t gone to LVA, I wouldn’t have seen [acting] as an actual thing that people actually do that I could access and pursue. It would have always been this mysterious, intangible thing that just happens for people. But at LVA I got to see that you could actually work at this; you could pursue this as a career. If I wasn’t at the Academy, I wouldn’t have considered going to college for the arts at all.”

Matthew Gray Gubler, star of Criminal Minds, class of 1998, theater and art major

“Now it’s commonplace to be slightly nerdy and not mainstream,” says Gubler, who later studied film at NYU. “Back then [at non-magnet schools] you got beat up for that. If you didn’t play sports you were like a waste of flesh. All I know is that all of a sudden this great school opened, and I got to go there. I went from being the most unpopular kid in school to a school where there were like seven girls to one guy. It was almost a joke on how much encouragement and love I immediately felt. It could not have been more of a 180-degree switch, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me at that point. I could not be more grateful toward the school, toward Mr. Gerye, toward everyone associated with it, especially in those early years. I remember it pretty much came into existence at the exact perfect time in my life.”

Originally published in Vegas Seven.

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