Learning from SAC experiences: Artist of the Week Leah Hassett

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Leah Hassett is a jack-of-all-trades. The U alumna is not only an actress but also a singer, dancer and organizational leader. During her time at the U, Hassett mastered balancing school, work and refining her skills as a performer. She performed with esteemed theater groups including Pioneer Theater, Salt Lake Acting Company and Hale Center Theater.

It started with the incredible support of her family — Hassett a California native, moved to Utah with the intention to immerse herself somewhere she could foster her passion for the performing arts.

“Not everyone’s family is so supportive when their child says they want to be an actor, but my parents were always so supportive,” she said. “So, in a way, I felt that I had to go out and pursue my dream because not a lot of students or artists have that kind of backing.”

Hassett knew the U offered unique opportunities, such as working with the Pioneer Theater Company, a group known nationally. Many members of the theater that perform have been on Broadway.“Because of the U, I got to do shows at the Pioneer Theater Company because we have that relationship with them,” she said noting the theater’s location on campus. “Working with people from New York who were traveling out to Utah to perform was exciting to me. […] I got to work with them while I was still in school and pick their brains about what it’s like. No one sugarcoated it, which I thought was really awesome. None of the professors sugar-coated it either — they all made it very clear that you’re not likely going to go to New York and book all the jobs you thought you were going to, and make all your money only acting and dancing. No matter how good you are, you’re going to go out there and hear ‘no’ a lot.”

As a member of the second graduating class of the U’s theater college, Hassett was inspired to influence future students and graduates.

“Because the program was new, I felt like I could be an influence and help shape it in a way and I feel like we really were given that opportunity to leave our mark,” she said. “I feel like we were really listened to when we would say, ‘Well I think we need this or we really need this.”

Hassett always had a vision of moving on to a bigger city at graduation, which was the driving force for a dramatic change — moving to New York. The big city was a shock to Hassett at first, but her experience at the U prepared her for the adjustment.

“At the U, I had the modern dance department where I could focus on the dance, but it was never, ‘Oh you’re just a dancer, ok,’” she said. “No. You have to be the best singer of all the dancers and be the best actor of all the singers. [My degree] definitely pushed me that way, which is good because in New York everyone is amazing.”

Hassett credits her leadership role in the U’s College of Fine Arts Student Advisory Committee, as a pivotal turning point for her success. The committee is a group intended to involve students in the decision-making process of the department. As president of the committee the SAC opened her eyes to another side of the performing arts: “It’s easy to get caught up in and focused on your craft and being a talented performer, but 75 percent is when you’re not working, being able to create your own work and get funding for projects.”

Her time with SAC gave her mindfulness of the business aspect of performing, something she believes some students forget about, which helped form her ultimate goal as a performer, to be a director, choreographer and teacher.

“[The College of Fine Arts SAC] helped me learn the business side,” she said. “The fact is that it’s not all the fun artsy part — most of it involves money and having to work with committees and people who aren’t artistically minded but fiscally, and having to work with them. That was definitely a good experience in that way. Admittedly, it was a lot with performing, working, doing schooling and leading [the] SAC at the same time. It definitely kept me busy.”

Hassett emphasized the importance of a strong and supportive art community as an artist. “What I really loved at the U was there was a college of fine arts — we always felt like we really were encouraged to go experience the other parts of the art community. Salt Lake City is such an artistically fulfilled city, which I loved. That’s also important when you’re moving somewhere new: that you’re in a community of artists and you learn to support each other.”

e.west@dailyutahchronicle.com

@noteastbuterin

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