By Elizabeth Neuner | LSU Student
Having artistic talent is like a hurricane - natural, unique, and a powerful force.
For students with the passion to pursue their talents, there are paths which drive them to their ultimate goals. This fervor is responsible for dividing the wannabes from the gonnabes.
As nominated by department heads and professors, these six LSU fine arts students exemplify who have made the distinction between art admirers and art creators.
"I'm inspired by true stories of real people overcoming extraordinary situations," Katrina Despain, graduate fine arts student from Wyoming, says. "I'm not into pop culture so much as true stories of heroism and compassion."
Despain, a graduate of the University of Wyoming where she earned a bachelor's in theatre and dance, was selected by the College of Music and Dramatic Arts Dean Laurence Kaptain as one to watch.
"Her background in gymnastics has come in handy as she can move, jump, tumble and fly as dew other students," Kaptain said. "She is having ample opportunity to display her talents in Swine Palace Productions.
Despain said she portrays humanity through dance, music and characters of the stage. "I feel like theatre is slightly sculpted life."
Despain began dancing at age 11 and was teaching dance by 15. Now, as a graduate student and professional actress, she hopes to start several movement courses that include social and French Revolution dance.
"I'm wanting to use social dance to implement balance into the next generation and the current.,"
One floor below Despain, in a small practice room with a single over-the-door mirror, sat Jin Hin Yap. Jin, a vocal performance graduate student originally from Malaysia. He has taken advantage of his recent introduction to classical singing.
"I've always loved music when I was younger. When I was 20, I started my vocal training. Pretty late compared to those here."
Dean Kaptain chose Jin for his professionalism in addition to being a talented performer who has "applied himself completely to his art."
Jin, a teaching assistant and music enthusiast, can see a difference between Malaysian and American audiences. "There's a lot of appreciation over here. The most important thing is a lot of people support performing art over here."
OIt's not just the amount of performances per semester that is different, notes Jin, but the connection audiences have to the music.
"I didn't know about classical singing until I was about to start my training. In Malaysia not a lot of people get connected to this type of music. So, I heard this and I said, ‘Wow, maybe I should try.'"
Having always stuck to playing instruments, Jin never thought of classical singing until he heard it for the first time, "Singing wasn't for me." Now his goal is to make other students aware of the music and to feel that connection.
"As a future performer or teacher of singing my job is to promote classical singing to the people who want to understand this kind of art."
Down the hall from Jin, in a practice room dominated by a grand piano, is Oscar Rossignoli, a piano performance undergraduate from Cortes, Honduras, who has been playing piano since the age of 10.
"I was taught in classical first, but I also like to improvise with jazz."
Like Jin, Rossignoli, sees more opportunity to "develop as an artist" in America.
"For example, I couldn't just do music and make a living with it [in Honduras] because it's not well known," he said. "Here I have an opportunity to grow, express and keep learning."
Expression through piano is what Rossignoli describes as "natural." He can't imagine his life without it.
It's his specialty in both jazz and classical musical that made him a pick for Kaptain. "To be outstanding in either of those is fairly common," said the dean, "but to be masterful in classical and jazz styles is highly unusual."
With his father as his biggest supporter, Rossignoli wants to pursue a doctorate and to continue to look for himself through music. He says it's easy for him to continue to play because he sees it as a "need to keep playing and making music."
"In my culture in Honduras, a big achievement is to do what you love -- not for money or for a job, but because you love it."
Jason Bayle, Chicago native and in the masters of fine arts program with an emphasis on acting and theater performance, didn't grow up acting. It started as a high school freshman when it was cut from the basketball team.
That sports rejection led him to join the theater world, a sphere that has allowed Bayle to act in regional theatres in Chicago and be an extra in "Chicago Code."
It was while Kaptain was watching that episode he discovered Bayle could not only act but sing, as well.
"I learned that (Bayle) had both acted and sung professionally and was already established as a professional artist. How fortunate we are to draw talent like his to raise the level for all of the students."
Bayle has brought to Baton Rouge what he calls "gut acting" that is associated with his hometown. "It's acting on such pure instinct and moment to moment impulses. It becomes this really visceral thing."
Bayle hopes to act professionally before moving on to teaching.
"My dream would totally be a part on a hit television show that runs for five or six years. And that it allows me financial independence so I can pick and choose what I want to do."
In the meantime, Bayle plans to fulfill artistically the roles he is given. He also knows that theatre may not be his only life passion.
Bayle tells of moments of doubt when a professor is particularly harsh in criticism, but someone always reminds him that, for now, this is his niche. "If something else comes along that I love more, then I'll go with it."
Amy Coleman, a fifth-year senior from Monroe, La., will be one of the first students to graduate from LSU with a concentration in film and media arts. Afterward, she plans to expand her film resume.
"As she discovered that she could be in the first graduating class [in FMA], Amy redoubled her efforts, choosing to stay an extra semester in order to acquire the credits needed.," observes James Catano, director of the Film and Media Arts Program. "In short, her dedication to her art and career is remarkable, outstripped only by her talent in pursuing her craft."
"I would love to get into film school in New York or L.A.," Coleman says. "Right now I'm trying to get as much experience as I can."
Getting experience in Louisiana is easy with production companies flocking to area to film shows such as "Treme" and "True Blood" and movies such as "So Undercover." Coleman has worked as a production assistant for several film projects and worked in New York last summer where her brother, Chase, is an actor.
"My brother inspires me," she said. "He moved to New York five years ago and he's built himself up." It was her brother who suggested she explore film as a degree two years ago and she's never looked back at her former interior design classes.
"It's a recent discovery," Coleman explained, "but it's very enlightening and exciting."
In addition to film school, Coleman plans to join her brother in his film production company while working up to her goal of being a director/writer/producer.
"I'd love to get there," she said. "But, if not, I'll have fun along the way."
Laura Baker, a painting and drawing senior from Tomball, Texas, being an artist came as a surprise.
"I began drawing and painting before I could speak," Baker explained. "I began seriously honing my skills when I was 14. I found myself making drawing of famous faces and was surprised that I seemed to have a talent for something."
Baker displayed these faces at a recent exhibition at LSU called "At First Glance."
Kelli Scott Kelley, associate professor for the School of Art, recommended Baker for her exhibition that displayed her honors thesis work.
This fondness for drawing faces comes from an infatuation with realism. "The interest stemmed from the observation that it's impossible to tell what has happened in another person's life from their face alone."
While Baker hopes to continue showing her art in galleries and "spend the rest of my time surrounded by art," she also has a goal of working in Arts Administration.
"Working in a gallery or museum would keep me exposed to art and constantly inspired," she said. "It would also allow me to expose others to the experience of being inspired by art."
Baker knows the importance of inspiration and influence as she credits painters such as Chuck Close, Vincent Desiderio and John Singer Sargent and her inspirations as well as sculptor Bernini.
"My influences are varied. I hope that the world outside of art finds its way into my work, at least sometimes, as I am constantly inspired by it."
Photo 1: Katrina Despain and her dance partner Donald Watkins warm up in the movement studio. Credit: Elizabeth Neuner
Photo 2: Jin Hin Yap performing in the 2009 LSU Opera production of "Roméo et Juliette." Credit: Timothy Little.
Photo 3: Oscar Rossignoli practices a jazz selection. Credit: Elizabeth Neuner
Photo 4: Jason Bayle (left) alongside Joshua Ryan Dawes on stage. Credit: Eddy Perez.
Photo 5: Aimee Coleman prepares a camera for filming. Credit: Elizabeth Neuner
Photo 6: Laura Baker shows off graphite and charcoal drawings at her LSU art exhibition. Credit: Laura Baker