OCEAN CITY – Like many young people, Clarke Bliss has always dreamed of leaving his small town for the bright lights of the big city. Yet, in just a few short months, that dream will become a reality for the Stephen Decatur High School senior.
Bliss was recently accepted to New York City’s Pace University, which is regarded as one of the finest theatre institutions in the country, and was one of 35 students out of more than 700 whom auditioned that were chosen to be a part of the Manhattan-based fine arts college’s prestigious theatre program.
There’s a quote from an old 19th century German Theatre critic that says “good drama must always be drastic”, and for Bliss, the radical change of moving to New York City is purely bittersweet in his pursuit of the art of good drama.
“I’m really nervous, but I’m so incredibly excited”, said Bliss, “just to live in the city is a dream for me, but to think that I’m from such a small town that I’m going to be going to New York City and actually try to do acting for a living, and that someone thinks that I can is really cool.”
Bliss says that he only applied to two colleges and conceded that getting into his “dream choice” is a reality that he hasn’t totally come to grips with.
“It still doesn’t feel real yet because it was by far my No. 1 school, and it felt so prestigious that I didn’t think I would ever get into it,” said Bliss, “but a month and a half after applying I saw that big envelope from Pace, and when I read it, I thought ‘no way, this is just crazy.’”
Bliss credits Stephen Decatur’s theatre program and his teacher Gwen Lehman for his growth to this point in the skill of acting.
“I don’t think I would have learned what I’ve learned so far at any other public school,” said Bliss. “I’d probably have to go to some acting academy or private school as she has taught me so much.”
Lehman called her student a “risk-taker” and said that she was less worried than he was about his looming acceptance to Pace University.
“His heart was set on going to Pace, but he went and auditioned for the Maryland Distinguished Scholar of the Arts and received the highest marks of any high-schooler in Maryland,” she said. “So, I knew that if he was the top kid in Maryland that he had a great shot at getting into Pace.”
Despite winning the $12,000 scholarship, Bliss will defer the honor to go to Pace, as part of the deal in that scholarship is that he must study in Maryland. Coincidentally, Pace University will be providing a similar sort of scholarship for the Berlin native.
Lehman said that she has no worries about the small town boy headed for the big city into the rough and tumble world of show business.
“He is not afraid, and I don’t think the city will ever beat him down,” said Lehman. “He has the potential and the drive to work professionally in this business and it’s an ‘if-y’ businesses.”
Lehman calls Bliss a “strong character actor” who is versatile in both comedic and dramatic acting, citing last week’s production of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoonriver Anthology” as a great example of the teenager’s impressive range.
“Spoonriver is a collection of almost 100 monologues, and Clarke did more than any other student, probably 10 or so, with each having different characters with different postures and styles and mannerisms, and he created really impressive portrayals of all these very different characters,” she said.
Still, it’s what lies ahead for Bliss that is the most exciting, as he will enter the next, albeit difficult chapter of his quest to be a professional actor in the fall.
“There’s an intimidation factor with the city itself and the school, too,” said Bliss. “The hardest thing will be to get over doubting myself and having confidence and really putting myself out there to try to get work and learn as much as I can from the best.”
The famous “Inside the Actor’s Studio” program is shot at Pace University, and students get free tickets to attend the taping and not only meet some of the industry’s finest actors, but also to personally ask them questions.
In addition, the National Actor’s Theatre at Pace, which was created by the late Tony Randall, has welcomed performances from the likes of Al Pacino, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, Chazz Palmenteri, Steve Buscemi and Jeff Goldblum, to name a few.
Bliss realizes that though the road to be a professional actor is a long and sometimes arduous one, starting at an institution like Pace University is a good place to begin the journey.
“I know the money is not there unless you make it big,” said Bliss, “but I am so ready to do what I love, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. This is all there is for me.”
Lehman said that Bliss has an incredible passion for theatre and has since the first time she saw him perform in a middle school production. She said he has since turned his love of the craft into a teaching role as well.
“He has a tremendous amount of talent, and this past year, he was my tutorial intern helping to teach some of the introduction classes that we do at Stephen Decatur,” said Lehman. “The kids just love working with him, and he’s probably one of the best I’ve ever had in that position.”
While at Pace, Bliss says that the school encourages students to audition for roles and pursue valuable internships in the “mecca” of performing arts that New York City provides. He says that even while in school, his advisor will essentially play the role of his own personal casting agent.
A lot of young people have dreams of being an actor, but the truth is that many seek fame and fortune or some sort of celebrity status rather than for the love of the art form, but in talking to Bliss, it’s apparent that he possesses the latter.
“I’m all about the theatre, even more so than film,” said Bliss. “The theatre is alive and I just love live acting. It’s almost like the art and the craft is more there in theatre, but I’m ready to fail, so I can learn from the failure.”
Oscar Wilde once said that “the stage is not merely the meeting place of all the arts, but it is also the return of art to life.” Bliss will step away from his current life, and take one toward the stage, and another towards a future in the art form that he loves.
“I envision him just eating the city up,” said Lehman. “I don’t think the city will toughen him up to the point where he becomes jaded, because Clarke is, at his core, just a good human being.”