Almost every performer has dreams of stardom, rubbing shoulders with Hollywood’s hottest and appearing on television and movie screens across the country.
For some former Theatre UCF performers, those dreams have become realities.
Working in entertainment fields nationwide, some former students have gone on to dance on New York City’s Broadway stages. Others have joined traveling shows performing across the country.
And some, like 2006 alumnus Keston John, have moved to L.A. to take Hollywood by storm.
John is currently starring on the ABC show, Blood and Oil, which depicts the largest oil discovery in America recently found in North Dakota.
He plays a man named Kess Eze, a chef who is drawn into the corruption of a small town overcome by oil money.
This isn’t his first time on screen, however. John has been landing television roles ever since he moved to the West Coast. His first job after graduation was a recurring role on the ABC family show Lincoln Heights.
“I played the antagonist of the episodes,” John said. “That was fun, and that got me my start. I didn’t even have an agent yet.”
Now, he’s set to appear in Martin Scorsese’s new HBO pilot Vinyl, which also stars Olivia Wilde, Bobby Cannavale and Ray Romano.
“This is like the coolest pizza party ever,” John said, describing the time he and the other actors met to read lines for the show. “I’m walking home, and I’m like, ‘Did that really happen? Is that really real?’”
John isn’t the only former Theatre UCF student who’s been finding fame.
Valery Ortiz went to UCF for two years before deciding to pursue her acting career after appearing in Nickelodeon’s live game show Splat!
“This show was the reason I actually didn't return for the fall semester of my junior year,” Ortiz said. “It was a very difficult decision, but one that encouraged a road trip vacation to L.A. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Since moving to the West Coast, Ortiz has appeared in both television shows and in big budget movies.
Her favorite role was in her first film Date Movie, where she played “Jell-O,” a spoof of Jennifer Lopez.
“I had been in L.A. less than six months. Everyone knows how much I love J-Lo, so the idea that I booked a role to play her in a film felt like I was being punked,” Ortiz said.
Both John and Ortiz credit UCF with preparing and aiding them with their acting careers.
“I’ll be honest for you. My training that I got at UCF was all I needed,” John said. “I take classes out here … you have to stay sharp. But the training that I got there was and is more than enough for me to access different roles.”
Ortiz agreed, citing that the instruction she received at UCF helped her develop her acting skills.
“My time at UCF was a lot of fun. Although I never got cast in one of the main stage productions, I will say there were a few professors that really impacted my craft and allowed me to grow tremendously as an actress,” she said. “I am so thankful for them.”
But, both Ortiz and John said that the most important thing they took from UCF was the friends and the community they have found because of their association to the school.
“There’s a huge group of people out here. We stick together if we can and support each other if we need to,” John said.
Students looking to see more of John and Ortiz can check out John’s Civil War movie, The Retrieval, now on Netflix or Ortiz’s show Hit the Floor, which is coming back for its third season Jan. 18 on VH1.
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer and Watchdog Reporter for the Central Florida Future.