Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ten Years Gone... Saratoga class of 2002 artists on a decade of following their passions.

A few weeks back my inbox was inundated with a slew of emails regarding the impending ten year reunion for the Saratoga Springs Senior High School Class of 2002. I immediately got chest pains, strained breathing, and couldn't stop looking at the streaks of gray hair that had formed on both sides of my ever-aging head. Needless to say, this event had snuck up on me. After the initial shock wore off I began to think about the past ten years and what they had meant to me, the personal struggles I had endured and the artistic growth that was born out of it. I wondered about my peers and what their lives must have been like over the past decade. Specifically, those of us that had gone to college for and/or worked in the arts. Those of us that had chosen (against endless warnings by teachers, guidance counselors, and parents) to pursue writing, painting, illustrating, acting, photography, and music. Those of us that had followed our faith and passions and ran face first into a perfect storm of economic, societal, and technological changes in all of our respective industries.

What was their journey like? Had they felt appropriately prepared by our high school experience for the challenges they currently faced? How had their artistic style progressed since our modest beginnings as Saratoga Blue Streaks? I didn't want to wait until this reunion to find out so I just started asking. Here are some of their stories.

Sean Lyman Frasier



At Saratoga I was titillated by the immediate response of shaking heads. It was a desperate "look at me" strategy that matched my insane T-Boz haircut and made it completely obvious that I didn't trust my talent to make an impression. Now my art has grown from the desire to shock or puzzle to something actually resembling a personal style that I'm proud of, a style that somehow smashes understated drama, wry humor, Southern Gothic, and realistic horror together and precariously toys with tone.

In high school I remember the total support of the faculty to find my own voice and have fun exploring each medium. There were many teachers who gave me that freedom but the two that impacted me most were Mr. Eric Hotaling and Ms. Rabine. Mr. Hotaling was the sort of 'Cool Hand Luke' of art teachers and allowed open dialogue with each student. When he lead a class it was by example, not because of some obvious hierarchy. It surprised me in no way when I first saw a photo of him on Facebook riding a horse with some gorgeous sun-baked landscape behind him.

Ms. Rabine really pushed me past my comfort zone and was one of the first educators to persuade me to work on my public reading skills. I always thought of writing as a solitary art and I suppose for rare talents it can be. But sharing work and exciting people about it is just as important as the work itself when you start looking at the business side of things. I've never been great at being my own hype man but I've significantly improved from my days of inaudible mumbling and Ms. Rabine's encouragement was a huge part of that.

The school as a whole just offered a variety of courses that allowed me to explore the full spectrum of artistic expression. They were all important in shaping my attitude towards art, and for better or worse, how playful I could be with each medium. Now, whether I deserved to or not, I enjoyed massive amounts of praise from the faculty and my peers alike. Then I moved to the big city and the realities of post-grad anonymity forced me to face the facts: There is no shortage of talented people and nothing would come easily.

I turned my attention back to screenwriting full-time and switched to working nights, from 10pm to 8 in the morning, because it offered the chance to write while earning a steady paycheck. Two years later, I still live like a vampire and sleep during the day (which should surprise nobody who remembers me at Saratoga with fake fangs and Gothic make-up) but the sacrifice has definitely been worth it, as one of the scripts I wrote during those overnight shifts was a semi-finalist for the Nicholl Fellowship. It directly inspired over 40 agencies and production companies to request my script. Now I can say "my agent is reading my latest script," which makes me sound like a total scumbag, but kind of awesome too.

Right now I'm working on a few screenplays, including my first venture into the intimidating and terrifying realm of family entertainment. But each year I try to do something I've never tried before, whether it's writing a feature-length script in 30 days or writing a screenplay with no deaths in it. Nobody else is giving me guidelines, so I like to restrict myself sometimes and see what comes out of it.

Since graduating from Saratoga High, I've averaged a feature screenplay a year, published a few chapbooks of poetry, creeped people out at readings across New York City, and finally felt I paid my dues long enough to refer to myself as a writer. That last detail is my largest accomplishment. I really just want to share stories with people on a screen, the scale doesn't matter to me. If I can't live off it I will still do it, because that's how I'm wired, and that's what makes me happy at the end of the day.

Elizabeth Callen



My music has become a lot more focused in 10 years time. It's all I think about. My style started out a bit folky, but I've become much more Alt Rock/Pop. I have been writing catchier hooks with each album and play more electric and lead guitar. I listen to so much music - on the radio or at venues in NYC. Many of my friends are people I've met through the musical community.

I formed my main group, The Callen Sisters, in 2006 in NYC right after graduating college. I was finally fulfilling my lifelong dream of playing music and living in the city. We were signed to a major label imprint but the deal fell through after a year. My failures threatened my confidence as an artist. After my record deal fell through I spent a long time reflecting on my music and the industry. What happened then was I started taking more risks. I had failed once and it was liberating. I grew musically because It made me try new things with the style of music I was writing. Now we are back in the studio writing for our third record!

I just joined a second band this summer. It's an all-female rock band called Porsche. We are being managed by a former member of Alicia Key's management team. I found this last gig on Craigslist of all places. You never know what you're going to find on that site! I also got a gig managing the NYC-based jazz band the Jordan Young Group. Wearing the new hat of "music manager" has been a lot of fun. My successes have validated my choice to pursue music. They have made me want to continue down this path and continue to create and have also shown me I didn't need to make a "sensible" choice back in high school.

Mr. Jacobsen and Mr. Beaubriand, gave me a solid musical background. Learning to read music and play in an ensemble was invaluable. The music theory classes offered at our school were great, too. Mr. Vredenberg was an amazing teacher. I passed out of two years of college music theory because I learned so much in his class. I also remember playing at Caffe Lena in high school. That opened so many doors to me. Performing with friends also helped me gain confidence - namely my sister, Jessie O'Brien and Justin Joyner.

In ten years time I would love to say that making songs is my only source of income!

Justin Joyner



I like to call myself an entertainer. In the entertainment business, the paramount goal is to please the audience. I'd say that over these 10 years, I've learned by doing, and also by watching other bands in the business. There is no "how-to book" in such a field, so one must be passionate about it in order to succeed. Through the years, I've developed my own style which is unique to the entertainment business in this area.

I am in GRAVITY a four-piece club/event/wedding entertainment band. This band started in late 2005, formed with drummer Will Railton, who also went to Saratoga High. Song selection and presentation of the band is most important, we play no original music...original music does not have much of a place in the business we're in. My art is taking a song you hear on the radio, putting our own twist on it, figuring out how to arrange it for a four-piece and presenting it in such a way that pleases the crowd and gets them singing and dancing. In that way, it becomes original. Trust me, it's much easier said than done!

In the early years of the band, successes and failures were more polarizing. Failures would really dig into me, and successes would make me the happiest person in the world. These successes and failures still happen, but I'm much better at handling them in the sense that I'm able to put them in perspective and to see the "big picture”.

I do not strive to become a "famous celebrity rock star". I guess I once did. But my passion is now in this "vendor of music" business, and having bigger success in a limited geographic radius. I want to build an entertainment company which offers several bands and DJs, in an effort to become a one-stop-shop for entertainment for clubs, events, and weddings.

The more time goes on and the older I get, the more appreciative I am to have been a student at Saratoga. It hasn't hit me until recently how there really were some talented people that I was surrounded by, and these people impacted me in ways that were not apparent at the time. I also believe that many of the teachers at Saratoga were some of the best we could have had. It's interesting because if I were asked this question 10 years ago, I wouldn't have thought this way necessarily.

Jacob Feldman



The style of the material I’m producing now was all but non-existent ten years ago. In fact, it only really existed in the margins (and maybe more than margins) of my high school and college notebooks. Everything that I’m doing now has its origins in the doodles I would produce during class. My stylistic evolution continued in Grad school, where I further cultivated my doodlish nature. During this time I increased the intentionality behind what I was producing, moving from the pages of my school notebooks to independent creative efforts where I would sit down and just draw. Now, I do more “sitting down and drawing” than doodling, so whatever the future evolution of my art may be, the current one seems to have completed a full stage.

Currently I’m gathering work for my first public art exhibition – an art party myself and some friends are in at a gallery in San Francisco. I’ve only been seriously illustrating for about two years now, so the prospect of presenting my work and asking people to pay for it is terrifying, but damn exciting too.

For me, the work I’ve been doing is about creative expression for the sake of creative expression. So, with this art party I’m shifting from untethered creativity to trying to create a product of a certain sort – still though, I’m making a concerted effort to keep in mind that people don’t want to buy a product; if they’re going to buy it, it’s because it’s satisfying art.

The time I spent in the Saratoga High School Art Department was influential. When I draw, I work to include well executed elements of line, color, shape, contrast etc. into what I produce to help ensure a strong piece. The art department acted as the bedrock on which my future artistic ventures were built; independent, but integral.

I try to never attach the concept of “failure” to my art – it’s never a failure. It may (and invariably does) have shortcomings, but it’s not a failure because, as I said before, I revere creative expression for the sake of creative expression. By sticking to this creative philosophy, so long as I have created anything, I haven’t failed. That aside, the shortcomings of my art have given me a great outlet for further cultivating myself as a human. Every time I succeed or “fail” at an artistic endeavor it gives me more clay with which to sculpt my humanity.

As long as I’m still creatively expressing myself, I don’t care what happens in the future.

Annarosa Mudd



For the first half of the past ten years I was training in acting at The Stella Adler Studio through NYU. It was the best possible program for me. I did an intensive theatre arts program in Bangkok, Thailand and a film acting workshop with casting director, Deborah Aquila, in Los Angeles. All of these experiences richly enhanced my imagination and my life, and therefore my work. Once I was out of school, I struggled with supporting myself in New York City and trying to maintain my artistic pursuits. It took a few years to even get myself to an audition.

I'd characterize my failures as the times that I was too scared or felt incapacitated to do or make anything. For whatever reason I couldn't just get out of the damn house and get myself seen and heard. Then of course, one or two auditions that were just horrifying, but that's usual actor stuff. The successes I've experienced have mostly been due to simply making a decision to do something and actually doing it.

There's also just that magical state of grace that I think every artist knows when they see it, but it's difficult to grasp and even more difficult to explain. My favorite term for it is 'the subtle knife' (and, yes, that is a book by Philip Pullman). Anyway, it's being centered and really listening to yourself, trusting your talent and your instincts and then just getting really brave. That's where success lives I think.

I finally auditioned for The Michael Chekhov Theatre Company and was accepted. It was a really neat little community and I met some pretty incredible people. I finally got to do Shakespeare, appearing in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Love's Labour's Lost and playing my favorite character of all time, Beatrice, in Much Ado About Nothing. Soon after this I signed with Cinematic Management, and went out for some much higher profile auditions. I was still feeling a bit limited and stuck in New York though. California was the answer. Ever since I got here I've felt a huge wave of freedom to just make whatever I want.

I'm working on raising money for a feature film that I wrote with a friend who also went to Saratoga High. I'm going to be starring in the film as well. It came about when I moved to the Bay Area and my friend expressed that he was interested in getting a female voice attached to the script. I really loved the story and the characters and the overall tone of the film and was excited to be a part of it.

Saratoga was such a special place to grow up in. Being there had everything to do with my training as a ballet dancer. I even got to perform with the New York City Ballet when I was 10. Intense dance training all through high school was extremely developmental for me as an artist. I still see things as a dancer I think, and that will always influence me first. I've heard of film directors who are also choreographers and that totally makes sense to me- it's very similar work.

Then there was the Spa Little Theater. I did a program with Michelle Yergin which totally solidified my desire to be an actor. I got lucky senior year of high school when the first New Visions Theatre Arts program was made available. I auditioned for that, got in, learned how to audition for college, got in to NYU early...and well the rest is history.

For being a tiny little place in upstate New York, Saratoga had a wealth of things to see and be inspired by. Right now I'm developing a screenplay based on a ballet piece I saw at SPAC, that I went back to see night after night. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a place like that.

In ten years, I can see having some sort of production company with my friends. We'll make rad movies and find brilliant artists to work with. I'll be acting and probably producing. And if I'm not dancing, then I'll be in trouble.

Clifford Washington



Right now I am freelance designing in NYC and working on an art exhibit at Spring St. Gallery in Saratoga coming in late February. I'm always looking for new work in graphic design or illustration. Whether its book illustration, editorial illustration, web design, logo design, or advertising design.

Saratoga High was my introduction to formal drawing, painting, and graphic design training. Teachers like Mr. Hotaling and Mr. Fantuzzi really helped refine my abilities before I went to college. Also unlike a lot of inner city schools in NYC, we were fortune enough to have access to Apple computers, which were instrumental in my development as a graphic designer. Over the years my art has definitely progressed from the Drawing and Painting and Senior Seminar classes in High School to where I am now. From a shear technical side my ability to accurately draw and paint objects or people or animals has grown a lot. But also my knowledge of the elements and principles of design.

My paintings are how I express myself to the world, whether it be about music, sci-fi /fantasy or socio-political themes. I am just at the point now of developing a style, because for a while, even in college, I was bouncing around a lot of different styles. I felt like I didn't want to be held back by adhering to a specific one, but I found it only confused people to not have a theme or particular direction for my work.

The success of my art has built my confidence in my abilities, and the messages/ themes that I try to get across in my paintings. My failures have taught me that its not weakness to seek help if I'm not sure how to proceed in my career. My failures have also changed my work ethic. I work 10 times harder now then I did in high school or college, because to go where I want to go in my career, my focus has to be laser-like.

10 years from now I'd like to be one of premiere Illustrators in America, and hopefully have my own creative studio handling design, branding, and animation.


  1. Thanks for sharing. It's incredible to see the heights toast which some of our classmates are soaring!