Launching into the Arts

The M.F.A. actors film their showcase reels. Here, Cade Holbrook (M.F.A. '23) waits on set for the entrance of heather Lee Echeverria (M.F.A. '23). Photo by Andrew Borba

Drama's annual Santley Showcase is a springboard for UCI actors

By Christine Byrd

The Claire Trevor School of  the Arts’ annual Santley Showcase puts the work of graduating actors in front of countless casting directors, agents and managers who hold the potential to make an aspiring star’s dreams come true.

Kayla Quiroz, who graduated with her B.F.A. in music theatre with honors in acting in June 2023, received eight offers for representation and was invited to audition for a feature film thanks to her carefully crafted showcase performances. Now, less than a year after graduating, Quiroz is working with Grammy Award-winning Joy Huerta, Tony Award–winning choreographer Sergio Trujillo, and several Broadway alumni on the world premiere of Real Women Have Curves: The Musical, based on the 2002 movie starring America Ferrera.

The showcase is one of the most visible ways the Department of Drama launches M.F.A. and B.F.A. actors in the arts.

“We consider it a calling card,” says Andrew Borba, associate professor of acting, who spearheads the M.F.A. showcase. “We’re helping crack open a very big, heavy door to help them get a foot into the professional world.”

Image: Andrew Borba. Photo by Emily Zheng

Evolving the Showcase

The showcase has a long history at UCI and became known as the Santley Showcase in 1990, after a bequest from Helene Travers Santley to support the initiative. Traditionally, CTSA hosted an M.F.A. actor showcase in Hollywood and New York City, inviting industry connections from regional theater directors to heads of network TV casting agencies, as well as alumni and friends. Students perform short scenes and songs highlighting their strengths and uniqueness.

“You want to present your soul, your heartlight, what you do best as a human,” says Quiroz. Like many students, she started planning her showcase months in advance and went through many rounds of discussions — and some tears — to settle on the two songs and one scene she would professionally video record for the online showcase.

The showcase was already shifting toward recorded reels when the pandemic hit. The UCI B.F.A. actors quickly pivoted to an online showcase posted for all to see, emailing it straight to casting directors and talent agencies. Although now nearly ubiquitous, faculty believe UCI was the first university to deliver an online showcase in 2020 —and quality has improved by leaps and bounds each year.

The benefits of recording reels are manifold. From a training perspective, the student actors learn how to work on a film set. In terms of career development, they receive high-quality videos that they can send to casting directors for years to come. Quiroz says the first reel she sends to any audition is a Spanish rendition of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” which she developed in collaboration with faculty and recorded for the showcase.

Borba also points out that even for students who do not get hired directly after showcase, it might be the first positive impression in a series of encounters — including great but ultimately unsuccessful auditions —that eventually leads to them being cast.  Plus, an enjoyable experience at the showcase reminds the audience of industry professionals that UCI is a talent powerhouse, year after year, and brings benefits to past and future graduates.

“People want this to be a sprint, but it’s a marathon, and the showcase is the first leg,” Borba says.

In March 2024, for the first time since 2019, the M.F.A. candidates will host a live showcase at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, California, in addition to their online showcase. The B.F.A. students will stick with the strictly online format.

Image: Kayla Quiroz (far left in purple) rhearses with the creative team and cast of Real Women Have Curves: The Musical in the 42nd Street Studios in New York City.

A Growing Network

The showcase is not the only tool CTSA employs to prepare students to succeed in the industry after graduation. In the months leading up to the showcase, students build their professional portfolio and think hard about their hopes and plans for life after graduation. This includes practical aspects like getting headshots, updating their resumes, and building their professional websites, as well as thinking seriously about what kind of work they want to do.

Faculty encourage the graduating M.F.A. and B.F.A. students to think about short- and long-term goals, because artistic success seldom happens overnight – despite the fairytales. Borba points out it typically takes three years for a new actor to fully enter the professional world.

“You have to make decisions about who you want to reach out to, where they live, where you might want to live,” says Sophia Metcalf, M.F.A., ’21. “The showcase is not only about presenting a piece of art — preparing for it makes you think about your five- to 10-year goals.”

Metcalf landed meetings with three managers after their digital showcase, ultimately signing with one, who helped set Metcalf up with representation in New York, too. Now, Metcalf sustains their artistic career through multiple avenues: performing in regional and NYC  theater, creating their own work, and teaching at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

“A big goal of mine is not only working consistently as an actor, but also building community because that’s what leads to longevity in this really wild business,” they say. “You feel like you’re not alone when there are people who come to cheer you on at some weird bar you’re doing standup at on a Wednesday at 5 p.m.”

Metcalf leans into the tight-knit community of UCI faculty and alumni in New York City and in Irvine for support and encouragement. They have taught with fellow Anteater artists at AMDA and run into others on the audition circuit.

“UCI’s alumni network is such an incredible community,” says Metcalf, “We’ve got a core group of M.F.A.s from the past 10 years, and when the next person moves out, we bring them into the flock.”

The showcase is not only about presenting a piece of art — preparing for it makes you think about your five- to 10-year goals.

Image: Sophia Metcalf (second from left) and the M.F.A. class of 2021 celebrates in the studio after a long day of shooting.

One way CTSA fosters these connections among different generations of alumni is through the New York Satellite Program for undergraduates, run by Myrona DeLaney, professor of teaching and head of music theatre. Through the satellite program, current students spend a month in New York City auditioning for casting directors and connecting with alumni in the business.

“Meeting alumni working successfully in New York helps our students see themselves on a similar trajectory,” says DeLaney. “They realize, ‘You went to UCI, and you did this, so I can do this, too.’”

Quiroz made many industry connections through the satellite program, and plans to move to the city. In the short time since graduating, she has traveled to New York several times for auditions and callbacks and notices at least one UCI alumnus working on every Broadway show she sees. In fact, the assistant casting director for Real Women Have Curves happened to be an Anteater — a happy coincidence that won’t land a part but can help an actor get seen amid a sea of others.

“I think UCI is a little gem,” says Quiroz. ‘Theater is such a small world, and I feel lucky and privileged that UCI is on my résumé — people look at it and know it’s a great program. I go into every room looking to uphold that reputation.”

Learn more about the Department of Drama's Santley Showcase and the M.F.A. and B.F.A. programs on the website at

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CONNECT - Winter 2024

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