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A Jesuit College Preparatory Experience
News & Media

LA in LA: Students Visit Alumni in Hollywood

It was the trip of a lifetime for 19 Loyola Academy fine arts students, who spent a star-studded week in Los Angeles with some of Loyola’s most influential alumni in the entertainment industry.
Students from band, choir, orchestra, guitar, dance, theater and visual arts applied for the opportunity to be a part of the spring break trip. The itinerary for the week was packed from morning until night with workshops, tours, presentations and unique learning experiences curated by Loyola’s very own alumni in the field.
The trip began with an improv workshop at the IO West Stage hosted by Pat Finn ’83, most recently known for his acting roles as Bill Norwood in the TV series The Middle and as Professor Reynolds on 2 Broke Girls. In a career that spans more than two decades, Finn has also appeared on The Bernie Mac Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and Friends.
Along with improv techniques, Finn relayed to students the importance of authenticity and seeking out meaningful work. He encouraged students to take the lessons of improv into their daily lives, citing its benefits in business and personal relationships.  
“Mr. Finn taught us that it’s okay to not always follow a direct script or plan. He stressed that you have to roll with the punches and adapt to things,” says Thomas Lynch ’19.  “He also stressed the importance of being kind to everyone, because you never know who you are going to be working with later in life.”
“It was a great way to start the trip,” says Performing Arts Chair Mr. Dan Briggs. “The kids were active and involved right away.”
After honing their improv skills, students paused for dinner with Finn at Greenleaf, where they were joined by siblings Jay Lavender ’93, a writer, producer and director best known for The Break-Up (2006) and the Wedding Ringer (2015), and Meredith Lavender Wilson ’96, a writer and producer on the TV shows Nashville and Charlie’s Angels.
The Lavenders shared their experiences as students at Loyola and, now, as influencers in the industry. Meredith shared valuable insight about the creative process such as writing and developing character arcs. Once an aspiring opera singer, she encouraged students to take risks and seize opportunities when they present themselves.
Jay discussed the need for creators in the entertainment industry—songwriters, production assistants, writers—and offered students two pieces of advice: be open minded to the many different facets of the industry, and, referencing a scene in The Breakup in which a number of his personal friends appear, he encouraged students to take care of the people who have taken care of them.
“The Lavenders helped me realize that no matter what I do in the future, I need to love it,” says Patricia Urbaniak ’17. “Mr. Lavender encouraged me to give myself a little room to fail. He said that if I only succeed, I will not know how to deal with a failure and that I should sometimes step out of my comfort zone and do things that I might not succeed in just to build my confidence.”
Tuesday was spent at the Disney Animation Studios, where students received a VIP tour from John Musker ’71, accomplished writer, director and producer whose filmography includes several titans of the Disney catalog: The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Hercules (1997), The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Moana (2016). Musker discussed his time as a student at Loyola in the late 1960s and early 1970s when fine arts offerings for students were limited. He shared early drawings he had done for The Prep student newspaper, serving as a cartoonist and art editor. After graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in English, Musker attended the California Institute of the Arts where he was classmates with fellow luminaries Tim Burton, a filmmaker and producer known for the Corpse Bride (2005), Batman Returns (1992) and Edward Scissorhands (1990); John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor of Walt Disney Imagineering; and Henry Selick, an animator at Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios know for his work on Coraline (2009), James and the Giant Peach (1996) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
“To say I was inspired is an understatement,” says Elizabeth Balentine ’19. “Mr. Musker introduced me to a field completely unknown to me. My eyes were opened to a whole new world. Teaching important lessons that reach audiences worldwide through the art of animation does not seem like a job, it seems like a dream to me.”
Musker is credited with reviving Disney animation in the late 1980s with The Little Mermaid (1989), a film he wrote and directed with Disney colleague Ron Clements.
For Charles Cronin ’17, hearing John’s story hit close to home. “Talking with Mr. Musker about his time at Loyola and his work as the comic artist for The Prep newspaper was super cool because that has been my job since sophomore year,” he says. “Meeting him was such an amazing opportunity. It was unbelievable to see how many opportunities are available in the visual arts field...and to see his whole process in creating a work of art that brings so much happiness to so many people.”
On Wednesday, students spent an exciting day on location at Paramount’s NCIS: Los Angeles boat-house set with Chris O’Donnell ’88, an actor, producer and writer best known for his roles in Scent of a Woman (1992), Batman Forever (1995), Batman & Robin (1997) and currently as Agent G. Callen on NCIS: Los Angeles. O'Donnell spoke to students about his journey from Loyola Academy, where he was a member of the crew team, to sharing the big screen with Al Pacino, Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman, Uma Thurman, George Clooney and more.
O’Donnell shared with students stories of his early auditioning days—times when he had to coordinate auditions with his crew practice schedule, which often involved taking trains from Wilmette to downtown Chicago and back just to make it work.
“When I was listening to Mr. O’Donnell speak, it was nice to hear someone tell it to us straight,” reflects Margaret Marinic ’17. “He encouraged us to follow a passion, but he was candid in the way he did it. He told us that it is a very hard business to be in and that it’s not just about how hard you work, but the connections and luck you have.”
O’Donnell emphasized to students the importance of staying true to themselves when he discussed his decision to turn down Dead Poet Society (1989). It was this decision that made him available to do Scent of a Woman. It was this starring role alongside Al Pacino that in many ways has defined his career. Years later, when he declined a full-time role on Gray’s Anatomy, he was offered his current role on NCIS: Los Angeles.
“Chris reminded students not to be afraid to go outside of their comfort zones because that is where growth happens,” reflects Ms. Colleen Aufderheide, visual arts teacher who attended the trip.
Thursday’s host was Sam Riback ’95, executive vice president of artists and repertoire at Interscope Geffen A&M Records—a major record label that represents artists such as Lady Gaga, Eminem, Lana Del Rey, Madonna, Selena Gomez and U2. Riback took students into a recording studio to learn some basics about the technical side of making music.
Riback emphasized the importance of practical experience, internships and building relationships. He shared that a turning point in his career was asking an executive at Atlantic Records, where he had been interning at the time, to mentor him. Soon Riback was asked to move to the West Coast and serve on Atlantic's artists and repertoire team there. He eventually moved up becoming vice president at Atlantic before taking his current post at Interscope.
Riback’s story of mentorship struck a chord with Cameron Buhrmaster ’18. “It was very interesting to hear about how Mr. Riback got to where he is,” he says. “Hearing about his mentor inspired me to always put myself out there. You never know what kind of response you may get.”
Riback had an important phrase for students: embrace the hustle. He told students that the way up is through hard work, setting goals, making connections and stopping at nothing to follow through.
For the final day of the whirlwind week, on Friday students met with Kathleen Kenny ’13, a senior a Loyola Marymount University studying theater. Kenny spoke about her decision to change majors from dance to theater and the audition process and advised students to take as many roles and be involved in as many performances as they could to gain experience and make connections.
“Kathleen encouraged students to share their art with others, to learn from other creative people and to collaborate,” says Aufderheide.
“Kathleen is at a catalyst moment, about to graduate from college and at that point of launching her career,” says Briggs. “She shared with our students the uncertainty that everyone feels as they begin to build their own careers, and this perspective for our students was so valuable for them to hear.”
The trip was a tremendous learning experience and inspiration for the 19 fine arts students who had the opportunity. “Interacting with the alumni on our trip was invaluable for our students,” comments Aufderheide. “They came home ready to work hard and make the most of their passions, including sharing them with the rest of the Loyola community. I have loved hearing the students speak with hope and direction about their future in the arts!”  
“It gave our students an amazing opportunity to peer into the future and wonder—wonder at what the world has in store for them,” reflects Vice President of Advancement Mr. Bob Miller. “The message from each of our hosts was loud and clear: talent, passion and effort goes a long way toward achieving your goals, whatever they are.”
    • Loyola Academy Band present Moana

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