But his road to the program wasn’t easy. His family wasn’t able to cover the tuition and fees so Alston knocked on many doors (literally) to get financial support. Disbelievers discouraged him but Alston persevered and created a Blog to help raise the funds.
Here is Alston’s story:
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved in theatre?
I am 17 and go to Valley View High School. I am soooo excited that I only have one more year left. I’m involved with Thespian Troupe 7074, the Valley View Chamber Choir, and I am always on the honor roll. I will have worked at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for one year in July. I enjoy playing the piano, singing, acting, hanging out with my friends (cliché, I know), and playing with my two Basset Hounds. I am really self motivated and determined once I set my mind on something.
Why the Tisch School of the Arts Summer High School Program?
Hmmm…Well, I know that this is not the best form of school research, but I have always been interested in Tisch because of Idina Menzel and Lady Gaga. Not only because of these two famous Tisch students but also because I have heard great things about it at International Thespian Festival. I remember that one day I was browsing the Tisch website to see what all I would need in high school to be eligible to audition and happened to see a link about a summer high school program.
Please tell us about the website you created and your sponsorships.
I started working on my application [for the program] during sometime in January and turned it in on the deadline. When I got my rejection e-mail after the English EOC at school, I was devastated. I was upset because I had felt that I had tried my absolute hardest and put everything that I had into that application, and still wasn’t good enough. I tossed away the idea of getting bumped up on the waiting list because I couldn’t let myself linger and hold on to that. With that being said, I was completely caught off guard when I did move up. I knew that I would not be able to go because it costs too much, but I was happy that I at least got accepted. Then later that night, I decided that just being accepted was not good enough. Giving up and not even trying was not going to get me anywhere or anything that I wanted. I talked to my teachers, principals, superintendent, school counselors, family, and friends about what I might be able to do. The best advice was from my friends who said to go out into the community and try to get sponsorships. I tried that at first and was disheartened at the very beginning of it. I skipped a day of school to create a packet of information about the program and to go talk to local businesses. I only managed to come up with a total $80 from only 2 businesses. I had been to more than 20 that day. I got a bunch of “no’s” and even more “maybe laters” which ended up becoming glorified no’s. One business said “What’s in it for me? I don’t see anything good that I can get out of this.” A little hurt, I went home and created a website that explained my situation. I used it as a bartering tool for other businesses. “I thank all of my sponsors formally on my website, and will post pictures and videos of what I am learning and doing in New York so that my sponsors can connect with and see what their contribution went to.” That phrase has been seared into my mind after a near 150 repetitions to different businesses throughout Jonesboro.
I was my own marketing crew besides my mom and friends. The local paper said that at first they would put a news release into it about me, but continuously ignored my e-mails with the information. The local news station also ignored my mom’s e-mail about this opportunity. However, they both do stories about students who go to college for other areas of study. After I got all of my money, the paper became interested in the story.
FINALLY, my deadline (May 31 – about a month earlier than what I had been told before submitting my deposit) arrived. I had ACT prep in the morning and after that I went around town to get a few last checks. I knew exactly how much money I would need in my tuition account to pay the payment: $8,017. The bank tellers all knew me by name and what I was trying to achieve at this point. I got my last deposit printout and was stunned.
Any advice for other high school students?
Well, while I was getting sponsorships, many people that I talked to tried to talk me out of my dreams.
“It’s a tough field…very competitive. Dog eat dog. It’s hard to make a living in it.”
“You don’t have any business being in New York. They’re a different kind of people. It’s dangerous.”
“You won’t make it.”
My advice would be to just stay true to yourself and figure out what you want – not what society wants for you. Before I do anything drastic or act on emotion or impulse I ask “Is this going to get me what I want?” and it has helped me SO MUCH. One year my Physical Science teacher told me something that I will never forget “If you don’t try to achieve your dreams, you will live to regret it.” I can’t let anyone take my dreams away from me. They’re mine. They can live their own. They aren’t helping me any with their “reality check.” I know what I want and this experience has shown me that I can achieve anything if I want it bad enough. I mean, anything really is possible. Even if you are a realist, then statistically, anything is possible. You just have to make it happen. If I had sat around and waited for something to happen so that I could go to the Tisch Arts Program, then I wouldn’t have been able to go. Don’t give up. If you want it, you work for it, you take it, and you make it happen.
Your next stop is New York. What are you most excited about?
Well, I have never been to New York, even though I have always wanted to go. My family just could never afford a trip there (I am also the only one who ever wants to go there in my family at all). I am most excited about the change in environment – the people. I can’t wait to be somewhere where I don’t see everyone I know just by walking down the street. Hell, I am just excited to be able to walk down the street to go somewhere! Here in Jonesboro people commute via monster trucks and ATVs (please catch my exaggeration). And I can’t wait to be surrounded by a group of people that are just as passionate about theatre as I am. I am excited to go somewhere with a blank slate and be what I want to be. I seriously can’t wait. I’m even having dreams about it.