Anike Zarkos ’18
Cutthroats in College
Acting takes practice. LOTS of it. Rehearsing lines, revising lines, running lines over and over again. Nothing is ever perfect the first time. During her time as a Cutthroat, Anik Zarkos ’18 found herself on the school stage often rehearsing, revising, and then, nailing it. The veteran actor didn’t just perform in school, she also performed on community stages for local theater companies such as St. Thomas Playhouse’s Company B and The Spot. This past summer, she played teenage sandwich artist in Bess Wohl’s dark comedy American Hero at The Spot. Her Senior Project focused on her experience with playwriting, and she wrote an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s famed book, Into the Wild, for the stage. Fast-forward: With her first year of college under her belt, Anik is in her second year at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University (MGSA). She took time out of her busy summer back in the valley to speak with Here+There about her school experience, her dream role, and of course, the agony of stage fright.
What's your first "I gotta be on stage" memory?
I started doing Company B when I was around four years old, so I’m sure that I was very adamant about needing to be onstage then, but I can’t quite remember any of those four-year-old thoughts now. I know that I’ve loved theater since then. I think that the definitive longing to be on stage kicked in during middle school—7th grade One-Acts. My character was a Ukranian Swan-Lady on roller skates, and it was the first time that I had done a ton of character work, which I absolutely loved.
Do you ever get stage fright and if so, how do you handle it?
I definitely do get stage fright, even months in advance when I’m even thinking about an impending show. The best way that I can handle it is by telling myself that I’ve done all of my work, that I definitely do know my material, and if I still feel nervous on stage, I typically just try to focus all of my energy onto my partner, so that I don’t feel self-aware or self-conscious onstage. I also have been taught a mantra that isn’t that family-friendly that I repeat to myself before I go on stage, but it basically boils down to, “Whatever happens, happens!” I know that I can’t control everything, and I also try and remind myself that the audience is in it with you, and no one is hoping that you mess up, so I find support through that. I also like to just shake it out before…dancing helps!
Can you share a few "best of" moments from your time participating in Sun Valley Community School's theater program?
Best role, best mess-up, best stretch (playing a role you maybe didn't think you could play), best ad-lib moment, best memory, etc. Looking back, I feel like I truly loved and cherished every role, because Keith and Patsy, and later Kevin, did such a wonderful job of show selection and casting. Moments that stand out are definitely the entire experience of Our Town. I played the Stage Manager, and the Stage Manager has quite a few long pieces of text, and during the monologue that begins the second act, I completely went up on my text.
I looked down and wracked my brain, but there was absolutely nothing in there. In the moment I just breathed and kept my head down, and then Sofia Lodato saved my booty with the next sound cue, which triggered my next line. The rest of the show was fine, and then as I was changing out of my costume, I was just sobbing backstage. Kevin Wade came back and provided some words of wisdom that made me feel infinitely better about how literally everyone messes up and feels like this at some point. And then I didn’t care anymore! And now I laugh at myself when I think about me crying silently while I untied my character shoes.
Can you share any OH, GOSH moments? When you had to think on your feet to save
At MGSA, there was a scene in our devised show, There We Sat Down, when my “husband” and I walk into our son’s teacher’s classroom, and a huge focus of the scene is these brownies that we made for her. The second-to-last night, I forgot my brownies backstage, but my quick thinking inspired me to run offstage, and then technically rip back through the classroom wall. That’s about it, though, other than little things like mics going out, during which my quick thinking includes, “Welp, I’d better sing louder.”
Best advice you've ever received and how has that helped you pursue your passion for theater?
The best advice that I’ve gotten is, “The world doesn’t need more actors. The world needs more people who think like artists.” Since I was told that during a summer program in 2017, I realized the importance of personal development as an artist in general, and not just as an actor. Hearing this helped me exercise empathy, listening skills, and a more global sense of thought. That message also helped me to realize that in order to be an interesting actor, you must be an interesting person first, and develop your own strong points of view on everything under the sun.
How does the idea of revision play out in theater? In any of the roles you've played? In your approach to acting?
This idea especially plays out in revivals of dated shows. Oklahoma!, for example, has been revived by Daniel Fish on Broadway. In this adaptation, LGBTQ storylines have been emphasized, leading lady Ali Stroker became the first person using a wheelchair to win a Tony Award, and much of the cast is made up of people of color. Due to this modern interpretation of the 1943 story, this show now represents the voices of so many across America and beyond, and so many more humans are able to see their own stories represented onstage.
What's next for you on the stage?
l was in Bess Wohl’s American Hero at The Spot this summer. Directed by the formidable Yanna Lantz, American Hero is a comedy about three vastly different, misfit sandwich shop employees whose manager goes missing. They must band together in order to save the shop from devastation.
What is your dream role and why?
It sounds slightly uninteresting, but most of the roles that I want to play one day are roles that I’ve already played. For instance, I would LOVE to be Little Sally again in the musical Urinetown, because she is such a joy and delight of a little lady, and I adore the music. I would also love to play the Stage Manager again in Our Town, especially after some time, because I feel like that play just becomes more special and significant the more you grow up yourself, and I think that the writing is just beautiful and so, so simple.
What productions were you a part of throughout your first year of college? What roles? What was fun about them? Difficult?
In your first year at MGSA, you’re only allowed to perform once at the end of the year in a class called "Performance Ensemble," which culminates in a devised show. Everyone finds their own characters through various exercises in class, and mine ended up being the mother of every nearly young character in the show. So I played a French mother, a British mother, a Russian mother, a Midwestern mother, etc. My “husband” and I were wheeled around in this giant abstract cart unit. It was fun to create multiple characters from the ground up and collaborate with my company members to tell everyone’s stories, especially because everyone held their characters and their stories so close to their hearts. It was extremely challenging trying to nail the dialects, because we would be switching from British to French to Russian to British again in the span of only a few lines.
In what ways did your theater experience at Sun Valley Community School help you during your first year in college? Do you feel you were well prepared? How about academically?
I don’t think anything prepares anyone for a BFA Acting program, just because it is so incredibly rigorous in a way that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. But my time at Sun Valley Community School helped me so, so much with the ability to feel uncomfortable and be okay with it. I feel like Community School tested my endurance and strength, both physically in the outdoor and athletic programs, and also mentally, due to the academic rigor and involvement in multiple activities. I found that the SVCS Outdoor Program, though, was most helpful in terms of teaching me the importance of everyone pulling their weight, and helping out in every way they can. This lesson came in handy in college, especially when we were building or striking sets at MGSA.