Student Spotlight: Alexa deBinder C’23

Alexa deBinder C’23                                

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Illinois where my mom worked in radio and we lived there for 6 months. Afterwards, my family moved back to Pennsylvania where we moved in with my grandparents for 10 years until my parents bought their first house in PA.

What attracted you to Drew?

Drew has a top notch Theatre Department and it’s close to NYC so that is wonderful to me because I get to be close to all of the action without having to participate in it constantly which would be the case if I went to a school in NYC. Before COVID, I would go into the city to take classes at Freestyle Love Supreme Academy on Saturdays so I love the fact that I have the ability to take extra-curricular classes since Drew is only a 45-minute train ride away. What also made me choose Drew in particular was the fact that while there are Gen Ed and major requirements, it’s pretty flexible as to what you are able to take to fulfill them. For example, the fact that I can take Music Theory I and Theatre Design in order to fulfill the quantitative requirements is a win. I also love Drew’s vibe, life in “The Forest” is so peaceful and the buildings are beautiful, especially the Harry Potter Great Hall building. The fact that Drew is a fairly small campus but is in the town of Madison and is a short walk away from the train station is so nice.

Why did you choose Theatre and French as majors and Music as your minor?

Ever since I was in 5th grade, I wanted to become an actor. Acting for me was a way to continue to play pretend and the fact that I can make a career out of it is an added bonus. I’ve been in school plays ever since kindergarten but 5th grade was when I developed a passion for acting through our class play “Persephone and Demeter” where I was Persephone. My parents said that when they asked me why I wanted to become an actor, I said it was because I felt like I could be myself when I was onstage and that was all they needed to hear in order to support me pursuing my dreams. Throughout grade school and high school, I’ve only had experience in theatre, but in the future my goal is to go into TV and film. I decided to do a Theatre major at Drew because while the curriculum is primarily based in live theatre, it also teaches us the other aspects of the performing arts, which is useful because not only does that give you more gratitude for those who work behind the scenes, but it offers you new perspectives that will make you a better person and a better actor.

From 10-11th grade for 6 and a half months, I went on exchange to Geneva, Switzerland where I learned French and ever since I’ve decided that becoming fluent in it was something that I wanted to do. Not only is learning languages good for your brain, but it’s a useful skill to have in the performing arts because it opens up more career opportunities such as voice-over work, translations and being able to branch out into the international francophone film industry.

As for music, I’ve been exposed to it throughout my life starting from an early age. Perhaps it started when my mom was pregnant with me and worked as a radio DJ playing music all day every day, but even as a child my school had a robust music program. I went to Kimberton Waldorf School and from K-12 we did a form of interpretive dance called Eurythmy, which was accompanied by live classical piano music. I’ve also played cello and sung in choir since 4th grade. I started taking private voice lessons in 6th grade as a way to develop my voice as an instrument, especially since the ability to use your voice in various ways is crucial to being a good actor. In college I’ve stopped playing cello, but now I take guitar lessons alongside voice lessons in the Music Department. I mostly sing classical as a soprano but I’m branching out into other genres such as jazz, musical theatre and some contemporary, especially since now I’m learning the guitar and I’d like to put the two together.

Did you have an idea of a dream job when you started at Drew?

Yes, my dream job is to be an actor in TV and film. The process of becoming an actor is a rocky road full of hardship and sacrifice but it is something that I’m serious about doing so I’m willing to make compromises, even if that means I don’t lead a “normal” life. There are plenty of BFA programs that focus just on acting but I chose Drew because being a good actor isn’t just about learning technique, you also need to develop a nuanced view of the world in order to have something unique to offer the industry and that is something Drew does well for its students. I want to go into tv and film versus live theatre or Broadway because my creative energy is reserved but focused and intense and that is something which is better suited to film media, while live theatre requires sustained high energy levels that reach to the back of a large theatre.

Can you talk a little bit about the Goof Troop in the Theatre Department?

Not only is doing comedy a fun way of connecting with friends, but even if I don’t become a comedic actor, it’s useful to exercise creative thinking and good timing in order to make my performances pop. We all act and write in each other’s comedy sketches, standup routines and parody music videos. Come audition for us!! We’re determined to invite every goofball on campus into our family.

Do you have any mentors at Drew?

Yes!! The great thing about Drew is that because of its relatively small size, the professors are genuinely interested in the wellbeing and success of their students. When I first visited Drew, I interviewed with the French Department to see where they would place my proficiency and ever since I’ve been close with the faculty, especially with my advisor French Professor Dr. Muriel  Placet-Kouassi.

When I arrived freshman year, Music professor and Chair Dr. Trevor Weston was assigned to be my advisor since I was taking his Drew Seminar “Music and Meaning” and even before I declared my Music minor (which was a few days ago hahaha) he was always there for me offering advice and good cheer. In the Theatre Department I got to know Prof. Chris Ceraso as my acting teacher and he’s also been a source of sound advice for both my professional and personal life. I’ve also become close with my voice teacher Prof. Kristin Sands and my guitar teacher Prof. Bill Riffel and our weekly Zoom lessons always put me in a better mood. I miss going to Commons and seeing Quazi’s smiling face at the lunchline, he always made sure there was good gluten free food available for me. I can’t wait to go back on campus and see everyone again.

Have you studied abroad? Done any short, long, or nycTRECs?

I was supposed to go on the Paris shortTREC last summer but due to COVID it got postponed to the summer of 2022. I hope that I can go there, go to the London shortTREC for theatre and do my theatre capstone in the New York Semester. I do have experience studying abroad though because from 10-11th grade I went on exchange to Geneva, Switzerland for 6 and a half months in order to learn French. It was an exciting time where I grew a lot as a person and learned many things. My best advice to anyone who is going to study abroad is to recognize that there will be challenges, but don’t give up and make connections with the locals, no matter how long you will be staying. I’ve dealt with the challenges of having to switch host families and being homesick, but I was able to persevere because as they say, “where there’s a will there’s a way”. Life is full of ups and downs and I’ve experienced some of the greatest ups of my life there when I went with my Swiss class to Florence for a week to study Art History, going to my uncle’s wedding in Romania, travelling by myself to Bern and Lugano, backpacking in the Swiss Alps for a week and a million more memories that are so random but are still so meaningful to me. Overall, my experience abroad has obviously taught me French but I’ve learned many other skills such as how to be a fully functioning adult all while meeting interesting people and having crazy adventures. Even if you never go abroad, the feeling of curiosity for the world is something we should all carry within us because no matter where you are, life is the same so it’s up to you whether that time is spent in boredom or amusement.

Do you speak any other language other than English?

Yes, my mom and my great aunt who lives with us are Romanian so we speak it in the home. I also learned French when I went on exchange to Switzerland in high school and I’m continuing to become more fluent through my French Major at Drew. I’ve always had a knack for languages, I used to take Spanish and German too, so in the future I want to learn some more while continuing to improve my Romanian.

What issue in the world means the most to you?

It’s hard to say since no one is truly free until the least privileged groups are granted equal rights and opportunities, which is why I’m an ally to Communities of Color and the LBGTQ+ Community. But if I had to choose, the issues that resonate with me the most are Intersectional Feminism, Disability Awareness, Reformation of Immigration Laws and Climate Change.

What are a few of your favorite memories of Drew? 

I’ve only spent a semester and a half on campus due to COVID but even during that brief time, I made a lot of wonderful memories. In the fall of 2019 I was a part of the staged reading of “Mistresses: A New American Play” by Drew alumna Liz Linkewitz for FringeNYC. It’s a play about US presidential mistresses, which was interesting because I got to play characters from both the past and the present. Recently I had to step out of the performances that will occur this spring due to personal health issues but I had a lot of fun while I was involved and I wish the cast the best of luck. I also acted in some short student films and in some of the Theatre Department’s PIPS (Plays in Process written by students) with friends which was really fun. Other than that, I have great memories of “family dinners” with friends in the Commons, socializing in my room watching movies and going on adventures in NYC. I look forward to making many more fun memories once everyone is back on campus again.

How have your identities in the Ethnic/Racial Heritage, Faith, Religion & Spirituality, and Visible/Invisible Communities played a role in your journey at Drew?

Growing up in a multi-ethnic household in the United States has been interesting because I feel I don’t completely belong to either identity. As a child I felt weird at times for being raised differently and I was bullied for having a “baba” (my great aunt) so for a while I was embarrassed of my Romanian heritage. The other kids thought that my food smelled weird and that it was weird that I have religious icons in my wallet and in my room since I’m Orthodox Christian. I have to admit I’d even get mad at my great aunt for having an accent and barely being able to speak English because despite being young, I noticed all of the judgmental stares she’d get. We still get looks sometimes when we go out but now I laugh at the fact that we make small minded people so uncomfortable. The fact that our world is becoming increasingly diverse certainly helps our situation and the situations of those who have it much worse. In recent years I’ve embraced my Romanian side, but even then I feel I’m not “Romanian” enough to be considered a Romanian. But that’s the reality of being an American nowadays, we all are immigrants in some way so there is not one type of American someone can aspire to be. Even the media is changing its representation and while it’s slow going, it’s something that I want to be a part of when I begin my career in tv and film.

As for my invisible disability, I have a rare form of Atonic Seizures and have been struggling with this chronic illness my whole life. The fact that it’s so difficult to treat and that the other kids were afraid of them and shunned me as a result weared away at my self-confidence for many years, but over quarantine I’ve used this time to get all sorts of testing done so we can figure out what’s wrong exactly. I’ll always have to deal with them to some extent, but medical technology is always advancing so I’m hopeful that things will get more manageable with time. Besides, Drew has always been gracious with their accommodations and I never feel like I’m a burden or that I’m somehow weak compared to the able bodied students and I’m thankful for that.

What advice would you give students who are just starting out that you wish you had when you started?

Get to know as many people as you can and that includes professors! It’s hard putting yourself out there but everyone else is in the same boat when they arrive so it’s very easy making new friends. Even if you don’t stay friends with absolutely everyone you meet, it’s good to get to know as many people as you can so you can feel more at home with all the familiar faces. Some of my closest friends are people that I kept running into at Commons every day and after a while they start to become family to you. If you know what you want to major in, it’s good to get to know the people in your department too because you will be seeing each other for the next 4 years. Even if they aren’t in your year, it’s good to get to know all sorts of people, whether they are like an older or younger sibling to you.

As for the professors, by showing a genuine interest in their classes and emailing them with questions, it’s easy to form close bonds with them. You have no idea what advice someone might offer you and especially when you are away from home at a young age, it’s good to have mentors watching out for you. Even if you aren’t a freshman, I think that when everyone is back on campus it’ll be as if everyone is new again and everyone will be able to have a fresh start making new friends while solidifying the preexisting bonds with previous friendships.

What are your career goals? Where do you hope to be in 5 years?

My goal in 5 years is to either have a recurring role in a TV show or be getting supporting roles in films. My plan is to either move to NYC or Los Angeles immediately after I graduate and try to find an agent. Either way, I’ll be going on thousands of auditions since that’s the way it goes but I hope that by 6 months I would have picked up something in a TV show or film and start working during pilot season in the fall of 2023. If I’m not able to get anything, I’ll look into going to grad school and getting an MFA before trying again. My ultimate career goal is to be a successful film actor, but with my skills in music and languages, I could branch off into other paths that are closely related to my chosen career.

Are there any fun facts you would like to share?

I’m left handed, gluten-free (not really fun but if anyone needs recipes I’m the person to approach), a Capricorn, my favorite color is teal, I hate camping (I’ve been on ONE too many camping trips and have lots of crazy stories as a result) I used to have chickens named after Harry Potter characters but now I have 2 feral cats that are constantly trying to break into the house (they’re cute though so it’s ok).

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