“Everyone who came over had to sit down and watch me,” said Khoshatefeh. “I even served popcorn.”
That was her first role on stage and she’d go on to wow crowds in high school and at the University of Rhode Island, where she’s graduating this summer with a bachelor’s in fine arts in acting.
Next fall, she’ll step into an even bigger role when she starts a rigorous three-year master’s in fine arts program at the prestigious Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium.
Only 14 of about 700 applicants are accepted into the program. What’s just as impressive is that Brown is offering Khoshatefeh a generous scholarship that covers nearly all of her tuition.
She’s eager to begin. “I love acting,” she says. “I love being the one telling a story. I love being on stage. It’s called ‘suspension of disbelief.’ You stand in front of an audience and say we are in Scotland and the audience believes you for two hours. It’s exhilarating.”
Khoshatefeh grew up in Mansfield, Mass., where she roamed the woods with friends and went on long bike rides. She credits her mother, Phyllis, with getting her started on the stage – a real one. The ninth-grader was trying to decide between ceramics or acting as a high school elective.
“I’ll never forget this,” Khoshatefeh recalls. “My mom said, ‘Are you going to be a potter for the rest of your life? Pick something more productive. Pick acting.’ ”
She took her mother’s advice and appeared in high school productions, as well as plays at the Mansfield Music & Arts Society, where her role as the heroine Antigone in the tragedy “Antigone” triggered not just a fondness for acting, but a passion.
“I loved it,” she says. “It was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been, but I think at my age we’re waiting for something to strike that moves us. It was so refreshing.”
URI’s theater program was a perfect fit. She thrived in the small classes with convivial teachers, always accessible. She also appreciated the opportunity to take courses in all aspects of drama, from set and costume design to theater management.
All her roles at URI were memorable, but her favorite was Dorine in “Tartuffe,” a French farce. “Everyone was wearing these huge dresses and running around,” says Khoshatefeh. “I never realized how physically challenging theater could be until that play.”
Her role as Ariel in “Pillowman” – a play that explores how violence affects society – was her most challenging, not surprising considering that the part was written for a man. “He was the bad cop,” she says. “I had an entire fight scene – choreographed, of course.”
At URI, she blossomed as an actor. “I became more comfortable with myself and my body,” she says. “I learned more about what it is to work on your craft. Talent is such a small part of being an actor. A lot of it is hard work, ambition, and education. We’re storytellers. It’s important for us to know about history, philosophy, politics, and psychology.”
Others seem to recognize her talents as well. Last year, she participated in the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship Competition at the American College Theatre Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In 2012, she advanced to the final round of 16 in the competition.
“The thing I’ve loved about Olivia is that she is an open-hearted spirit,” says Claudia Traub, an adjunct professor of acting voice and movement at URI. “She’s intensely aware of her craft and who she is and how she fits in the world. It’s a joy to work with her.”
The Brown/Trinity program is a homecoming of sorts for Khoshatefeh. For the last several years, she’s taught at Trinity’s children’s summer camp for budding thespians. The thought of stepping on that stage to act is thrilling for her. Her dream is to be a professional theater actor, but she’s trying not to plan too far ahead.
“You can’t really have a five-year plan if you’re an actor,” she says. “It’s a scary way to live, but it’s also exciting.”
Olivia Khoshatefeh, a 2013 graduate from the University of Rhode Island who is heading to the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium to study acting.
Photo by Michael Salerno