Alumni Feature – Laurel Casillo, Class of 2003

photo by Leisha Majtan: http://leishamajtanphotography.com/

photo by Leisha Majtan: http://leishamajtanphotography.com/

This month’s spotlight is on Laurel Casillo, a 2003 alumnus who is successfully following her dream of acting on stage in New York City – achieving a goal most of us only imagine in our wildest dreams!  Here are Laurel’s thoughts on growing up in Little Falls.

When I try to describe where I grew up to people I always say, “I grew up inside of a Norman Rockwell painting.”  Little Falls is a beautiful little city and a classic slice of wholesome Americana.  The expansive farm land, beautiful country roads, city parks, paths through the forests, waterfalls, the Erie Canal and various historical elements all combine to create a wonderland for a child growing up.  It is also a very safe place for children, which I think instills a sense of independence at an early age.  Being able to play outside and explore, lets your imagination go crazy and allows a child to just be a kid.

The arts are alive and well in the community, which was huge for me.  My first job was at the Mohawk Valley Center for the Arts on the South Side where I helped in the store setting up artwork in the gallery.  I was able to participate in a youth community outreach theater troupe with the local Presbyterian Church, perform with the LFHS Drama Club as well as the local Rotary club and study dance at Munson Williams Proctor Institute in Utica. These opportunities were key to my artistic development and allowed me to find my tribe of like minded, creative people.

When asked about her favorite teacher, Laurel’s response wasn’t quite as easy.

This is a really tough question. Choosing one out of the many incredible teachers I had is hard. That’s another part of what made growing up in Little Falls so special. The school district is second to none when it comes to incredible teachers who really care about and support their students.

I’d have to say Mr. Pumilio, since I pretty much lived in the art room during high school.  I remember feeling the most excited in his classes, learning about different mediums, how to develop black and white photos and create sculptures and pottery.  I look back now and think how lucky I was to be able to explore all of that and learn about famous artists and how to appreciate artwork.  “Mr. P” would allow me to spend extra time in the art room during study halls and after school.  He would let me use art supplies to help paint sets for the school musicals.  I remember winning a prize at an art fair for a sculpture I once made.  I had no idea he had even submitted the piece!  I still have a print of a painting Mr. P created and gave to me when I graduated.  I’ll be forever grateful for all he taught me.

Laurel then shared with us how her career came to be.

I was determined to continue my dance studies, pursue acting further and live in New York City, the Mecca of all things performing arts.   Therefore, my senior year was crazy because I didn’t just have to apply to college, I also had to audition.  I spent a lot of studio time in Utica choreographing my audition piece with my dance instructor, Nancy Long, and practicing monologues for acting auditions.  I was very lucky and got into the dance and theater departments at Marymount Manhattan College.  While attending MMC, I also studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where I met my mentor, James Brill, who advises and supports me still.  After graduating college, it was (and still is) a long road of hard work and auditioning. That work never stops when you’re an actor.  I feel extremely fortunate for the opportunities I have had so far in my career and I find that work begets work.

I started out working in regional theaters, independent films and producing original theater alongside my college peers with our troupe Five Flights Theater Company.  I did a little commercial work, and then I got my first big break when I booked my Broadway debut.  I was in Act One, an adaptation of Moss Hart’s memoir written and directed by James Lapine, at Lincoln Center Theater.  The play was nominated for five Tony Awards and won for best set design (which was an incredible sixty foot long triple-decker turn table that spun like a merry-go-round!)  PBS filmed the production, which will air this November as a part of their “Live from Lincoln Center” series.  I look back on that time in total awe of the incredible talented people with whom I worked and witnessed create great things.  Walking through Lincoln Center to work on the Beaumont stage was a total dream come true for me.  After that I have been able to work at some wonderful, reputable regional theaters.  Earlier this year I worked on a new play called Elevada by the fearless Sheila Callaghan at Yale Repertory Theatre.  I was nominated for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Play by the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards for that role, which was a huge honor.  I continue to work regionally and audition for future endeavors.

I believe growing up in a smaller community allows for more individual attention in the school system.  Students in Little Falls get a great education in an environment where teachers really focus on everyone’s development and encourage kids to pursue their interests.  It’s easier to get lost in a class of a thousand students and I feel lucky to have been a part of less than a hundred graduating in 2003.  The support of the teachers, community and my family helped me to follow my creativity without boundary which allowed me to pursue my dreams with confidence when I left to start my career.

When asked about sharing a favorite memory and offering advice, Laurel has this to add.

My favorite memories are performing with the LFHS Drama Club.  That is where I first experienced the magic of creating theater and learned to understand the amount of work that goes into the process.

As for advice – DREAM BIG!  It might sound cliché, but you really can achieve anything if you work hard enough and believe in yourself.  Never stop dreaming big.

Laurel currently lives in Queens, NY with her fiancé, Will, and is continuing to dream.

The Little Falls High School Alumni Network’s Where are They Now series was initiated in January of 2015.  This feature highlights individuals who have enhanced their lives and/or the lives of others using the foundation of the education they received at LFHS or St. Mary’s and the family values they developed while growing up in Little Falls.  Success isn’t always defined by financial achievements.  Many people find personal satisfaction by giving back to their communities, organizations or to others in general.  Those on the receiving end of these heartfelt contributions may consider this person in the highest regard as well.  With this being said, we are looking for individual nominations of Little Falls alumni who have made a difference in the lives of others as well their own.  Before submitting your nominations (to AlumniLFHS@gmail.com), please confirm your nominee is currently registered on the Little Falls Alumni Website as this is also a requirement.
Thank you and we look forward to reacquainting with our fellow classmates.

About AlumniLFHS@gmail.com

Chiropractor, Summit Medical Group, Berkeley Heights, NJ. Director of Alumni Communications, LFHS Alumni Network.

Post Navigation