Tiani Nabors, a self-possessed teenager from Schenectady, has no plans of becoming a professional actress, even though she was accepted into a prestigious New York City theater program that takes only 30 students throughout the state.
Nabors has her eyes on the prize — nursing school, that is. She argues pragmatically that there will always be jobs for nurses. Acting can be a nice side job.
“I’m not looking to be some rising star,” she said, before adding, “But Broadway would be nice.”
Her parents, Dani and George Bennett, moved from Albany to Schenectady just before Nabors’ freshman year. Here, Nabors, 16, has been a quickly rising star at Steinmetz Academy, Schenectady’s smaller high school.
Steinmetz used to be the school of last resort for students who failed elsewhere, so Nabors worried people would assume she had done something wrong if she went there. But she said she was also worried about Schenectady High School’s thousands of students, so she asked for a smaller setting.
“The smaller the better for me,” she said.
She has thrived at Steinmetz, and in theater class she has excelled, teacher Giovanna Prezio said.
But could someone who deliberately sought out a smaller crowd really do well in front of an audience?
It turns out that when she’s performing, she’s pretending the audience doesn’t exist.
“I just try to feel it as much as I can and forget who’s there with me,” she said. “I just put everything I have in it.”
She can embody characters with a vast array of complicated emotions, Prezio said.
“She’s very deep. It’s very easy for her to connect emotionally with a scene. And where other high school students might be afraid to go there, she’s not,” Prezio said.
But she doesn’t think she’s on top of the world, so her ego wasn’t crushed when she skated through a local Shakespeare competition only to find herself utterly outclassed at the regional competition.
Prezio was surprised that Nabors calmly went on to try out for the New York State Summer School of Theatre in New York City just after losing at the Shakespeare event.
But Nabors said it wasn’t hard at all.
“They were amazing,” she said of her Shakespeare competitors. “When I lost, I just felt there was something that would be a little bit better for me.”
She keeps herself from getting overconfident as a way of sharpening her acting. She told herself frightening stories about the New York City audition to ramp up the fear.
“I thought fear would help, so I automatically picked the worst [experience] ever: hundreds of kids in line, a long table in a dark room, lots of judges,” she said.
It turned out the auditioners scheduled the students in small groups. Nabors arrived to find just five other people waiting, and only one judge.
During her audition, the judge said they could discuss the program before or after Nabors performed. Nabors asked to talk first, giving her a chance to become comfortable with a stranger. They hit it off immediately, and Nabors waxed enthusiastic about the judge detailing all the ways in which the program would be four weeks of hell.
“She said we’re going to work nonstop all the time,” Nabors said. “It’s going to be like work.”
There are lessons in tango, yoga and stage fighting, along with a dozen other courses. Students get only one break a week.
Nabors sighed in delight.
It’s “perfect,” she said.
At the audition, she recited two monologues, shook hands with the judge and left. She told herself there was no chance she would get in, not with all the “raw talent” in New York City and everywhere else.
“I mean, they’re only taking 30 people. I said, ‘I didn’t get it.’ ”
Months later, she went out to get the mail one day, expecting her report card. There was a big envelope, so she opened it and tossed aside notices about flu shots and other routine school mailings.
Then she read the letter.
She was in.
“It was very surprising. I had no idea what I was reading, it just had my name on it,” she said. “My grandmother stopped breathing and I had to read it again and then we both screamed.”
But Nabors wasn’t completely convinced.
“I waited a couple of days to see if they sent me something saying they got the wrong name, but nothing came,” she said.
She will be in New York City until Aug. 4. It’s the ideal summer break, she said.
“It’s just stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it can be boring to be yourself.”