Jeff Yongjle Zeng

Jeff Zeng (BA, 2019)

Why did you choose to pursue your degree at Pitt?

I initially arrived at Pitt with no intention of pursuing a theatre degree. Early on, I declared an Economics-Statistics major that I obtained a Bachelor of Science for. However, throughout my undergraduate journey, I always had a deep interest and love for acting. Having no theatre experience in high school, I was terrified of many aspects of acting. What I appreciated about Pitt Theatre is that it is open to any individual regardless of their acting background. The program allowed me to take classes, audition, and act in departmental plays without officially declaring a theatre major--something that didn't happen until the last few months of my junior year. I was able to learn and grow at my own pace, and I engaged with some of the most influential peers, mentors, and professors in my life. Unknowingly, I had completed many classes required by the major at the end of my junior year, and it was then that I knew I wanted to complete it fully. My journey in Pitt Theatre started experimentally: me, led by passion, cautiously navigating the unknown. Through luck and persistence, I grew more confident when cast in my first play, Baltimore, my sophomore year (and I'm grateful for Ricardo Vila-Roger for believing in me). I continued to take more classes, auditioned, and performed in plays. Throughout bouts of fear and doubt, I was surrounded by people who understood where I came from and still challenged me. What I valued most whilst pursuing this major was having the ability to figure all of this out by myself: trying and failing a lot, and pushing forward because I knew this is where I want to be.

How did the program help prepare you for life after graduation?

In terms of acting, the program helped me develop the fundamentals of building a character and being present on stage and with your scene partners. Because of this, I learned how to be vulnerable, which I believe is one of the most important aspects of being an actor. I am grateful to have learned how to empathize more deeply, to connect more deeply, and to listen more deeply with stories and people. I learned how to temper with walls that I naturally create for myself in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations, and show up as fully as myself. The program built my confidence and reminded me as an actor that I have the undeniable right to exist, flaws included.

What is your current position and how did you get it?

I currently am an actor residing in Los Angeles. I have had the opportunity to audition for and act in some wonderful films and television shows, and I've met some amazing friends and colleagues along the way. I continue to learn by enrolling in local studios that focus on scene study and audition technique. I'm also dabbling in screenplay writing, and am working on a script for a feature film.

Do you have any thoughts or advice for current students?

Despite the weight of others' opinions, only you can decide whether or not you are an actor. Actors are insane because we have to put ourselves through a lot of financial, physical, and emotional distress. To be able to find meaning in your art, you must commit yourself—whether that is through watching and learning from existing content, creating your own art, writing, performing, honing your skills, and so much more. The journey is almost never easy or simple. Knowing why you want to do this is important; find your "why," hold it dear to you, and run with it. Make that the reason you are an actor.