Interim professor to leave lasting legacy

No one wants to disappoint Vasanth Santosham. He’s a professional.

It shows in his determined stride, in the piercing intelligence of his eyes, even in his uniform-like wardrobe—a black sweater, gray Levi 514s and brown boots.

This master actor is focused on the pursuit of excellence in his craft and is determined to pass his drive on to a new generation of students at Butler University.

He hasn’t had much time to do so—he’s only an interim professor, teaching while associate theatre professor Elaina Artemiev is on sabbatical.

Therefore, his acting classes are intense, and he forces his students to take the craft seriously.

For Vasanth Santosham, acting is life, and he knows if his students are to succeed as professional actors they must dive headlong into each experience without knowing what comes next.

The secret to Santosham’s success is based on that ideal: An actor can’t plan for what’s next.

Santosham didn’t plan to become an actor, though it seems he was fated to the profession.

On a car trip when he was eight years old, Santosham told his mother he was going to be an actor. His mother smiled and told him that he’d have to stop being so shy first.

That was the end of the conversation, and Santosham didn’t think about acting again for at least another decade.

While studying for a pre-med degree at Wayne State University in Michigan, Santosham took an acting class.

“Just because I was interested,” he said, shrugging.

An instructor took note of the young man’s talent and told him he should try to become a professional actor.

Taking the professor’s advice, Santosham graduated from Wayne State with a degree in theater and enrolled in a one-month study program at the Moscow Art Theatre School in Russia.

Santosham wound up spending four years at the school, where he studied under some of Russia’s greatest actors.

“It’s very intensive, conservatory-style training,” he said. “It was six days a week—three hours of acting training in the morning and the afternoon with voice, dance, speech, movement, fencing, European theater history and Russian theater history.”

Santosham graduated from this intensive training program with a master’s degree in theater.

One of the master actors Santosham studied with at the school was Artemiev. Santosham leapt at the chance to teach in her place this semester.

“In the tradition that I come from in Russia, teaching is a natural step in the progression of a professional actor,” he said. “It’s a responsibility to come back to schools and teach, and it’s an honor.”

Santosham is teaching at Butler because he is an established professional actor, and that’s the way he believes it should be.

“If you’ve had success in acting, from doing it the way you’ve been trained and a way you enjoy, you want to share that with other people,” he said.

Santosham has been an actor both on stage and on screen. He hopes that 2013 will bring the theatrical release of a special film he recently shot in India called “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain.”

Santosham enjoys teaching and believes students benefit from his perspectives on modern acting.

“If you’re going to be a teacher, you have to be an artist first, you have to be someone who’s working, who’s doing it and who can give a perspective on what’s happening right now,” he said

He feels that American actors often resort to teaching if they’ve been unsuccessful as actors. “That’s something I want to destroy, that I think has to be totally taken out of the system.”

Santosham’s students at Butler University believe in his abilities as an instructor and are open to learning his philosophies on theater and acting.

“I love him,” said Jake Swain. “I think he cares about what he does, and he gives good advice, and he might be harsh sometimes, but it’s because he knows that we have potential, and he wants us to realize that potential in ourselves.”

Santosham will return to Moscow in January to participate in a statewide celebration of the 150th anniversary of acting theorist Constantin Stanislavski’s birth. He and Matthew Raines will be starring in a two-man play there this spring.

After the celebration, Santosham plans to join a show touring Romania. When it’s through, he’ll head back to his home in Los Angeles and continue to explore new opportunities.

“The life of an actor usually works in cycles of three to four months,” he said. “You get something, you’re totally involved with it for four months, and by the time it’s finished, something else comes up.”

An actor must live as Santosham lives, without always knowing what comes next.

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