Student seeks stardom

Erica James, center, during a film shoot. The junior juggles an overloaded class schedule with theater productions and being a community advisor as well as taking part in local films. 

Between taking 21 credits, being a community advisor, acting in two directing finals, doing everyone’s hair for the main stage production of “Hand to God,” and taking a monthly acting class in Boston, it wouldn’t seem that junior, Erica James, has free time for anything.

But she’s still somehow making time for chasing her dreams.

            With all the other things that James is doing, she is also making independent films with a group from Granville, New York. They have recently teamed up with to make a short film called “Into the Witching Hour,” which she will star in.

            “I started doing community theater in Springfield, Vermont and the director I had was involved this group of filmmakers in Granville, New York. They’re called Espience Films and he called me up one night and was like “hey I am working with these guys and they’re looking for a female for this role” and I was like “Heck yeah! I would love to be in a movie,” James said.

            And that’s how it all started, according to James.

            Her mom had a different story of how her daughter started acting though.

            “She’s been doing this since she was 2 years old. You would have thought there was a room full of people if you were in another room listening. She would carry on conversations like improvisations on a stage. She used to tell me “Mommy, one day I’ll be a movie star, a famous actress known all over the world and I will always take care of you,” Cheryl James said.

            Her mom also mentioned that her daughter has never been camera shy, which is a good thing for the independent film acting she’s doing now with Espience Films.

            “Into the Witching Hour” is their newest project and will mark the first time James is paid for her work acting, but she believes that doing all the prior movies for free was worth it and paved the way.

            “I would be travelling to New York and not be getting paid for my time, but it’s worth it because I’m getting my name out there. You have to start small before you make it big. You typically don’t start off getting paid as an actor,” James said.

            The independent films are getting her name out through YouTube, the connection with Horror Society and through sending films to festivals. She was in another Espience film called “The Man on the Phone” and in a mini-series “And Then They Came.”

            James believes that she her determination will get her where she wants to go in life and she has a lot of support.

            Her fellow actor, Dalton Jesse Cummings, who is the director of one of her current shows, and is her boyfriend, has total faith in her.

“I feel like she is very determined and she has that sparkle that makes her stand out from everyone else… If anyone can be as determined as her, they will make it,” Cummings said.

            He is even willing to move to California with her when they graduate so she can start auditioning for acting jobs.

            James is currently taking 21 credits so she can graduate a year early, with Cummings, and head to California.

            Professor Harry McEnerny, chair of the theater department and James’ advisor, also believes in her because of how determined she is.

            “She will not quit. She is a determined person. She knows exactly what she wants to do and she is going to do everything that it takes to get that,” McEnerny said.

            But like most college students, James has a hard time keeping her bank account full.

            “My biggest challenge is probably, honestly, money. Sometimes it’s deciding. It’s making a choice about what’s more important a lot of times because I’ll have something going on at school and I’ll be like “Is Steve Blackwood more important than this?” and usually the answer is yes because he’s helping me get where I want to go. He even said to me one time “you stick with me and I’ll get you where you want to go because you have talent and I just don’t want to put you out there when you’re not ready,” James explained.

            Steve Blackwood is an actor who was on “Days of Our Lives” for 20 years. He teaches master classes in Boston that James attends each month.

            Though she admits to usually choosing his class over other things she has to do at Castleton, she missed two months of his class while acting in “Fuddy Meers” and she missed the showcase he does for his students in order to do CA training.

            James said she has to choose his classes the majority of the time because he’s going to be the person who helps her achieve her goals that so many other people are also chasing.

            McEnerny also talked about the classes in Boston.

“That kind of determination is what’s going to make her successful,” McEnerny said.

James has been determined since she was a child, according to her mom.

“When she put her mind to something, she could and would accomplish anything. She’s very driven by her own heart,” said James’ mom.

James’ parents own a restaurant in their hometown of Proctorsville, Vermont called Vermont Apple Pie. When Erica took time off between college and high school, she spent most of her time as a chef there and still bakes often.

She said taking that time off is the reason she works so hard at school now. She had to wait to get there and she appreciates it so much more than she would have, but wanting something so badly makes it a little scary.

            “It’s scary because it’s almost like you’re competing against all these other people who are trying to do the same thing. But it takes persistence. If you stop, you’re not going to get anywhere. You have to try and stand out. Everyone has something different about them. You have to find out what’s different about you and make people see that,” James said.

            Another one of her fellow actors and roommate, Nicole DeCicco, doesn’t think James will have any problems succeeding as an actress.

            “I know Erica James will be successful because she is the most hardworking, most dedicated, passionate person. I’m verging on obsessed with how good she is at doing her work, knowing what she needs to get done, getting it done. She’s a great auditioner. She’s just going to do great things in this world… Networking is going to be a breeze for her. Everyone’s going to want to work with her,” said DeCicco.

            Her mom has known she was going to act for a long time.

            “When Erica was a little girl she never needed a script. She made her own up as she went along. I believe I knew she would be in theater then. She would watch a Disney movie and portray the characters … all of them!” Cheryl James said.

            Now, James is taking everything one day at a time and doing as much as she can to prepare herself for the real world and credits Castleton with helping her see her own talent and giving her confidence.

            She’s also using it as a way to help prepare for failure.

“Since I’ve come here, I’ve auditioned for everything and I did that on purpose to prepare myself for the let down … It has helped me control my emotional side so I don’t cry or get upset. If I don’t get something, I move on,” James said.

            She doesn’t ever plan on giving up due to not getting a part because as she said, “what famous actor or actress hasn’t been rejected?”

            Though James has a ton on her plate, she doesn’t let it stress her out or keep her from acting.

“It can get stressful at times, but not to the point that I would ever want to stop because I love it. When I’m not acting I just feel empty. I need to be doing it. It’s the thrill of it. I don’t know I just love it,” James said.

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