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Grinnell Artists: Sydney Quartey ’18

Sydney Quartey ’18 has been involved in theater throughout his time in Grinnell, and “The Royale” will be his last performance before graduation. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

By Candace Mettle

Sydney Quartey ’18 has been involved in theater throughout his time in Grinnell, and “The Royale” will be his last performance before graduation. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

In high school, Sydney Quartey ’18 tailored his academic career to become a medical professional. By the third year of his college career, Quartey declared theater and dance as a second major and started to envision himself as a screen actor. Now he wants to take the skills gained from his stage and set crew career and to build up his production portfolio after writing off craft studies for so long.

“A big contribution to the delayed change was trying to convince my loved ones and friends,” Quartey said. “[L]eading up to college I was putting a lot of stuff in place to make sure that I can get this medical degree … and then all of the sudden I want to do acting. It’s kind of like it got to a point that it couldn’t just be my words that would convince people — I gotta start showing them things.”

Quartey acted in high school and always enjoyed entertaining others, but it was not until entering college that his acting activities became more formal. After Quartey auditioned for a play in his first semester at the College and failed, he took opportunities to improve his acting abilities. The flexibility of a liberal arts education, he claims, made it possible to intensively study acting while also fulfilling his STEM studies.

“In a weird way, I was kind of happy I got rejected because if I hadn’t, I probably would have begun to think that I was invincible. … It definitely humbled me,” he said.

“I have to give credit to this program. … Even though I don’t know what my future will hold, I am definitely a much happier person … I don’t feel like I’m just trying to please my parents or look educated and smart so … thank you Grinnell!”

Although Quartey still majors in biology, he does not see it as related to his acting career, nor does he necessarily want to connect the two disciplines together. However, he notices that the  deductive and empirical reasoning skills found in the sciences allow him to critically analyze his roles and productions.

“My fave has definitely been ‘Elephant’s Graveyard’, because the play had no real protagonist and it was like eight or nine actors all on a level playing field. We also made all the choreography ourselves so it was very collaborative effort with the director, Sophiyaa Nayar ’17,” he said.

Up to date, Quartey has starred in two student projects and worked crew three times, with “The Royale” being one of the last performances of his college career. In “The Royale,” directed by Dru Greenwood ’18, Quartey plays the main character, Jay Jackson, a heavyweight boxer trying to earn recognition for his skill in segregated 20th century America.

“Quoting my director, Dru Greenwood, ‘it’s the first play majorly depicting the lives of black people/people of color being put on in Grinnell in the past decade.’ That definitely was a big motivation for me to get involved,” Quartey said. “‘The Royale’ was one of the plays I was given the opportunity to see [while studying theater in London] and [I] immediately fell in love with it. The situation was similar. We had been seeing so many plays portraying only white characters and it was just a blessing to finally witness such a talented majority black cast.”

Quartey attributes his global travels as providing him with interesting backgrounds that have become a part of his personality. From his native home of Ghana, to a childhood home in Rome and to spending the seasons between New York City and the cornfields of Iowa, his travels have not only filled up three passport booklets, but also provided him with a catalogue of personalities and characters available to perform.

“I kind of feel like there are multiple cultures in my identity and I kind of grab from all of them so maybe at first, acting kind of just felt like me expressing those others cultures. I think I have a lot more traveling to do. … Maybe I haven’t even finished accumulating all my cultures yet.”

One strong point Quartery claims to have is accents, partly influenced by his globe trekking. Having multiple accents adds depth to characters because their voice distinguishes them from their appearances.

“I don’t feel like I really have one accent, my accent is always kind of changing. … I did performances recently when we have to transition between five different characters in a span of two minutes, and without the voice, without the accent, that transition doesn’t have the same magic,” he said.

Subsequently, Quartey believes that the best roles he has are the ones opposite of his perception of himself. Citing British actor Tom Hardy as a standard to aspire to, Quartery believes that, “when I feel like I’ve done my best job as an actor is when the role is something completely opposite from what I feel like I am.”

Acting also holds a communal value for Quartey. So far, he has had a support system that, in his words, remind him of philanthropists in the way they are always ready to watch and advocate for his work. Quartey hopes to return the favor in his work.

“It’s actually only recently that I realized how much you can impact people with acting. You can create art through film that will touch people and it doesn’t even always have to be a non-fictional story.”

Quartey made do without the College having a film program by making projects independent from the College. However, the lack of an academic film program has not been much of a hurdle for exploring his screen interests.

“If you really want to do something that benefits yourself outside of school, it’s going to have to be independent.”

As Quartey works on his portfolio — website upcoming — he encourages people to see “The Royale.” Performances will be held from April 12 to April 15. Tickets are available at the Box Office.

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