To hear Darian Bengston tell it, the day he auditioned for Missouri State’s acting program was the worst of his life.
Bengston expected to have normal performance jitters going into his one-on-one audition with Missouri State’s acting program coordinator, Dr. Kurt Heinlein. MSU, after all, was his top-choice school.
However, all chance of normal was soon derailed. Minutes before the audition at a hotel, Heinlein broke the news that the scheduled space was unavailable. They would have to go around the corner the kitchen instead.
“I wasn’t going to tell him ‘No,’ so we go into the kitchen and there’s people moving food in and out. I’m so torn inside.”
But Bengston drew a deep breath, took off his glasses and bravely launched into his monologues, despite the bustle of the wait staff preparing food and walking between them.
“It was a fiasco, and I was terrified,” he said. “I did not think I was going to get in.”
‘You belong with our family’
Those fears were nearly confirmed when he returned later to check MSU’s call-back roster, and he wasn’t among the eight people listed.
Then, he noticed a second page. On it, his name stood alone with the note: “Just stop by.”
“I sat down with Kurt and (then-Department Head) Dr. (Chris) Herr thinking they were going to politely let me go. But then Kurt said, ‘We don’t normally do this, but we really think that you belong with our family, and if you want, we’d like to offer you a spot at our school — right here, right now.’”
Bengston unequivocally said “Yes,” and now, more than two years later, it is clear why Heinlein and Herr were so quick to bring him into the competitive program.
Hard work is paying off
Bengston’s staggering talent, impressive work ethic and infectious positivity make him a catch for the university.
By the end of his sophomore year, he had acted in several MSU and student stage productions, including “Hair,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Runaways” and “Topdog/Underdog.” He had also appeared in the student-produced films “Bad Beat,” “Liven” and “Paradox.”
Bengston, now a junior, is part of the theatre-of-the-oppressed group Giving Voice and is the president of MSU’s University Coalition of Young Artists; he works at the university bookstore and interns at Springfield Contemporary Theatre.
He is the recipient of the Joseph Cantlin Memorial Scholarship, the Giving Voice Scholarship and the Theatre Regents Scholarship.
In fall 2016, Bengston will be studying abroad at Theatre Academy London, a program run by Florida State University. There, he will work with some of London’s leading artists and in locations where many theater giants got their starts, like William Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.
Catch his next performance
All these experiences, he said has helped him hone his craft and shape what his future will look like. And surviving every actor’s worst nightmare of an audition has given this Waterloo, Iowa, native a leg up — at least where nerves are concerned.
“I could be auditioning for Steven Spielberg tomorrow, and I would not be as scared as I was that day.”
As for what is next after graduation, Bengston said he’s still figuring that out.
“Up until months ago, I was gung-ho on going to Los Angeles. I wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. But after being here (at Missouri State), working and learning, I’m very divided between stage and film. And now it’s more about the art and about what I want to do with my life, instead of just the generic end goal of making it big.”
Bengston will return from London in time for the theatre and dance department’s spring 2017 production season, when you’ll have a chance to see him on the MSU stage once again.