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Columbia College Chicago
Meet the Students

Meet the Students

Jay Espano

Jay Españo


Like most prospective students, Jay Españo stumbled across Columbia College Chicago among Google search results. Unlike most prospective students, Españo is what some might call a celebrity: he has starred in commercials, soap operas, and the Philippines’ equivalent of Sesame Street.

Españo is the first international student to enroll in the Graduate Laban Certificate in Movement Analysis (GL-CMA). Raised in the Philippines, and a Singapore transplant, he has been honing his acting craft for over a decade. Españo has stared in more than 40 plays, has directed, produced, and written plays, and has taught musical theater.

Españo applied to the GL-CMA, committed to incorporating Laban’s eight basic efforts into his acting. He had been exposed to Laban in his first acting workshop in 1991 and saw how LMA could improve his line delivery, character portrayal, and stage movement. Once accepted into the program and living in Chicago, Españo landed a starring role in The King and I and was able to do just that. Oddly enough, Jay did not intend to play the king. He auditioned for a supporting role because he really enjoyed the songs.

According to Españo, the GL-CMA helped make his character more believable. He claims, “It was the first time I felt I worked really hard on a character.” While delving into the script, he made meticulous notes about space, weight, and time, and practiced movements with his lines. He tweaked his movements accordingly once he began interacting with other actors on stage: “They are also using space, weight, and time unconsciously, and I have to adjust if something is not working.”

Jay delivers lines from the king and I

When asked if lines influenced his movement delivery or if movements influenced his line delivery, he said “both.” For example, in one scene, Españo’s character had to tell another character that he was not interested in that character’s advice even though he was. Españo had to convey this message to the audience non-verbally, “so body placement was important.”

Ironically, many people told Españo that his performance reminded them of Yul Brynner’s King and I, which Españo has yet to see. He jokes that the fact that he has never seen Brenner’s performance might be his “legacy.”

Españo has impressed audiences so much so that he has been asked to audition for the king’s role in productions in Aurora, Kansas, and even in Canada*. He looks forward to the challenge of a different dynamic—new casts and new directors. He also looks forward to playing more dramatic roles; he likes dark characters and roles for which he is called to cry.

Though his initial goals were to improve his acting and “relate everything to [his] profession,” Españo has discovered he has a passion for movement analysis. Now, when he meets people, he finds himself analyzing their movements. He laughs, “I am so obsessed with it now!”

The GL-CMA has also led to job opportunities for Españo. He was offered a job through his practicum** at Lil’ Buds, a theater company that conducts after-school theater programs across Chicago schools. Using his past experiences teaching, acting, and doing improv (at Chicago’s own Second City), he facilitated improv and experiential theater games with kids, age toddler to 14. With the Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling Department’s guidance, Españo researched childhood development of movement and learned appropriate activities for various age groups at Lil’ Buds. This skill will serve him well because, in his own words, he “loves to teach kids” and wants to continue teaching them in the future.

Ten years from now, Españo hopes to be a stable working actor and wants to be teaching kids in his own performing arts school.  He also sees himself passing on LMA knowledge to others, offering Laban training to performers in Singapore. But he is not limiting himself to Singapore. He’s open to going wherever life takes him. He says, in a profound way that only an actor could, “That’s the good thing with knowledge. You can take it anywhere.”

Article by Bethany Brownholtz

*Since the time of this interview, Españo was cast for the role of the king in a Canadian production of The King and I to begin in December.

**International students must be enrolled full-time, so Españo was required to complete a practicum and an independent study.