Young Alumni Pursue Their Passions in the Performing Arts

Young Alumni Pursue Their Passions in the Performing Arts
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Janice Lewine

Ravencroft’s award-winning Fine Arts Department inspires graduates to major in the performing arts in college and take their talent and determination to the worlds of stage and screen.

Ravencroft’s award-winning Fine Arts Department continues to produce graduates who pursue their passion for the performing arts in college and out into the worlds of stage and screen. Here, we profile five young alumni — Haley Murdoch ’16George Labusohr ’10, Douglas Dillon ’17Matt Sheaffer ’18 and Jace Carlyle Berry ’16 — who are making their dreams come true.

Haley Murdoch ’16

“I had fantastic teachers, mentors and colleagues”

Haley Murdoch ’16. Photo courtesy of Bruce J Murdoch Photography

Murdoch performs in the UNT Opera College of Music’s “Rodgers and Hammerstein Revue” in April 2019. Photo courtesy of Cathy Hanover Photography

Murdoch’s zest for performing evolved in Upper School, when she took her first voice lesson as a freshman and went on to appear in the school’s productions of “The Addams Family” and “Once Upon a Mattress.” She also competed in the annual Concerto Competition in her senior year, tying for first place.

“Being cast and placed in opportunities that fostered my love for acting and singing helped to solidify my passions. I had fantastic teachers, mentors and colleagues who encouraged me to pursue and simply do the things that I love,” Murdoch, who received a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of North Texas in 2021, said. A mezzo soprano, Murdoch has performed in several productions by UNT Opera and in operas and concerts in New Mexico, Texas, New York, Los Angeles and Italy.

Her favorite role was Despina in Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte,” staged at the Varna International Music Festival in 2019 in Varna, Bulgaria. She described it as “one of the most challenging roles that I have had the pleasure of preparing in the past several years.” Another highlight was playing Micaela in Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” at Muzika! The Grand Strand Music Festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, last year.

“Having dream roles to prepare and work toward is one of the primary catalysts for inspiration in this industry,” Murdoch said, pointing to Musetta in “La Bohème” and Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni.” Both dramas, which feature some of the most well-known music in all of opera, are sung in Italian. Murdoch noted that her studies at UNT included coursework and diction classes in Italian, German and French.

“One of the key characteristics between operatic singing and all other vocal performance genres is that opera singers never perform with microphones or have any aid from sound-amplifying technology,” she added. “We protect our voices by studying how to produce healthy, loud and beautiful vocal tone without damaging our vocal mechanism.”

Murdoch, who is currently pursuing a Master of Music in Vocal Performance at the Mannes School of Music at The New School in New York City, plans to teach in the coming school year as an adjunct voice professor.

George Labusohr ’10

“I never left the theater”

George Labusohr ’10. Photo courtesy of Areon Mobashe

Labusohr and a castmate rehearse a broadsword fight for Bare Theatre’s 2016 production “Everscape.”

When theatergoers watch a duel between characters, they’re not usually thinking about the carefully staged combat choreography that makes the scene look natural without causing harm to the performers. This specialized technique is one to which Raleigh-based actor and fight choreographer Labusohr is eager to lend his expertise.

“When someone needs violence to happen on stage in a believable and safe manner, that’s when I get called in. The practice of taking something unpredictable and dangerous without putting anybody in actual danger is where my passion lies,” he said. A certified actor-combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors, Labusohr has staged numerous scenes — from brawls to sword fights — for local high schools and theater companies including North Carolina Theatre, Carolina Ballet and Raleigh Little Theatre.

Labusohr attended Savannah College of Art and Design, where he studied acting as well as stage combat movement and directing. After graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in performing arts, he toured with The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, appearing in “The Learned Ladies” and “The Winter’s Tale.” Just before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, he acted in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” with Raleigh Little Theatre.

His first performance at Ravenscroft was in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which captivated him as a sixth-grader. “I never left the theater after that,” he said. “Every single show that I could do at Ravenscroft, I did. If I was not acting in a show, I was working on its production. My fingerprints are on almost every set that went up when I was in high school.” It was the Upper School’s production of “King Lear” — in which his character succumbed to a sword wound — that spurred his interest in combat choreography.

While he still enjoys acting, he considers fight choreography his main focus. He said he credits now-retired technical director Russell Vacanti, voice and piano teacher Angela Santucci and theater director Jason Sharp as his early influences. “They provided a space that was nurturing and welcoming. They encouraged us to explore outside of our comfort zone, and that was really valuable,” he said.

Douglas Dillon ’17

“The energy is really something special”

Douglas Dillon ’17. Photo courtesy of Gabe Araujo

Dillon’s modeling career continues to flourish as he looks for the right acting opportunities. Photo courtesy of Charif Hamza for Ralph Lauren

Five years ago, Dillon was pursuing acting studies at Pace University when a clothing designer spotted him on his way to class. That chance meeting led to his signing with DNA Model Management and taking part in Paris Fashion Week soon after. Dillon has since graced the catwalk in numerous fashion shows and appeared in advertising campaigns for Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, Club Monaco, Bugatchi and other luxury brands. He’s currently represented by Wilhelmina Models in New York.

“Runway shows are the most fun part of working in fashion. You’re showing collections from designers who’ve poured their heart and soul into them. The energy is really something special,” Dillon said. Print modeling and working on fashion shoots are also exciting. “It’s kind of like a dance. You want to help photographers get the best image, and they want you to enjoy the experience.”

While Dillon has made a name for himself in the modeling industry, he hasn’t strayed from performing. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Acting - International Performance Ensemble from Pace, a program he found rewarding because it allowed him to follow a liberal arts path in addition to taking acting classes. “At Pace, we primarily worked in devised theater, which came in the form of long-term improv and creating our own work from ground up rather than working from a script, and collaborating in an ensemble environment. I was able to improve my people skills during my four years there.”

His college studies took him to the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona, Spain, where he performed three weekly runs of “Julius Caesar” in the fall of 2019. “It was fun to be able to work with my colleagues in the States and collaborate with folks from Slovakia, Scandinavia, all over Europe,” he said.

Dillon, who grew up in China, Singapore and Indonesia, came to Ravenscroft as an eighth-grader. His first course in stagecraft sparked an interest in acting, and subsequent drama classes affirmed his desire to pursue it professionally. “Marat/Sade” was his favorite play in the Upper School. “It was so much fun,” he recalled.

He recently signed with Aperture Talent Agency with the hope of landing a television show or pilot. “In the years since I graduated from Pace, there have been a lot of close calls for me being able to pick up some really big productions. Just that alone is showing me there’s interest out there. It’s just a matter of getting the right fit.”

Matt Sheaffer ’18

“I want to do it all”

Matt Sheaffer ’18. Photo courtesy of Curtis Brown Photography

Sheaffer plays Flan in Tisch’s New Studio on Broadway production of “Six Degrees of Separation.” 

Sheaffer’s journey in performance art began at a young age, when he competed in music and singing events in Pennsylvania before moving to Raleigh. At Ravenscroft, he was involved with the orchestra and received a Hunter Family Scholarship for cello. He also grew in his interest in drama, dance and voice.

“In Raleigh, I did any piece of theater I could,” Shaeffer said, reflecting on his performances at Ravenscroft (“The Addams Family,” “A Grand Night for Singing” and “Richard III”) as well as those with North Carolina Theatre (“Oklahoma,” “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Crazy for You”) and Raleigh Little Theatre (“Avenue Q” and “Memphis”). His work in Ravenscroft’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Once Upon a Mattress” earned him nominations in the Jimmy Awards, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards’ annual competition.

Sheaffer’s passion for theater took him to New York University, where in 2022 he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from the Tisch School of the Arts, with a minor in Business of Entertainment, Media and Theater from the Stern School of Business. At Tisch, he appeared in “Spring Awakening” and “Six Degrees of Separation,” a production that also enabled him to flex his muscles as a director. “At Tisch, it was all about shaping our process and finding what works for us so that we can create really great works of art,” he said.

He has continued to work in the industry since graduating. Recent projects include background work on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Gossip Girl.” He also appeared as a camp counselor in “Disney’s Mickey and Friends X CAMP: An Extra Big Adventure” at the CAMP toy stores in New York City and Dallas, where he acted alongside Mickey, Minnie and Goofy in an immersive multimedia show for kids.

He’s currently auditioning for roles, a process that motivates him. “It’s surprising how many jobs there are. I’d love to book a tour, a Broadway show or a film. Straight plays, musicals — I want to do it all,” he said. “I’ve had such incredible training and so many people supporting me that I want to just get out there and do everything.”

Jace Carlyle Berry ’16

“There is nothing like the energy of live theater”

Jace Carlyle Berry ’16. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Robertson

Berry portrays young vampire Eli in Big Dawg Productions’ 2021 staging of “Let the Right One In.” Photo courtesy of James Bowling

Berry attended Ravenscroft until their senior year of high school, when they left to pursue an intensive theater program at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. They also honed their craft at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and worked in shows in New York City before settling down in Wilmington, North Carolina, where they primarily work with Big Dawg Productions — which stages shows exclusively in downtown Wilmington’s Thalian Hall, a 550-seat theater built in 1858 — and other local nonprofit theater groups.

“What I love about theater is the community work, and bringing theater into communities that don’t have as much access to it,” Berry said. Their acting work has included playing Cordelia in “King Lear,” the title role in “Agnes of God” and the vampire in “Let the Right One In,” a stage adaptation of the Swedish horror film. Berry recently directed “Airness,” a comedy about competitive air guitar, for Big Dawg and is the intimacy coordinator for the Opera House Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Spring Awakening.”

Berry has also done some voice acting, playing the title role in the audio version of “Coco the Cat’s Miraculous Expedition,” a children’s book that follows a young feline as she makes her way home after being swept away by Hurricane Dorian. “It has a lot of lovely morals for children about courage, perseverance and self-worth. It was a lot of fun, since I performed entirely in the voice of a kitten,” they said.

Berry caught the acting bug early at Ravenscroft, performing in “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Time Machine” in the Lower School and several others in middle and high school. “Participating in theater not only helped me develop confidence in public-speaking skills but also opened up my critical-thinking skills and helped me gain deeper meaning from literary analysis,” Berry explained. “I have immense respect for every instructor because they kept encouraging me. I’m grateful for what they gave me.”

Berry’s goals are solely bound in theater. “I want to run my own company, put on new works and bring shows to Wilmington that haven’t been here before. I’d also like to do educational outreach so children can have access to the arts. There is nothing like the energy of live theater, whether you’re in the audience or on stage. It’s the personal connection and intimacy with the audience that makes it special.”