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Meet Erik Sopracasa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Erik Sopracasa.

Erik, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Pordenone, Italy. My father is Italian and my mother is half Belgian half Danish. Pordenone is a small city an hour away from Venice. When I was ten years old, I moved with my parents to Belgium where I lived until I was 29 and then moved in 2016 to the United States to study acting at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting and Theatre in Los Angeles as the first Belgian actor.

I’ve always been interested in the arts. and always been very creative. I remember that when I was very little, I think just 6 or 7 years old, I was putting together some little shows with friends and we would perform and sing and do magic tricks in front of our parents and grandparents.

I liked to draw, write and I started playing the piano when I was six and later the guitar when I was 14. It was then that I actually started dreaming to move to California one day, because of the punk rock band Blink 182, which was my ultimate favorite at that time and was playing all their songs on my guitar 🙂 .

But I was also playing football (soccer). That was, and will always be my biggest passion. My biggest dream was actually to become a professional soccer player. I quit playing the guitar because I wanted to spend more time playing soccer and one day, I received the opportunity to play for a big Belgian team. The problem was that it was at the other side of the country and I would have to move and live there. My parents didn’t have a lot of money and I didn’t know what to do. My parents were also not supporting the idea of me playing soccer and becoming a soccer player, they’d rather see me go to University and get a “real” job. I was 18 at that time, and maybe too young to make the decision on my own to leave everything behind. I thought: “I’ll save a little and by next year I can go and play there”. But unfortunately, chances like that come only once and don’t wait for you… I still regret I didn’t go when I had the chance. I told myself I would never want to have a “what if” feeling like that ever again.

A year later, I started at the Karel de Grote University Of Antwerp, where I studied marketing. After I graduated, I started working for Samsung Electronics, which was an amazing experience and I still use the skills I learned there every day in my professional life. After Samsung, I moved to BNP Paribas, a French bank (which was a big mistake). There I realized the bank was absolutely not what I wanted. I saw the bank as in the movies as The Wolf Of Wall Street and I thought it would be interesting to learn about investing, etc., but it was a complete different world 🙂 . It was slow, boring, and while in Samsung I could use my creativity every day, there I was not even allowed to use it.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I always had a passion for the arts and as football was now just a hobby (I still owned a small football club where I played every week with my friends in a league, but now it was just for fun). When I was younger, I was always acting and used to impersonate the teachers at school and stand up comedians and my friends always said I should become an actor. I never really saw it as a real opportunity and never really thought about studying theatre as in Belgium it’s not really easy to find access to schools who teach theatre and drama as there are almost none.

It was something that was always in the back of my head and in the last year of university, I started looking for acting schools but as there was very little information about it in Belgium, it took me a while before I learned about the different approaches, techniques and schools. I was looking at different schools around Europe en the United States. When I was working at Samsung I was gathering all information about the different schools, I was dreaming to maybe study in the US but when I saw the prices of the schools here, I realized it might just stay a dream so I continued working at Samsung for two years and then worked two years at BNP Paribas.

3,5 years later, when I was quitting my job at the bank I thought it was maybe the moment I could make this dream come true. I didn’t have anything in Belgium to keep me there this time and I thought about that “what if” feeling I had when I let that chance go when I was younger. It was either change my life and pursue something I love or find another job and just continue where I was before. I looked back at all the information I gathered those years before about the acting schools and decided to do it. I contacted Stella Adler in LA and moved to the City Of Angels in June 2016 to start the best adventure of my life.

When I stepped into the airplane, I knew this was not a return. I was going to invest all I had in this adventure and start a new career and life. Some of my colleagues at the bank didn’t understand what I was doing and thought I was crazy. I was actually surprised to see that some of my ex-colleagues at Samsung and my friends actually were not surprised at all to see me doing this. It was like they kind of expected me to do something like this. I would really like to thank them all for all their support. Even though I didn’t see them since a very long time, they stay in touch. I’m not so good in staying in touch all the time, but they do and I’m really, really thankful for that. I don’t miss Belgium when I was in Belgium I always felt Italian, but when I would go to Italy I felt more like a tourist, but of course you do miss the people who are close to you and the people you kind of grew up with. When you are so far away, you feel alone sometimes especially with all the stress that comes when you are in a country where immigration is not an easy thing to do.

But back to where we were. I was flying with Air Canada, Amsterdam – Toronto and then from Toronto to Los Angeles. I felt like I was in a movie. First time to the United States and the first time to Los Angeles, Hollywood. I was going to study acting at one of the best schools in the world, where some of the best actors like Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Mark Ruffalo, and many many more studied too. In the center of Hollywood, right there on the Hollywood Blvd. I remember when I arrived, it was already night and I went immediately to the strip to see the stars and the Dolby Theater. I remember every day walking to school on the Hollywood Blvd and looking at the stars, the blue sky and the sun. The school is amazing, Stella Adler is not just an acting school, it’s a family, a home. I met the best teachers there, both in LA and in NYC and I’ve learned so much. Stella Adler said that to become a better actor, you have to become a better human being first. Something that fits very much in the present day.

I had never experienced something like this before. I think I was also lucky with the group was in LA. I still hear some of the people that were in my class back then. We were with 14 actors and it was just an incredible group, both talented and just really good people. We were together since day one and stayed together the whole summer. Two months. It was like we all knew each other since longer after just one day. It was very special. I hope one day we could do a reunion with all the people of that class. Imagine a play or a movie together that would be amazing.

After two weeks in the program, I knew that this was the place I wanted to be and this was the work I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In LA, the two years program is made our of terms of two months each. So after term 1, the first two months, almost everyone of my class left because a lot of them were not from the US or couldn’t afford to pay for the full-time program. It was really sad. I received a scholarship from the school based on my work and financial needs. I was paying everything myself. As I mentioned before, my parents didn’t have a lot of money and couldn’t support me a lot. I decided to stay for term 2.

After two terms in LA, I decided to apply for the full conservatory at the Stella Adler Studio Of Acting in NYC. The two schools don’t work together anymore since Stella Adler died. So I had to audition again to enter the conservatory. After I was accepted, I started in the “class of 2019” and graduated as the first Belgian actor last year in June 2019. Now we have another Belgian actress who graduated in LA, and also another Belgian actor who graduated in NYC this year. It’s great to see that more and more actors in Belgium are starting to find their way to study here and pursue their dreams. Both schools, The Stella Adler Academy in LA and The Stella Adler Studio in NYC are two very unique places that will always have a special place in my heart. They are my family now and I’m very proud to be a Stella Adler Alumni.

In New York, the conservatory is a bit more classical than in LA, with curriculums of the highest level that are very similar to the other conservatories in the city like NYU and Juilliard, we had e.g., ballet and two years of Shakespeare, and the pace….. well, it’s….. New York-fast :-). We had to learn so many monologues, scenes, choreographies, plays, and for international students there is also a very strict focus on American Accent. We had two years of American Accent Class where we learned to create an accent that is as neutral as possible. This is great because having an American Accent is very important if you want to make a chance to be considered by agents and casting directors and work in tv, film or theatre.

In the last year of school, I started working with The Acting Company, a 47 years old nonprofit theatre company founded by the legendary John Houseman and Margot Harley. Their unique mission is to help young graduate actors start their careers. I’ve learned so much about theatre and the whole theatre industry in the United States and especially in NYC thanks to this company and the wonderful artistic director Ian Belknap. He is one of a kind. I can’t express how grateful I am to have met him and how thankful I am for the opportunities he gives me. He’s one of the kindest person I have ever met. It’s very hard to start a career in the United Starts when you come from another country, especially as an artist. They took me into their theater family and made me always feel part of them since the very first day. This is my second family nowhere in the US 😉 .

I would like to thank my girlfriend who helped and supported me during my time in the conservatory and I couldn’t have done it without her support. My schedule was very tough and didn’t make it easy for both of us. To give you an idea, I used to wake up at 8h30am to go to my internship in The Acting Company from 10am to 3 or 4pm, then school from 4 or 5pm to 10h30pm. By the time I was home, it was usually 12am, then had to eat and slept around 2am.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It was not really a smooth road. When I moved to LA, I thought it would be not too difficult to move to the United States and start this new career. If I want to pursue a career as an actor or simply in the entertainment industry, the US is the best place to live. It’s simply the biggest market. The entertainment market in Belgium is basically non-existing so for me, this is simply the best place to pursue this career.

I was used to living in Europe where you can easily move from one country to another. I speak four languages fluently, have a university degree and some good work experience. But once here, I started realizing how difficult and complicated the system is in the US, which actually makes it almost impossible for people to move here. If it’s already so hard for people coming from Europe with university degrees etc. imaging what it is for someone coming from a poor country looking for a better future.

So first of all I had to figure out how to survive with the amount money I saved while paying for my school, as you can’t work here as an international student. Then I had to figure out what to do to apply for a next visa and all the requirements you need. One of the reasons I moved to the school in NYC is that it was a bit less expensive and when graduated, I would receive a work visa that would last for a year instead of six months. Which gives you more time to build up your resume. The constant stress of thinking about how to pay for the bills and how to transfer to a visa is really tough. It’s hard to explain and hard to understand if you are not experiencing it. But it feels like a huge weight on your shoulders 24h a day that shouldn’t be there. I believe we need artists and actors from all around the world. Actors represent the world we live in, in stories that can be based on true facts to the most imaginary stories that make us all dream. The power and strength of our groups I both LA and NYC was the diversity in age, race, beliefs, nationalities, cultures, languages. The amount you learn and the experience you get by just working all together is incredible and you can really see this. I don’t think that it should be so hard for international artists who come here to study in the best schools for drama and theatre, invest all they have and are 100% committed and dedicated to their craft to actually be able to stay and pursue this career.

Unfortunately, I met people that were not so good during this journey, unfortunately people of my own countries (Belgium and Italy). But I don’t want to focus on that. I want to focus on the fact that I was very lucky and I’m very grateful to have met good people who helped me getting through this and pursue my career. My girlfriend who helped me and supported me since the first day. Ian Belknap, the artistic director of The Acting Company, and Devin Brain, the associate artistic director, who actually hired me for the internship at The Acting Company. They both believed in me and gave more than just chances and opportunities. And an amazing Italian couple in LA, Paola Maria Savoia and her husband Max Leonida, who are both working in the film industry as producers and directors and are always ready to help and give the best advice.

I think my previous work and life experience helps me a lot in this business. For some reason, there is this perception of this industry that becoming an actor is something that just happens. This is wrong. This is because we see actors magically appear in movies, tv shows or on stage, ready, in their character, but don’t see all the work that happened before. All the big actors you see, actors who have careers that last for decades, have all studied and trained very hard for years. Being an actor is very similar as being a professional athlete. You need the same discipline, the same perseverance and train every single day or you will not make it. Both are a combination of craft and business.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I’m an actor who graduated in June 2019 as the first Belgian actor from The Stella Adler Studio Of Acting. I think my experience in living in different countries when I was younger, the fact I traveled around the world and worked for different international companies sets me apart from others.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Right now it’s a very difficult time for everybody, we don’t know what the future will look like. I would love to focus on tv and film, my original plan was to move back to Los Angeles to pursue my career there but that has been now postponed because of the current crisis. So right now, I’m really using this time to reset and work on things I didn’t have the time to work on before and use this time the best as I can.

In the past three months, I completed an online photography course and achieved a degree in photography. I’ve always been interested in producing. Since in University, I loved to put events and shows together, so I’m taking this opportunity to actually read books about producing and learn about filmmaking and screenwriting. I hope to put this knowledge into creating short films and a documentary. I’ve always loved watching documentaries and I would like to shine a light on human trafficking. I’m trying to reach out to some organizations like OurRescue.org. I’m really hoping they would like to work on this together as I truly believe in their mission.

And of course, I hope to inspire international artists to pursue their dreams and passion.

Every market and industry is changing and I believe so is the entertainment industry too. It’s the perfect time to prepare, change and learn.

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