Acting was always part of Fabian’s plan. Illinois wasn’t.
“I felt the stigma that if I stayed in the state, I wouldn’t be successful, especially with a theater curriculum,” the Aurora, Illinois, native says. “All of these places that you find online say, ‘Go to New York. Go to LA. Go to this remote town in Pennsylvania.’”
Fabian applied to Illinois anyway. “I felt like I had to,” he explains. He knew the university was well respected, even though he didn’t know much about the acting program (spoiler alert: it’s also top tier, ranked highly by multiple sources).
“When I got accepted, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe we should consider this more,’” says Fabian. So in March, as he was trying to decide between colleges, he and his dad drove the two and a half hours to campus for an Illini Day—an open house program for admitted students and their families.
“It was like a party,” he remembers. “It was a Wednesday or a Thursday, the middle of the week. Everyone was so cheerful about this place. Imagine, I had friends who were back at school, and I was having a ball here.”
After beginning their morning with a presentation in the Illini Union, Fabian and his father headed across campus to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, where Fabian was scheduled to sit in on a class, Theatre 170: Fundamentals of Acting.
“My dad didn’t want to join me. He was like, ‘This is all you,’” says Fabian. “I came in a little bit after class had started, so I interrupted the middle of a scene.” He introduced himself quickly and sat in the back of the rehearsal room.
From there he observed, rapt, as the students worked on their scenes and the teaching assistant provided feedback as they were working—known as side coaching in the theater world. “The TA was really taking charge in class that day,” Fabian says. “With the points he was making and the insight he was giving, I remember thinking, ‘If that’s a graduate student, I can’t even imagine what the faculty has to offer.’”
After the scenes were finished, the class engaged in a talkback, where they discussed what was working and what was missing, and connected the scenes to their other projects. Says Fabian, “It was a great balance of hands-on as well as discovery and observation of everything that was being taught in the classroom.”
Originally, Fabian had told himself he would only stay for 30 minutes because his dad was waiting upstairs. The next thing he knew, the hour-and-a-half class was over. “I was speechless,” says Fabian. “I felt so blessed to be able to observe the whole thing.”
Before reconnecting with his dad, Fabian talked with some of the students. They were both engaged and encouraging, peppering him with questions to get to know him better. The conversation gave Fabian an even stronger sense of the program’s fostering community.
Fabian and his father followed up the class with lunch and a tour of campus, but Fabian didn’t need any more convincing. He was going to spend his next four years at Illinois. “Right there in that moment,” he says, “It was a really deep, gut instinct: ‘If this is how I feel right now, not even being an enrolled student in their community of actors, I can’t even fathom how I would feel once I get my group, once I get my curriculum, once I get my shot to get going in this program.’”
And “get going” he has. Now a second-semester sophomore, Fabian is part of the cast of Crazy for You, a main-stage production at Krannert. He’s also co-producing and acting in Red, a play about the prominent painter Mark Rothko, in association with the Armory Free Theatre, the student experimental theater on campus.
When asked how it feels to have now taken the class that once cemented his future as an Illini, Fabian says, “It’s like one door opens and the next one’s even better, so I just can’t wait to get to the next door. Yeah, it happened, but there’s another thing that has yet to happen, which makes me excited. That search for curiosity and that search for fun never stops.”