Q&A with USC alumnus Ben Hirschorn

The class of 2020 graduate speaks of his experience on stage and writing and directing for the screen.

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Ben Hirschorn is a School of Dramatic Arts alumnus from the Acting for Stage, Screen and New Media BFA program. This year, he starred in the West Coast premiere of “Trayf” at the Geffen Playhouse, where he played the best friend of an Orthodox Jewish Chabad truck driver who moonlights as a rock and roll roller skater. His short film, “Goggles,” also had a festival premiere in New York City this month. Hirschorn spoke to Annenberg Media about his recent Los Angeles stage debut and staying creative during the pandemic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Annenberg Media: What was it like working on such an intimate play?

Ben Hirschorn: The smaller the cast, the better, in my experience, [the plays] that are no frills, no crap, just about the [character] relationships. That’s my favorite kind of theater. It was really interesting to really only have a four-person cast. We got along really well really fast — I felt like we felt a need to, because when you have only four people in the cast you’re like, alright, no bullshitting around. Everyone was kind of on board with that [and]...we understood the concept that our director Maggie [] was going for, which was very bare-bones with nothing on stage, just two chairs. [The play] is about us, which is really cool, but also stressful. But it was also nice because we got so much one-on-one time with Maggie and the playwright, Lindsay [] and we were able to develop these characters in a really cool [and] deep way, which I think was beneficial and helpful to us as actors, but for the audience’s sake as well.

AM: What was the rehearsal process like?

BH: We started rehearsals on Feb. 1, and we had three weeks of rehearsals before we had our first audience for previews. Which, for me, is one of the fastest rehearsal processes I’ve ever had, which was cool. But it was this double-edged sword because ot was really stressful going into it knowing that it was a lot of lines to learn in four weeks but what was nice was that it didn’t give us time to really freak out.

AM: What was one of your favorite memories from the process, onstage or off?

BH: There was a show happening while we were rehearsing, “Power of Sail” with Bryan Cranston and Amy Brenneman. It was really cool to share backstage with all of them. They’ve been so wonderful. Before the first preview, the “Power of Sail” cast got together and had a dance party for us. It was such a joyous and wonderful welcome to our cast. We all did warmups together and kind of schmoozed and fooled around and it was great. It felt like such a wonderful group. [Bryan Cranston] has been such a lovely, wonderful, giving human being and I know he has a reputation, given his career, there are a lot of people who would just be complete pricks, but he’s so kind and still loves it. So it’s good for all of us young actors to see that and get some inspiration from him.

AM: Between pandemic theater closures and working on short films, you spent some time away from theater. What was it like to return to live performing arts?

BH: It was cuckoo caca. [sic]. I never would have guessed that the first professional [project] after six years of being [in Los Angeles] would be a theater piece. It was wonderful to see how many things kind of naturally came back to me having not done theater for a while. But it was also really nerve-wracking for me because. When you’re in theatre school, you’re doing Linklater, you’re doing Fitzmaurice, all together, and you’re like, oh these are great for performance. But I haven’t done that since spring semester of senior year. During [some of those classes] I was like, when am I ever going to do this in a professional production? And then I did. It’s been great revisiting all of these things that I thought were really bizarre in school because some of them were actually really helpful.

AM: Did that time away ever shake your faith into wanting to pursue a career as an actor?

BH: [The pandemic] ignited aspects of being an artist I never explored. But the things that I did explore [made me] really question if I wanted to leave. So it’s a bit of both. There weren’t many projects happening, and, at the very least, I wasn’t booking those projects [that were]. The idea of acting was really dwindling for me, but I was writing and directing more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I have found such a joy and such a passion and such a love that I didn’t think I would find/. And it was never like I’m never going to act in my life again. But I really liked directing and feel like I could be really good at it and, during a pandemic and in an industry where you don’t have control over the next job you book, why not create art with friends? [Why not] work on this aspect [of my work] that would both help my acting but is also something I’m really interested in.

AM: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and writers at USC?

BH: What I learned from graduating in the pandemic and going into this weird, crazy professional world that is acting is not really to do with being an artist but it’s navigating life after college. Surround yourself with the right people. If I wasn’t surrounded by the people I surround myself with, who are my biggest cheerleaders, I don’t know where I’d be. You have no control in a lot of ways in this industry. But if you can find people who challenge you and test you and support you in a positive way, then the idea of creating art is doable without the validation of the professional world.