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Eric Began '13 and Taylor Rae Cole '13 perform a scene as Stanley and Stella Kowalski in Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire on the Wachovia Theatre stage in April 2012.


Then, Director Jeffrey Lentz '85 clapped twice to end scene.

"Are you okay? Are you sure I didn't hurt you?" a kind and concerned Eric Began '13 whispered frantically into the ear of his co-star, Taylor Rae Cole '13, as they exited the stage. Began and Cole had just performed a vicious scene as Stanley and Stella Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.

Kowalski is an angry, abusive drunk who served as an Army engineer in World War II. Began is a soft-spoken, serene deep thinker who did three tours of duty in the war on terrorism.

Cole describes Began, 28, as "a sweetheart, the exact opposite of Stanley Kowalski," which is the first role Began ever landed as an actor. Until then, airman was the only role he knew.


"In high school," Began says, "I wanted to be a badass," so he signed up to be a vehicle operator in the Air Force. "I didn't think I would get deployed, or I thought, if I did, it would be fun," he says. Stationed in England, Began soon discovered what happens
when fantasy meets reality–he was deployed to Iraq. "It was incredibly scary," he says of the day he arrived at Camp Speicher. "I was looking around thinking everyone wants to kill me, but they didn't want to kill Eric Began. They just wanted to shoot a uniform."

Pushing the fear aside, he did his duty as a rear gunner, making it through his first tour and a second tour to Kuwait, but the two deployments took a toll on him mentally. With the hope of doing something of value that would provide independence, Began
started questioning his desire to reenlist.

military photo collage
Above: Staff Sgt. Eric Began '13 relaxes at Forward Operating Base Gardez in Afghanistan by playing the piano. He taught himself how to play the keyboard as a way to pass time during his third deployment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

Deployed a third time, to Afghanistan, Began found his view of his future and of himself begin to change. "I started learning things on my third deployment," he says. He read books, learned to play the piano, and figured out how to solve the Rubik's Cube. "I had this great girlfriend, and she said, "Go to college, you don't belong in the military, you have a lot more to offer.'" When it came time to reenlist, Began chose not to. "What stopped me from reenlisting," he says quietly, "was blind hope that I was doing the right thing."

But when he returned to the States in 2009 with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Began wasn't sure what the right thing was.

Having struggled through a difficult childhood and barely graduating high school, he didn't think he had what it took to go to college. He dreamt of going back to Iraq and questioned his decision not to reenlist. He felt incomplete without his gun in tow and struggled to adjust to a civilian's job working in a gym. He didn't know how to talk to people, and he didn't want to.

"I wasn't suicidal," Began says, "but I was just tired of living."


Trying desperately to find his way, he enrolled at Albright as a physics major, soon after switching to psychology. While he loved the subject matter, Began had trouble in class. "I couldn't relate to the students, and I didn't want to," he says, so he tried the adult Accelerated Degree Program as a business major. That didn't fit, either.

"I was done," he says. "I said 'screw college' at that point, and I went to personal training school." As an avid weight lifter, Began enjoyed the change, but there was still something inside of him that wanted more.

Eric photoAs Albright's next academic semester rolled around again, a muffled, dormant inner voice whispered to him to try acting. "I had nothing to lose at that point," Began says matter-of-factly. "I had reached a low point." He enrolled in his first acting class at Albright in fall 2011.

"That first day when I left class, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulder and the future was open. It was ridiculous how good I felt afterward," Began says.

He had to sing. He had to dance. He had to turn on emotions that had been turned off as an airman. He had to do things on stage he had never done before "Putting myself in situations that I never thought I'd be in helped to reshape my perception of myself and who I was as a person," he says.

Lentz remembers meeting Began for the first when he came to his office for a coaching session on a monologue he was preparing for a class. The monologue was from Arthur Miller's All My Sons. "He spoke with such truth and depth," says Lentz, Albright artist in residence. "When Eric first performed the monologue for me, I was left speechless by his natural talent."

For Began, acting was scarier than anything he had ever done before, including going to war. His heart pounding out of his chest each time he stepped onto the stage, Began overcame his fear the same way he overcame being shot at. "I learned to understand it, I adapted to it and I accepted it," he says.

"You see bullets coming at you and you keep going, you keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope that you're still alive at the end of the day," he says. He approached acting with that same will to survive.


In December 2011, Began auditioned for the Domino Players' production of A Streetcar Named Desire. "The scary thing was not the audition," he says. "The scary thing was getting cast."

Lentz directed the production, which ran in April 2012. "When Eric began his audition, I sensed a smoldering anger in his body language so raw that it kind of scared me. At the callback I asked Eric to encircle the actress auditioning for Blanche while he
spoke to her," Lentz says. "Suddenly, this tiger, this alpha male predator appeared before me. I was struck by a combined sense of shock and excitement—I had found my Stanley!"

While Began may not have had as much acting experience as others in the cast, his military training and the work ethic he developed translated well to the stage. "I know how to shut up and listen," Began says. "I can turn that on pretty quickly. People see you doing that and they take you seriously."

Cole, a theatre and art major who was cast as Stella Kowalski, was impressed by what Began brought to the show. "He was incredibly hardworking during rehearsals, extremely eager to learn and collaborate, and was constantly asking questions," she says. "By the time the show opened, no one would have guessed that it was his first full-length production."

photoThe work of Began and the rest of the cast and crew of Streetcar paid off. The show was selected to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Region II Festival at Towson University in January 2013. But performing on a different stage,
in a new place with new people, was daunting to the acting newcomer. "I was a-deer-in-headlights scared," says Began. As frightened as he was, though, acting in a forum such as the Kennedy Center gave Began hope for his future. "It made it seem like it was actually happening, like maybe I can do this, maybe this is a real viable future," he says.

Writing may also be a part of that future. Matt Fotis, Ph.D., assistant professor of theatre, selected Began's play Facebook Convo of Doom to be a part of his production of Short and Sweet, a collection of short plays performed on the Wachovia Theatre stage in February.

The play is about a dog named Rusty – Began's real-life dog – who desperately needs to go to the bathroom, and Rusty's fictional owner Ronaldo, who is glued to Facebook trying to win the love of a girl he just started talking to. Fotis thought the play was funny, surprising and fresh. "It had a healthy dose of social commentary about the ways that we let technology consume us, and the ways that we often don't appreciate the love that we have all around us," he says.

In April, Began appeared in his second Domino Players production, playing Edgar, the legitimate son of Gloucester, in William Shakespeare's King Lear, directed by Julia Matthews, Ph.D., chair and professor of theatre. And this summer, he will attend the prestigious Williamstown Theatre Festival, a Tony Award-winning theatre festival in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Unlike his time in the military, when his life was planned out for him, Began doesn't know what tomorrow will bring, and he doesn't know what's going to happen for him professionally, and he's okay with that. He does know one thing, though. "I'm
going to do theatre," he says.

As for the PTSD that he had when he returned from war, Began has learned to cope with it. "I don't live with PTSD. I have very few symptoms anymore. I attribute that largely to theatre," he says.

"I think I found my therapy."

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