Alumni Spotlight

Napoleon Tavale ’07
Actor and Adjunct Theatre Faculty
Santa Ana College (CA)

Major: Theatre Arts

Activities: Hawaiian Islanders Club, Whittier College Choir

What first attracted you to Whittier College? I was first attracted to Whittier College when I told my high school career counselor that I wanted to go to school out West and pursue acting. She connected me with a Whittier admission counselor who visited my school in Minnesota. I went out to visit Whittier and its theatre department and immediately fell in love. I mean, it’s California! At 18 years old and with the dream of becoming an actor, where else would you go? 

Why did you choose to study theatre?  I knew I wanted to become a professional actor when I was 15 years old and on stage for the first time in the musical Grease. Dad taught me Polynesian dances when I was six years old and Mom made me sing in church. All the facets of performance—music, dance, and storytelling—were instilled in me from the beginning of my childhood. My brother and I would perform at family functions, weddings, summer camps, and Christmas parties. Theatre is an environment where stories can be told passionately and where audience members are taken for a journey. I can’t live without it, and if I was going to do this acting thing, I knew that I wanted to be the best at what I do. Education in the arts was my answer. It was the only way.

Describe your most memorable experience at Whittier College. My most memorable experience at Whittier came the beginning of my senior year when I participated in the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival (KC/ACTF) Regional Competition in Utah. It was not only monumental for me but for the theatre department itself since it had been 30 years since we made a significant impact in the competition. Let me put it this way: no one had heard of Whittier when I got there. But afterwards, the school’s name was mentioned at the finals when I took fourth place amongst hundreds of talented artists in the Western region (eight states were involved). I was the highest placed undergraduate and that was my proudest moment alongside my Professors Gil Gonzalez, Jennifer Holmes, Katie Liddicoat, Brian Reed and my scene partner, Cody Goulder. 

Who was your favorite professor(s)? My favorite class and professor at Whittier was “Modern Latin America” with Professor Jose Orozco. This class took me by surprise in how fast it moved and its conversational atmosphere. Orozco was a professor that spoke the same way in the classroom as he did when he sat me down in his office. I was drawn to this as an actor because he was being real with me and he was telling me what I needed to hear to improve as a student. I believe the best teachers out there are looking out for your best interests by telling you what you need to hear as opposed to what you want to hear.

Did you intern while at Whittier College? Where, and what was that experience like?  The summer going into my senior year, I had an acting apprenticeship at Cal Lutheran University with a theatre company called Kingsmen Shakespeare. They do two outdoor Shakespeare productions every summer, in which the same actors do both shows. Every day, I built sets from 9am-5pm, had dinner from 5pm-6pm, and then rehearsed for our shows from 6pm-11pm, with just one day off a week. The director of the program saw me in a production of Othello at Whittier and wanted me to come and understudy for the roles of Othello and Oberon (their second production that summer was A Midsummer Night’s Dream). It was the hardest working summer of my life and there was little to no pay, but it was one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done in my life. It’s been seven years since then, and this summer, I made a return to do another set of shows with Kingsmen Shakespeare. I played Caliban in The Tempest and Horatio in Hamlet

What are you currently up to? How has your Whittier education benefited you professionally? So all actors need a day job and right now I give VIP tours at Universal Studios Hollywood. Thanks to Whittier, I gained a number of personal and professional relationships as an undergrad. Professor Gil Gonzalez introduced me to the MFA program I graduated from in 2011. Since then, I’ve successfully joined the SAG-AFTRA Union and have been a co-star on two highly-acclaimed primetime television shows, CSI: NY and Hawaii Five-0. One relationship always leads to another.

As of August 2013, I am now a part-time adjunct faculty at Santa Ana College teaching “Intro to Theatre.”  I got this job through an alumnus of my graduate school, the University of Virginia, who was a classmate of my Whittier theatre professors, Professors Gil Gonzalez and Kattie Liddicoat. I'm already signed up for next semester to teach an “Introduction to Theatre” course and an “Intro to Acting” course as well.  I am extremely happy for a new beginning where I can use the tools that I learned from being a student at Whittier. I am taking actor Jon Hamm's route, where he taught theatre and pursued acting at the same time. For the first time in my life, the path of my career is slowly starting to take form thanks to the establishments and connections that started at Whittier College.

What advice would you give to future theatre alumni when they graduate? Always seize opportunities when they present themselves. College prepares you for the real world, but know that life is tough and you’re going to make all the right decisions after you’ve made all the wrong ones. Don’t ever forget those who impacted your life through college, those that have made sacrifices and have helped you get through it. Keep them close to your heart because I really believe that no one can do it alone.

Finish this sentence: I am a ‘Poet for Life’ because… I will never forget where I came from and the people that brought me here!

 -Are you a graduate of the Department of Theatre & Communication Arts and want to share your story? Contact the Office of Communications at therock@whittier.edu.