Chieffo on the Rigors and Joys of Juilliard

Monday, Jul 09, 2018
Juilliard Journal
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Austin Smith and Mary Chieffo
Austin Smith (Group 43) and Mary Chieffo (Group 44) co-hosted Juilliard's summer scholarship benefit

Mary Chieffo (Group 44), the first child of a drama alumnus to also attend Juilliard (her father, Michael Chieffo, was in Group 6) recently took a moment from playing L’Rell in Star Trek: Discovery for a quick chat about Juilliard and the importance of the scholarship program.

How did the scholarship program affect you at Juilliard?

It played a huge part in keeping me at Juilliard for all four years, and I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity it afforded me and the growth it allowed me as an artist and citizen. 

You and Hamilton veteran Austin Smith (Group 43) co-hosted the Juilliard summer scholarship benefit—have you been back many other times since you graduated?

I love coming back to visit! I always make it a priority to see shows and reconnect with the faculty and staff when I’m in town. We built such a strong sense of community, and I’m always thrilled to celebrate the classes below me as they continue to grow and to watch new faces begin their journeys here. I just wish I were in the city more often so I could see more Juilliard shows and performances; I’m always reinvigorated and inspired when I do.

What do you think about most when it comes to your Juilliard experience?

For one, I’m struck by how theater and acting went from being my escape in high school to being my constant reality. That shift was ultimately very advantageous and strengthening, but it was challenging as I had to throw away old ideas of perfectionism and embrace the beauty and benefit of failure. As my classmate Angelina [Impellizzeri] once said to me, “Sometimes we gotta have the breakdown before the breakthrough.” The technique and stamina I gained at school has informed and fortified all of my work since, the greatest example being my role as a Klingon covered in prosthetics and armor on Star Trek: Discovery. Every day I work on the show I must apply my Alexander Technique, voice, speech, and movement training and infuse it with my overall love of storytelling. Juilliard taught and encouraged me to breathe authentic life into the most extreme of characters, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to do so on such a large scale. The rigor of the program made me realize that looking outside of myself for help and building a true ensemble was the greatest way to succeed as an artist and human—I do my utmost to apply that to everything I do, every day of the week.