Olathe North graduate Ben Royer is one of only 23 students selected to participate in a prestigious Harvard University theater program — after a bumpy road getting into the ivy-covered halls.
Royer, 23, earned a bachelor of arts in theater with a concentration in musical theater from Rhode Island College, graduating magna cum laude, and is headed to Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theater School Institute for advanced theater training in acting.
At one point, the former Olathe resident had to drop out of college and hit what Royer called “rock bottom” before rising to the top again.
Royer was active in theater both at Olathe North and in the local community. Royer appeared in Theatre in the Park’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Producers” at the White Theatre of the Jewish Community Center. Bitten by the theater bug, Royer took voice lessons and prepared monologues to audition for college theater programs. Accepted at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music, Royer started the musical theater program there when the first bump in the road occurred. The school eliminated the program due to funding shortfalls. Yet Royer was undeterred.
“I went through auditions again, like I did the first time,” Royer said. “I went to auditions called Unifieds in Chicago for multiple schools and I was accepted to a number of different programs with scholarships.”
Before making his final selection, one of Royer’s UMKC professors suggested he check out Rhode Island College in Providence.
“I submitted a video audition,” Royer said. “I had three criteria for my final choice: location, the need for financial backing and a strong program. RIC gave me the best of all three.”
Excited, Royer headed to the East Coast school to begin his college theatrical career in the fall of 2011. Once again, Royer faced hurdles.
“I arrived at RIC and didn’t have the financial assistance I thought I had and couldn’t afford out of state tuition,” Royer said. “Then one of my best friends died in a tragic car accident.”
Royer’s friend, Heidi Adams, was one of his biggest advocates.
“She was always the one that if I called and asked advice she would hold me to the expectations I had articulated,” he said. “The culmination of both things made me re-evaluate my situation (so) I took a year off and did some serious soul searching.”
It was a tough year for Royer. He worked three jobs to make ends meet. Royer said he hit rock bottom during that year.
“I wasn’t going anywhere,” Royer said. “Taking that time was really tough. … I came to a point that in 2012 I knew I was truly on my own … that I had to be my pilot and it was all on me. It was tough but it was good.”
During that time Royer came out as a gay man finding his “authentic self.”
“I really discovered myself and who Ben Royer was as a person,” he said. “It was a year of epiphanies and self discovery was so important.”
Royer said he was able to survive the year thanks to support from good friends.
“What really helped me is I sought guidance and counsel from good friends in Washington D.C. who are like uncles. They helped me with what it meant to be a gay a man and being on my own and to figure out myself.”
Royer also gives credit to his mom, who now lives in Utah.
“She helped me by giving pep talks and she helped me financially,” said Royer, the youngest of six in the family.
During the year off Royer was able to establish in-state residency and squirreled away his earnings allowing him to return to school. It also confirmed the career path he has chosen to pursue.
“Once I hit that rock bottom I said to myself, ‘There is a reason you are here. … I’m supposed to do this.’ I love acting and the profession of acting and I realized I could not walk away from it,” he said. “Now, as an actor, the beauty of it is I have my own platform for those who aren’t given a voice and give those in the LGBT community a voice about living an authentic life.”
Now Royer has lots of things to look forward to as he heads off to Harvard’s Cambridge, Mass. campus in August to begin the two-year program. In the spring Royer will head off to Moscow, Russia, for three months of study.
“It’s amazing,” said Royer of the overseas opportunity.
“I felt the program I was in at RIC was good, but I wanted to build my training in acting and make it stronger for the professional world.”
Royer continues to raise money to attend the Harvard program. Royer has set up a GoFundMe.com/HarvardCalled effort; so far the effort raised almost $5,000 in first two months. Royer plans to take out loans to finance whatever shortfall he face.
“I feel it in my heart this is what I’m meant to do,” said Royer of his pursuit of an acting career. “I am on the right path.”