Oliver Hess

Year of Graduation: 
Oliver Hess

“The level of opportunities allows me to tailor my entire daily schedule around exactly what I love doing."

The tone of a tuning orchestra, the backstage exchanges of “break a leg” between cast and crew and the murmur of a packed house that falls to a hush with dimming lights — it’s all part of the unmistakable energy just before the curtain raises on a live theater performance. For Oliver Hess ’21, the thrill of the moment makes the months of preparation worth it.

Hess arrived at Exeter as a lower just weeks before the grand opening of The David E. and Stacey L. Goel Center for Theater and Dance — the Academy’s state-of-the-art performance space — where he and his castmates performed Shakespeare’s classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream to usher in the new building. Thinking back to opening night, a collaborative production that also included contributions from dance, choral and orchestra students, Hess still marvels at what he had become a part of.

“It was really moving to know that there were so many students who were talented in so many ways coming together in that production,” he says. “It was the perfect entryway into theater here at Exeter.”

The Florida native initially found his way to the stage as a middle schooler, plied by his mother with the promise of a cell phone. But it would take no further convincing for Hess to stick with acting. He was all in after his first taste of performing.

“It was a way to step out of the classroom and all the pressure that is coming from elsewhere,” he says. “When you step into the shoes of a different character [you] just leave whatever's going on personally.”

Under the tutelage of Theater and Dance Instructor Rob Richards, Hess has taken his craft to the next level. He credits Richards with helping him tap into the emotion and motivation of the characters he inhabits, even if the role is initially outside of Hess’ comfort zone.

“Mr. Richards and I would talk after rehearsal for 30 minutes to an hour sometimes,” Hess explains, “and he would help me understand how to connect emotionally to the text and what I can bring from my family life or my life at Exeter that might have some emotional connection to what the character is experiencing.”

Hess and his classmates’ ambition are matched in size by the Goel Center, the Academy’s 63,130-square-foot, multidiscipline performing arts space. He appreciates that there’s room for artists of all kinds to collaborate, push themselves creatively and experience personal growth.

“There's really a space for every discipline … the building creates that collaborative nature, which was really on display during that first show,” he says.

When not exploring new characters, Hess is exploring new avenues in his classes and extracurriculars, like choir and mock trial club.

“The level of opportunities allows me to tailor my entire daily schedule around exactly what I love doing,” he says.

— Adam Loyd