Accomplishment: Roles in four Graceland University theatre productions
Justin Pontier remembers being on the Graceland campus as a nine-year-old who had already caught the acting bug. “I was here for one of my brother’s sporting events, and I happened to wander my way into the theatre,” Justin said. “Long story short, I remember being taken aback by how cool and big the theatre was and thinking, ‘Someday I'm going to perform on a stage like this.’ Flash forward ten years and I am performing on that exact same stage.”
The stunning $16 million renovation of the Shaw Center is what initially attracted Justin to Graceland, but it’s not the only thing that’s kept him in a small town in rural Iowa. “I had a lot more opportunities to get involved with theatre at Graceland than I would have at larger schools on the East and West coast,” said Justin. “At bigger schools, you have to work backstage first before being able to audition. The fact that I was able to perform right away at Graceland was a huge draw.”
Justin has had a wealth of opportunities to perform at Graceland as part of the student improv group and as a cast member of four productions: Our Town, Fuddy Meers, The Exit Interview, and Little Shop of Horrors. As a cast member of Our Town and The Exit Interview, Justin worked with two major talents in the industry: Arliss Howard, an internationally known actor, director and screenwriter; and Bill Missouri Downs, the acclaimed Exit Interview playwright. When asked which play has been his favorite thus far, Justin said that “each production has offered me something different to play with, but Little Shop of Horrors might be my favorite so far. I’ve been having a blast with it; it’s very high-energy all the way through.” In the campy musical performed during Homecoming 2013, Justin stars in the role of Mr. Mushnik, a down-on-his-luck owner of a flower shop on seedy Skid Row. “Mr. Mushnik is a very charismatic character. I get to speak with an accent, wear a fat suit and dance the tango. It’s been a very fun role to play.”
During the short time Justin has been at Graceland, the theatre department has grown dramatically but remains tight-knit. “The people in our theatre department are very supportive,” said Justin. “We’re all there to help each other in our careers, which is such a huge thing. It’s great that people graduate from the program but still keep in contact and offer to help.” What’s more, Justin said, is that Graceland’s theatre program gives students “the opportunity to create what you want to do. The professors here are open to your ideas and will help you execute them.”
Justin grew up just forty minutes north of Lamoni, but never dreamed that he’d attend college so close to home—or encounter such a diverse student body in rural southern Iowa. “The diversity here is something I’ve grown to love, and I think it’s important to being a well-rounded individual,” said Justin. “Graceland has really opened those doors to connections with international students and people from all over the United States.”
After graduating from college, Justin has plans to move to New York City, where he will continue his acting education in conservatory programs and informal classes.