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Getting To Know This Year’s Graduating UCI MFA Actors

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Editor’s note: Some of the quotes have been edited for length and clarity. 

The UCI MFA Acting program has inspired students to go further in their artistic pursuits. In spite of recent events, this group of graduating students has managed to find many lessons to take away from UCI’s masters program that will aid them in their future career endeavors. Here are the eight individuals at UCI receiving their Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting in 2020.

1. What inspired you to take up acting? 

Lilian Wouters:​ “I watched a lot of movies as a kid. My parents got divorced when I was five, but going to the movies was the one thing we still did as a family. I fell in love early on with storytelling.” 

Jawoine Hawkins: ​“Well, I have always loved film, but I started in church doing small holiday shows. Through that, I just religiously felt a freedom I didn’t have in other forms of expression. A few years later, life was shaping me internally that seriously heightened my focus on speech and theater, and I really haven’t looked back since.”

Crystal Kim: ​“I took an introduction to acting class during college on a whim and then forgot about it to become an architect. I wasn’t so much ‘inspired,’ but I couldn’t stop thinking about it for months and decided I had to take another class.”

Maya Smoot: It feels like I’ve been performing my whole life! I used to put on productions with my friends and show them to our parents. I went to a really artsy school where we did a play every year, and I became hooked! I saw ‘Wicked’ in eighth grade and decided that I wanted to pursue it professionally.” 

2. What advice would you like to give aspiring artists?  

Meg Evans: ​“Live life fully and deeply. Experience as much as you can and learn from everything around you.”

Jawoine Hawkins:​ “Own it. All of you.”

Jesse Bourque: There’s no rush. For young artists, there can seem to be a need to do things quickly. If you ask most older and wiser people, they will tell you to take your time.”

Maya Smoot: ​“‘Be clamorous and leap all civil bounds rather than make unprofited return.’ I guess those are Shakespeare’s words, not mine. But I would say listen to your heart, and gut, and just go for it.”

3. What are your aspirations from here on out? 

Lilian Wouters:​ “To move to LA and work in TV/film.”

Jalon Matthews:​ “I plan to move to New York and pursue musical theatre.” 

Meg Evans: ​“Moving up to LA and working in TV/film.”

4. What is one celebrity you feel you have learned from? 

Jalon Matthews:​ “Alex Brightman is my idol. He is a constant reminder to remain humble, grateful and giving.” 

Jawoine Hawkins: ​“Actor Mashershala Ali. He is a prime example of how important it is to stay true to yourself, your work and to never quit.”

Jesse Bourque: ​“Muhammad Ali: ‘I told everyone I was the greatest. Even before I knew I was.’”

Maya Smoot: ​“Viola Davis and Audrey Hepburn. I aspire to be a blend.”

5. Could you name one of your greatest accomplishments as an actor? 

Lilian Wouters:​ “Having fun — I know it may seem weird but when I know I can relax and trust my character, I know I am doing the work.”

Jawoine Hawkins​: “Teaching acting at UCI.” 

6. Pick a word to describe your journey as an actor. 

Lilian Wouters:​ “Mountains.” 

Jalon Matthews:​ Fun. It’s the number one reason I do theatre. Once it stops being fun, I’m out.”

Jawoine Hawkins: ​“Euphonious. Because no matter how chaotic life can feel, I will always find harmony with myself in the work.” 

Crystal Kim: ​“Discoveries — you’re discovering new parts of yourself, of the world around you, what it’s like to be other people. It’s all about learning and discovering.” 

Maya Smoot: ​“Exhilarating — there have been moments where I’m so busy, stressed, needing to get to the next thing, but I’ve stopped and been so happy, grateful and fulfilled at the same time.”

7. Do you have a hobby that you find relates to acting? 

Lilian Wouters:  “I am glad it’s part of my job to watch TV!”

Meg Evans:​ “Fitness! Anything mind-body-movement centered.”

Crystal Kim: ​“Reading.”

Maya Smoot: ​“Travelling. The chance to get perspective.”

8. What is one of the biggest takeaways you are getting from UCI? 

Jalon Matthews:​ “Listen and respond. You have to truly listen in order to respond — verbally, physically and spiritually.”

Crystal Kim: You are enough. Still working on it, but I’ve heard it loud and clear.”

Jesse Bourque: ​“Do a lot of homework for yourself.”

9. How has UCI shaped your acting experience? 

Lilian Wouters:​ “I’ve grown up a lot, become more realistic, more clear about what my goals are and what I want from my career.” 

Jalon Matthews:​ “It’s definitely taught me that acting is a full-body experience. We as actors must bring all of yourself without damaging yourself. I’m in pursuit of that balance every time I act now.”

Jawoine Hawkins:​ “Even if it’s your 80th take, it’s still your first run doing that scene the 80th time. Your presence is a present and no one can be who you really are.” 

Jesse Bourque: ​“People approach the work in all sorts of unique ways. It is so worthwhile to collaborate and learn from other artists.”

Maya Smoot: ​“This program taught me that acting is everything. Every breath, every leaf and every connection. It’s sometimes a bit overwhelming to think of it that way, but it is comforting to know that everything is enough.”

10. Biggest pet peeve? 

Jalon Matthews:​ “Bad texters.” 

Jawoine Hawkins: ​“People not being genuine.”

Crystal Kim: ​“Long nails.”

Jesse Bourque: Sarcasm.” 

Maya Smoot: ​“Tardiness.” 

11. How has being an actor influenced other aspects of your life? 

Jalon Matthews:​ “It’s taught me to forgive myself and forgive others.” 

Meg Evans: “Who we are as human beings, our memories, our habits, our life experiences does not disappear when we step on stage and the other way around. It’s all a part of it!”

Jesse Bourque:​ “It helps me empathize better with my loved ones and the people I interact with from day to day.”

To learn more about these actors, visit

Lucia Arreola is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at