Starstruck Senior Takes the Stage
By Rachel Buttner
Daniel Velasco first encountered two-time Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington on the set of the 2004 film The Manchurian Candidate. Early in the movie, Maj. Ben Marco, the character played by Washington, delivers a speech to a Boy Scout troop about his experiences in the first Persian Gulf War. One of the extras in that scene was 12-year-old real-life Boy Scout Daniel Velasco.
Fast forward to October 2012, when Washington took a break from publicizing his latest film, Flight, to visit with Fordham Theatre students— including Velasco, then a junior at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. “I hadn’t been starstruck in a while, but it was great to see him here,” says Velasco. “He’s very relaxed in this setting.”
The setting, Fordham’s Pope Auditorium, is where Washington, FCLC ’77, got his start on the stage, playing the lead in a Fordham Theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s Emperor Jones.
In May, Velasco, a theatre performance major, saw Washington’s name in his e-mail inbox. The message was from Matthew Maguire, director of the Fordham Theatre Program, congratulating Velasco for being named the 2013-2014 recipient of the Denzel Washington Endowed Scholarship.
“It was pretty surreal since I really had no idea that I had been nominated. It was great because it was something I needed financially and it was nice recognition for my hard work,” Velasco says.
“And Denzel is awesome.”
As is his support for Fordham Theatre students. In 2011 Washington made a $2 million gift to endow the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre and a $250,000 gift to establish an endowed scholarship for an undergraduate student studying theater at Fordham. Washington said he created the chair and scholarship “to offer the next generation of students positive influences.”
Born and raised in Manhattan, Velasco says that his mother was his earliest supporter. Vivian Velasco was a dancer with the Folklorico Filipino Dance Company of New York. As a single mom, she often took her young son along on the company’s international tours. “That aspect of it has always stayed with me,” says Velasco, who soon developed an interest in performing.
After some encouragement from his godfather, Miguel Braganza II, who studied dance at the Ailey School, then went on to perform in the touring productions of Miss Saigon for 15 years, Velasco began booking commercial work when he was in second grade.
He completed his first commercial for Verizon, and later appeared in ads for Thomas’ Waffles, Pizza Hut, Kmart, Ring Pop, Ricoh Copiers, and others. He continued acting on TV and in film for a few years, before shifting his focus to the theater.
At Loyola School, a Jesuit high school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he performed in two shows a year, including The Laramie Project and The Importance of Being Earnest. When he was looking at colleges, he found that Fordham University was a natural next step. “It always seemed appealing because I would be able to stay [in New York City], do theater, and go to a Jesuit school.”
He auditioned for a spot in the Fordham Theatre program in 2010, but was denied. Though he was disappointed, Velasco didn’t allow the news be a permanent setback. He enrolled at Fordham College at Lincoln Center and turned to his contacts in the industry to help him better prepare for the audition process come his sophomore year. It worked.
Velasco made his Fordham debut as the character Artie in Han Ong’s Swoony Planet, part of the Fordham Theatre Company’s spring 2012 mainstage season. He followed that with a role in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice in the fall. During the spring semester of his junior year, Velasco traveled to the theater- history rich country of England. With financial assistance from the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, he spent a semester abroad at Fordham’s program at the London Dramatic Academy studying classical theater.
“I thought that there was no better place to learn it than in London,” he says. In the rigorous program, Velasco worked with professional British actors and instructors in courses focused on physical and vocal work, including period dance, Shakespeare, speech and dialects, and one of Velasco’s favorites: stage combat. A black belt at Tiger Schulmann’s, a mixed martial arts school in New York City, Velasco recently had the opportunity to apply one passion to the other when he co-choreographed a fight scene for a Fordham Theatre show called Metamorphoses.
“It’s great to be able to transfer those skills,” he says. While lately he’s been acting more on stage than on screen, he wants to return to TV someday. “I really would love to be able to do both,” Velasco says. “I’m starting to build up more contacts now outside of Fordham, and because of Fordham.”
And with the help of the Denzel Washington scholarship, Velasco feels his goals are within reach.
“It’s amazing to see that someone can give back and help people to succeed,” he says, “and to know that big dreams are possible.”