Camas, WA — When Camas High School senior, Omar Shafiuzzaman, walks into the doors of London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama this October, he’ll be living his dream.
After attending a workshop last summer at London’s Globe Theatre, he knew he wanted to attend school in the United Kingdom. So, he applied to four schools in the area, and ended up being one of nine young men from all over the world to receive an unconditional offer to enter the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s acting program. The school has a one percent acceptance rate.
Shafiuzzaman, known for his work in Camas Theatre productions over the past few years, says the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is the top-ranked acting school in the United Kingdom, one of the top 10 in the world, and boasts of several prestigious graduates: Dame Judi Dench, Sir Laurence Olivier, Andrew Garfield (of the “Spider-Man” movies), and Sonia Friedman, among others.
“This is everything I ever wanted,” said Shafiuzzaman. “This is the best possible outcome for me.”
Shafiuzzaman has been gaining local attention for his work in plays such as “Brigadoom,” “The Laramie Project,” and most recently, “Little Shop of Horrors,” for which he has received a 5th Avenue Award nomination for Best Supporting Role. 5th Avenue is the top Washington state acting honor a student can receive.
So, how did he get here? His acting journey started in 6th grade, but it didn’t become a passion until years later.
“It was a gradual realization to want to be an actor,” he said. “I was in 6th grade (in Las Vegas) — in my first play, which was ‘Peter Pan’. I played Mr. Darling, Wendy’s dad. Then I moved to Camas in 8th grade and started doing it more, and researched how to get the best training. Mr. Kelly at Camas has been a huge help.”
Following his year at Skyridge, he enrolled in Drama 1 Class at CHS, which is taught by Sean Kelly.
“He teaches you how to memorize lines, basic acting techniques, movements, blocking, how to connect with partners,” said Shafiuzzaman. “He teaches vocabulary for theater. For my sophomore year, I enrolled in Advanced Drama, which is independent, and you get to write your own work. You work on more advanced skills.”
Initially, he didn’t find his strengths.
“His first year as a freshman, he was emotionally closed off and was pretty quiet in my class, oddly enough,” said Kelly. “He didn’t take a lot of risks at first, so I think for Omar his biggest victory was overcoming this idea that he is not good enough at this, and he had major breakthroughs last year that have put him where he’s at. He has confidence in his craft. He’s meticulous. He likes to have a lot of tools at his disposal. He can really embrace the sloppiness of being human. He has the confidence and comfort level to do so. I told him to stop playing it safe, because the risks are where you have growth. He also started taking acting lessons outside of class, which I highly recommend.”
His family is very supportive, but they also keep him grounded — and he needs to find a summer job before heading to London.
“We never really had this planned for Omar,” said his mother, Kylee. “We told him to follow his dreams. And this is what he’s super passionate about. It’s exciting to see opportunities come. He’s really worked hard.”
Omar loves his craft because each acting experience is different.
“Actors are very lucky because they get to experience everything they could ever want to in life,” said Shafiuzzaman. “They can learn how to be a doctor, then they study and pretend to play a doctor. You can be a king. It’s a dream job. You can do what you want as an actor. You get to meet really smart people. You can’t just really feel emotions — there’s an intellectual side to it, as well. You have to get other people to believe you, you have to know how the world works, and be very knowledgeable about the world. You have to talk to a lot of people.”
Omar has been in six main stage productions, and two student productions, which are one acts. Plus, he did two other shows in Drama class.
“My mom helped put them up, which were cancer fundraiser shows,” he said. “We raised $6,000 last year, and $2,000 this year. One was ‘Chemo Girl’ and this year we did ‘Sillyheart.’ My favorite play was ‘Musical Comedy Murders of the 1940s.’ That was the first time I’d done a show since 6th grade. When I finally got to perform again it was exhilarating. It introduced me into the whole world of theatre. It was just amazing. I played Eddie and he was the hero of the show. He had the most lines. Ended up saving all the people at the end. My favorite character that I played was Jeff Douglas, an alcoholic man who went to Scotland with his best friend, in ’Brigadoom.’
“It’s exhausting at times because everything is out in the open. We talk about what we feel isn’t right. Theatre is the best way to express yourself. It’s a way to spur change or make a statement. There’s also the entertainment side, as well. It’s mostly a good thing that all these things are coming to light, and then we can talk and solve problems.
“My friends are very, very happy for me. I live in a very supportive community of kids in the theatre group. They’re all really nice about it.”
Kelly said memorization is essential to being a good actor.
“At first, it’s very hard, and it’s really the donkey work of acting,” he said. “You just repeat the lines over and over again. And, then repeat them without looking at script. You just have to memorize it. You either do it, or you don’t. It gets easier as you do it more and more. After memorizing so many lines, then once the show is done, they go away really quickly.”
Entertainment is becoming part of the family business. He has an older sister, Sophia, attending Northern Colorado University, working on light and set design. And, Omar’s younger brother, Aiden, is involved with the Skyridge Middle School choir, and he also appeared in “Alice in Wonderland.”
During summer break, Shafiuzzaman will play a Pakistani teenager in a short film called “Death from Above.” The film talks about the Middle East.
It’s great that he’s attending such a prestigious acting school in London,” said Kelly. “The British approach is much more technical, and I think this will be a good fit for him.”