Before They Were Educators: D.V. Simonian Caitlyn

“I always tell my students to carry a six-pack with them,” said D.V. Simonian Caitlyn, assistant professor of theatre at Western Carolina University, referring to his advice of having multiple monologues prepared when performing for casting directors.

From working with Christopher Walken in Joe Papp’s famed Public Theatre in downtown New York to roles on television shows like “21 Jump Street” and “One Life to Live”, Caitlyn is what many would call a “seasoned veteran.”

Growing up a couple of hours north of Los Angeles, Caitlyn cites his third grade production of “Emperor’s New Clothes” as his inspiration to pursue a life in theatre.

“I was hooked,” Caitlyn said, reminiscing on his first theatre experience, which eventually led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts from Fresno State.

During his time at Fresno State, where his studies were more liberally focused instead of intensive theatre training, Caitlyn worked at semi-professional theatre companies in the summers.

After seeing a group of University of California – San Diego students performing at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Santa Maria, Calif., Caitlyn liked their approach and decided that he wanted to be like them, applying to UC San Diego’s graduate theatre program after his graduation from Fresno State.

“At the time, UC San Diego was a member of ‘The League,’ which was a group of the best theatre schools in the country that included places like NYU, Yale, Julliard, and SMU,” Caitlyn said, who was one of nearly 500 applicants who applied to the audition in-only program.

Besides its top theatre program, Caitlyn was also interested in UC San Diego’s partnership with the La Jolla Playhouse (Tony Outstanding Regional Theatre, 1993), where each MFA student is guaranteed at least one professional residency at the Playhouse.

“I always tell my students to look at what companies the university is associated with,” Caitlyn said. “Is it dinner theatre? You have to look for the ‘and’ in terms of, ‘here’s your diploma and now what?’ You have to choose a program that offers a partnership with a good theatre company.”

In what seemed to be fate, or more likely one man’s hard work and determination, Caitlyn was selected as one of the ten program members. With UC San Diego’s complete immersion style theatre program, Caitlyn attended class after class from morning to night, while rehearsing for productions in the evening.

During his time there, Caitlyn was involved with the production of “The Who’s Tommy” in its growth stages, which opened in 1992 at La Jolla Playhouse and then entered Broadway a year later, along with “Gillette and The Matchmaker.”

After graduating from UC San Diego’s MFA program, Caitlyn traveled to New York City to take part in several productions of “Shakespeare in the Park” at the Delacorte Theatre in New York’s Central Park, including “King John” and “Titus Andronicus.”

“As a young actor fresh out of graduate school, it was a great experience,” Caitlyn said, referring to his involvement with “Shakespeare in the Park.” “I got to work with other ‘League’ actors who were the up and comers in the industry.”

Caitlyn was also afforded the opportunity to work with renowned fight choreographer B.H. Barry, who Caitlyn hails as “one of the best fight choreographers in my opinion” and a “very creative guy with weaponry.”

Along with “Shakespeare in the Park”, Caitlyn would also become involved in productions like Coriolanus at Joe Papp’s famed “Public Theatre” in downtown New York, even getting a chance to work with famed stage and screen actor Christopher Walken.

Some of Caitlyn’s Off-Broadway and regional theatre credits include “Measure for Measure” at The Lincoln Center Theatre with Campbell Scott, son of well-known actor George C. Scott, “Romeo & Juliet” at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, “How Are Things In Costa del Fuego?” at the Manhattan Comedy Theatre, and “Front Street” at the St. Genesius Theatre in Los Angeles. 

After building his resume and honing his craft in New York, Caitlyn decided that he was at the beginning of the end of the line between stage and screen acting.

“It was time for me to start getting lead roles,” Caitlyn said. “The television actors came to New York looking for gigs to fill their spare time and got the parts because having them in the productions put butts in the seats, which is what it’s all about. It was time for me to go to L.A. and find some screen acting jobs.”

 Caitlyn’s first television gig was with “21 Jump Street,” on a season five episode entitled “Equal Protection.”

Arriving home one day from a casting, Caitlyn listened to a message on his answering machine from his agent saying that he had got a job in Vancouver for the show. Catching a plane up there, Caitlyn had no idea what the script was, only an outline of the scene. However, when he got onto the set, he knew his lines and everything worked out smoothly, which he can’t say for one of his co-actors.

On stepping onto the set of a show in its fifth season like “21 Jump Street,” Caitlyn said, “One of the hardest things to do as an actor is to walk onto the set of a TV show that’s been shooting for multiple seasons or a film where shooting has already began. As an actor you need to be able to slip into the scene, know whose job is what, and knowing when to get out of the way.”

Caitlyn added, “It’s like a machine. It’s a beautiful thing to see,” referring to the acting, shooting, and directing that takes place on the set of a TV show or movie, adding a tidbit of advice, “They will stop the camera for the stars all day, but they don’t want to stop the camera for you so you’ve got to be twice as sharp.”

After being hired to read lines for a casting director, Caitlyn also earned a recurring role on “One Life To Live”, saying, “They had seen me read scripts a thousand times, so when a role came up that fit me, they knew I had what it took.”

Along with “21 Jump Street” and “One Life To Live”, some of Caitlyn’s various television appearances include “One World”, “JAG”, “Columbo”, “Sirens”, “Father Dowling”, and “Sesame Street”, with various film roles in “Ballistic”, “Durango Kids”, “Murder Between Friends”, “And Then She Was Gone” (a.k.a. “Troubleshooters”), and “Dinocroc”.

Caitlyn’s earliest education experience came as a private acting coach in Los Angeles, tutoring the likes of Grammy Award-winning musician and actor Meat Loaf. Then, taking a tangential path to writing screenplays to fulfill a promise to himself, he became much more immersed in the writing aspect of productions than the acting.

Having been an experienced actor, acting coach, and screenwriter, Caitlyn felt he had something to offer, deciding that entering the education sector would be the next logical step, while also trying to find a safe place to raise his young twins at the time.

Caitlyn arrived to Western Carolina University in 2008 as a visiting professor, reapplying for a tenure-track position later, which he received. He does admit that moving to Western North Carolina was a bit of a “culture shock” at first. Having lived and worked in the likes of L.A. and New York City, Caitlyn has enjoyed working with his students in the School of Stage and Screen.

“I teach all levels of acting, professional development, which is a great course because you get to see the ‘light-bulb’ go off but also a bit of fear, which is good, and I also teach stage movement classes, which includes an all-fight course that teaches hand to hand, rapier, and dagger fighting techniques,” Caitlyn said, harking back to his tutelage under famed fight choreographer B.H. Barry while performing at “Shakespeare in the Park.”

Caitlyn also finds time to work as consulting director to Cherokee’s production of “Unto These Hills” and as artistic director at the at Highlands Playhouse in Highlands, which opened in 1938 and is the second-oldest professional theatre in North Carolina.

On his involvement with the Highlands Playhouse, Caitlyn said, “I want to introduce more newer works and bring in more recognizable actors from L.A. and New York. Last summer we had Frank Collision, who has starred in ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman’.”

For Caitlyn, who will continue to prepare the next generation of actors at WCU and continue to be involved in his profession, the future looks bright.

“I recently finished a full-length stage play and will begin seeking production for it in New York, as the play is New York centric in both location and subject matter,” he said.

For his acting students and any future stage-seekers, Caitlyn had a few words of advice, saying, “There’s no substitute for time on the boards.”