“Storytelling, film, and theater are all means of education. They teach us how to fight oppressive systems through different kinds of organizational power, foster community, and enable us to help out other folks when they are vulnerable,” said Zack Clarence ‘10 (they/them), an actor, singer, director, and producer based in New York, NY.
At M-A, Clarence participated in the drama program, where they discovered their love for film. “John Giambruno changed my life, for sure,” they said. “He introduced me to filmmaking and editing, and was really helpful and encouraging. I had him for English and filmmaking, and would go in at lunch a lot to edit the films we were making. That was the first time I thought of filmmaking as something I wanted to pursue.”
Clarence was the president of the Drama Club, where they produced a short film called Romea and Juliet—a queer version of Shakespeare’s classic play—with some friends. They also played “Doody” in the M-A Drama production of Grease, and Robert Conklin in The Rimers of Eldritch.
Although they generally identify as a “more artsy person,” Clarence’s all-time favorite class at M-A was Patrick Roisen’s AP Biology class. “It’s so nice when you have a cool teacher who takes a challenging subject and makes it really accessible,” they explained. “The class opened my mind to a lot of things. It helped me understand more about the history of our species and of other species, and the balance that is needed—how intricate and reliant on each other we are.”
“I grew up in ‘so-called’ Menlo Park—the territory of the Ramaytush Ohlone peoples—and had a very middle-class, suburban upbringing,” Clarence said.
After M-A, Clarence attended theater conservatory. They graduated with a B.F.A. in acting from Boston University College of Fine Arts in 2014, and then moved to New York City to pursue theater.
Clarence’s production company, originally founded with many of their classmates from the M-A Drama club, is called C-16, after M-A’s drama room. They write, shoot, and film short films advocating for social change and human rights.
Out of the films they have produced, three of Clarence’s favorites so far have been “Two Questions, which is about preventing sexual assault, “The Women’s Bathroom Project,” which follows a young person’s conversation with a woman of trans experience in a public bathroom, and “End Conversion Therapy,” about a survivor of conversion therapy who navigates queer dating in NYC.
“I work a few different gigs right now—just trying to hustle, make some art, and support community power,” they explained.
To earn enough to pay rent, Clarence works two side jobs: one as a nanny, and the other at a restaurant called The Alamo Drafthouse. “At the restaurant, I enjoy my coworkers—they’re awesome people and have become some really close friends; and as a nanny, the family is really chill and flexible with me,” they explained.
In their free time, Clarence said, “I love going on hikes and being out in nature. I live in Brooklyn, which is pretty urban, so I enjoy going upstate to the woods or to the beach. I like to surf, and spend as much time on the water or hiking in the mountains as I can. I also enjoy watching movies and theater. This year, my favorite movie so far has been Everything, Everywhere, All At Once.”
Clarence’s favorite book is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. They explained, “Braiding Sweetgrass is about indigenous teachings and stories and practices indigenous to Turtle Island—so-called North America. It’s about living in balance and taking care of each other and our planet.”
Clarence’s advice to current M-A students: “You are stronger together. It can sometimes be hard to stay positive in light of the current political climate and climate catastrophe, so make extra effort to fight back against the negativity and take care of your friends and communities. Take care of each other, look into community organizing, and just stand together.”
Disclaimer: Bears Doing Big Things is not meant to be a list ranking the most accomplished or famous M-A graduates on Earth. It is a collection of people with a wide range of expertise, opinions, and stages of life who were kindly willing to share their stories. As Maria Popova once wrote, “There are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives.” Every M-A alum—and every person—is “accomplished” in their own way, and everyone has a story to tell.