Will Allan stars as a prep school student who enlists in Steppenwolf Theatre's production of "A Separate Peace."
What a difference a hit show makes. Thanks to TimeLine Theatre's last season hit, "The History Boys," Will Allan was making his way into the ranks of Chicago's professional actors before he had even graduated from North Central College in Naperville.
His professional career started in the summer of 2008 with a role in "Much Ado About Nothing" at First Folio in Oak Brook. That same summer, he landed a part in "The History Boys."
"That show opened in April of my senior year," Allan says. "The show was extended and ran six months. We then won Jeff awards for best play and best ensemble."
"The History Boys" opened doors for Allan. He signed with an agent and worked on "The Hundred Dresses" for Chicago Children's Theatre and "The Snow Queen" at Victory Gardens. And those shows led to his current role - as a prep school student in Steppenwolf Theatre's production of "A Separate Peace."
The irony is that it was just pure chance that Allan had even applied to North Central. Born in Frankfort, Ky., and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Allan had only the sketchiest idea of what kind of theater education a budding actor can get in Chicago and the suburbs.
On a trip to visit relatives in Gurnee, Allan and his father were driving around Naperville. "I forget where we were driving to when we passed through Naperville," Allan says. "But we saw this school (North Central). We stopped. Talked to some people in admissions."
Allan, a speech and drama club kid in high school, was thinking about studying theater in college. "The admissions office had people in the theater department call me," he says.
Allan applied, and got in. Though other college theater programs have more acclaim, North Central is beefing up its program and theater facilities. And Allan found there are advantages to studying theater at a smaller school.
"I was in a lot of shows while I was at North Central, 10 or 15 shows," he says. "It was absolutely wonderful. Also being so close to Chicago gave me access to the theaters in Chicago."
Not that success came easily to Allan in school. "When I first got there I stayed in the comfort zone," he says, "appearing mostly in comedies. But as I progressed I started doing more dramatic material."
Allan even studied abroad at the famed Moscow Art Theater for a semester. "That experience made me decide that is what I want to do with my life," Allan says.
Many actors would consider Allan's current gig, playing Leper in a stage version of John Knowles' "A Separate Peace," an amazing step in that career choice.
"Working at Steppenwolf is kind of a dream come true," Allan says. "They treat you so well - as actors and as people. You are working in one of Chicago's finest and most reputable theaters. When you are working at a place like Steppenwolf you have all the time you need to prepare. They are as interested in the process as the product, and that is an extremely rare thing in the theater."
Almost as soon as "A Separate Peace" opens, Allan starts rehearsing his next show, "The Good Soul of Szechuan," at Straw Dog Theatre.
"I have been lucky," he says. "So far, so good. Let's see how long this keeps going."
• "A Separate Peace" opens Saturday, Feb. 27, at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, and runs through March 14. For tickets and information call (312) 335-1650 or visit steppenwolf.org.