RUMFORD — While most people may not be familiar with the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, they have likely seen one of its alums at the movies or on television.

Three-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis attended the school, as did the titular character of the 1971 “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Gene Wilder; and Patrick Stewart, who famously played Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the TV show, “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

The school, which was founded in 1946 by acclaimed actor Laurence Olivier, receives more than 2,500 applications a year from aspiring actors and performers vying for one of the 12 spots available in its one-year International Master of Arts in Professional Acting program.

Carl Zurhorst, a former Rumford resident, will have a chance to attend the school to hone his acting and performing skills.

Zurhorst, 23, graduated from Mountain Valley High School in Rumford in 2010 and currently lives in New York.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Zurhorst said in a phone interview. “It really is an incredible thing. I get to work in the longest- and oldest-running theater in all of England with world-class teachers. It’s just hitting me now that I’m going to Bristol.”


Practice makes perfect

For Zurhorst, being accepted into the school’s acting program is the culmination of years of vigilant training and practice.

His father, Craig, said his son was young when he first became interested in dancing and performing for others.

“When he was young, we were all watching TV, and Michael Flatley’s ‘Riverdance’ came on,” Craig said. “He took quite a shining to that. The second time the performance was on TV, Carl was dancing in front of the TV, matching it step-for-step.”

Craig Zurhorst said his wife, Mary, later bought tickets for them to see a “Riverdance” performance in Boston.

“I gave up my ticket so Carl could go down with her,” he said. “It seemed like something he would appreciate more than me.”


Carl Zurhorst began taking dance lessons at a young age. He began performing with Debbie Murphy of Expressive Movement in Rumford before training for 12 years with Stephany Jacques and Patty Brown of Relatively Dance in Mexico.

He also trained with Debi Irons of Art Moves in Norway, and Karen Hurl-Montanaro in Casco.

He began acting around the same time, starting with the Missoula Children’s Theater and the Children’s Stage Adventures programs at Crescent Park School in Bethel. He also participated in the Rumford Public Library’s Children’s Theater Program, and was one of the local actors cast in the motion picture “The 12 Dogs of Christmas,” which was filmed in Bethel.

As Zurhorst grew older, he attended summer programs at the Celebration Barn in Paris, and studied at the Boston City Lights/City Lights North performance camp in Farmington for three summers. He performed on-stage at Mountain Valley High School and the Lewiston-Auburn Community Little Theater.

“I’ve even studied a little bit of tae kwon do and am pretty well versed in the art of mime,” Zurhorst said. “I’ve always been interested in performing in front of people.”

After Zurhorst graduated from Mountain Valley High School, he attended George Washington University for a year and a half for a degree in mechanical engineering and became involved in student theater.


“I was super involved in the student theater program, and I performed in a musical here and there,” he said.

The big break

After performing in small productions, Zurhorst said he got his biggest break up until that point: a role in the Denis Jones-choreographed production of “Damn Yankees” for a national tour.

He applied for the production on a whim after visiting a friend who was heading to an audition.

“While I was there, I decided to audition as well,” Zurhorst said. “I ended up booking the national tour. It was a huge opportunity for me. I was a member of the ensemble, and did an understudy for some of the roles.”

Zurhorst said his role in “Damn Yankees” made him realize that “I really, really love performing.”


“I realized, over time, that performing was something I wanted to do on a long-term basis,” he said. “When I returned to New York, I went to lots of auditions: Broadway, off-Broadway, international tour shows, all kinds of things. I didn’t book all of them. It was always down to me and another guy. I was always close.”

Zurhorst said that after several auditions, he decided to apply to different acting programs, because he had “never taken a real, honest-to-God acting course.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time polishing my craft at the William Esper Studio program,” Zurhorst said. “For me, acting is not a short-term goal. I’m not looking to get famous or achieve success right away. I just want to dedicate myself to being the best actor I can possibly be.”

He attended Guildhall School of Music and Drama for a semester, studying Shakespeare and contemporary drama, and studied in a two-year program at William Esper Studio, a school whose alums include Larry David, creator of the TV shows “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”; and Timothy Olyphant, star of the FX show “Justified.”

As he finishes up his second year in the William Esper Studio program, Zurhorst said he wanted to begin “training on a more classical level.”

“I did some research, and found that the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School seemed to be a perfect fit,” he said.


“It’s a three-semester, one-year course, and every semester, they cram in one year’s worth of training,” Zurhorst said. “You’re in classes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and you’re learning movement, stage combat, working with swords, hand-to-hand combat. It’s not just an acting school, but a theater school.”

Zurhorst said the 12 students would be split into six-person groups.

“We’ll train together and swap after the first semester,” Zurhorst said. “That way, everyone gets to work with one another.”

Zurhorst laughed and added, “In a way, it feels like I’m going off to Hogwarts and starting my own adventure.”

At times, the idea of working in the same school as Daniel Day-Lewis seems daunting, Zurhorst said, but he views it as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

From Maine to New York


Things were not easy for Zurhorst when he first made the trek from Maine to Manhattan, he said.

He was jumped and mugged in the early days of living in New York, and despite living in what he calls “one of the better neighborhoods in the city,” he said he “definitely seemed to be that random statistic skewing the numbers.”

He began waiting tables and bartending, but quickly quit after he found that it “sucked the soul out of my life.”

“In New York, bars stay open until 4 a.m., which meant I was getting home at 6 a.m. every morning,” Zurhorst said. “It just came to be too much.”

Zurhorst eventually turned to working as a bike messenger, using the skills he built participating in mountain biking competitions while living in Maine.

“I had gotten to be pretty good on a bike, and decided to try being a bike messenger,” Zurhorst said. “I would ride from where I was living in Washington Heights, which is in northern Manhattan, down into Midtown and would make somewhere between 15 and 25 deliveries a day.”


The work got him commissions and he was able to see a lot of the city.

“I was making money, learning my way around, and was staying in shape,” Zurhorst said. “It was exhausting, but it was a job. After a while, the company I was working for suggested I try finding my own clients and start my own company.”

While Zurhorst’s bike messenger company eventually evaporated, he said his experience resulted in him being contacted by Uber Technologies Inc., a company that allows people to connect with contracted drivers who use their own vehicles to transport people from place to place.

“I was brought on as a lead consultant for Uber’s New York City Bike Messenger program, UberRUSH,” Zurhorst said. “It’s been a pretty great thing.”

Zurhorst said he has also worked for a private concierge company.

A little help from my friends


“I’m working as much as I can at different companies, but there are only so many hours in a day,” Zurhorst said. “Between trying to do this, and finish my studies, it’s still difficult. Rent is not cheap in New York.”

When he first learned that he had been accepted to the acting program, Zurhorst attempted to apply for student aid and loans, but learned that the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School was not on the list of schools that received grants or funding from the United States Department of Education.

“I found out that I was going to have to rely on private funding to help pay for it,” Zurhorst said. “It’s unfortunate, because I found out that the whole issue with the funding is unique to recent years.”

He quickly started a crowd-funding campaign with the help of some friends.

“I made a video with the help of some friends and filmed it in Brooklyn,” Zurhorst said. “I spent a whole week editing it. Basically, I let people know that I needed their help to raise the money for the school.”

Zurhorst set his goal at $45,000, and with the help of private donations and family loans, he has raised $37,000.


“It’s a remarkable thing,” Zurhorst said. “God bless my family for working as hard as they can to help me out. It’s hard to cough up $45,000 for anything, so I’ve already received a lot of help from people who wish to help me accomplish my dream.”

Zurhorst said he wants to continue raising money before he flies to London at the end of September, since there were “still a lot of extraneous costs of being in the program, including supplies, room and board, and the cost of living.”

Zurhorst’s GoFundMe page can be found at

“Now is the time to get down to business,” Zurhorst said.

“To me, actors are the doctors of the soul,” he said. “When you watch a performance, you connect with it, and you transform somewhere you didn’t expect to go. I’m trying to be the best possible actor that I can be, and to hopefully affect everyone in a positive way.”

Nerve-wracking, but exciting

With just under three weeks before Zurhorst flies to Bristol to begin classes, his father said he’s excited for his son, but also a little nervous.

“It’s nerve-racking to see your son heading into something like this,” Craig said. “Nerve-racking but exciting. He’s worked so hard to get where he is, so I hope that kids from this area see that with a little hard work, you can accomplish your dreams, and that a boy or girl from a small town in Maine can move to New York and be successful.”

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