By Suvi Tiihonen
People say that if you truly want to become an actor or actress, you must go to New York, and in the fall of 2013, that is exactly what Elsa Gustavsson did.
Acting has been a big part of Elsa’s life from early on. She joined Espoo School of Performing Arts at the age of 8 and continued studying theatre for 10 years—learning the basics of her art.
Because of her love for the theatre, it was logical Elsa studied at the Kallio Upper Secondary School of Performing Arts to start pursuing a career in acting. After graduation, she joined the Improvisaatioryhmä JooJoo, an improvisational group where she studied and explored improvisational theatre. At the same time she studied at the Työväen Akatemia, an academy for Open University studies in the Theatre Academy of Helsinki.
Why did you come to New York?
“I came to New York to pursue a higher level of education in acting. My school was Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre” (notable alumni include, Chris Noth, Sex and the City, Jeff Goldblum, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Allison Janney, American Beauty, and Diane Keaton, The Godfathertrilogy).
Did the school live up to your expectations?
“Definitely, it changed my whole life. Neighborhood Playhouse is known for the Meisner technique, created by Sanford Meisner. The quality of teaching in New York is better than in Finland. The Meisner technique not only affects your acting but has an effect on your entire life.”
What has been the most amazing part of your New York experience?
“Overcoming the fear of death — I feel like I have achieved as much as one can achieve by this age. [In school], I felt so much and so intensely that it almost felt like I couldn’t achieve more even though that’s not the case.”
What drives your desire to be an actress?
“As a child I found theatre to be the only stable environment — one in which I felt safe. I was an extremely shy child — intimidated by most human contact. The reason I fell in love with theatre was the idea of getting to play with my imagination.”
What differences are there between studying acting in Finland and in the United States?
“In New York, there is a more professional approach to the theatre studies, at least at an advanced level. Standards and requirements are higher. The technique they teach is unbeatable. All of my teachers, at the time, were working within the theatre industry in New York. The studies were intense — studying in New York was ten times harder both mentally and physically because of the work load and higher expectations. You need to really be up to par.”
What are your best tips on what to do in New York?
“Forget the tourist traps and broaden your horizon by visiting other boroughs. Some parts of Manhattan aren’t real. You don’t see how the majority of New Yorkers live if you don’t leave Manhattan. I lived in the Bronx for a year and absolutely fell in love with it.”
Since leaving New York in the spring of 2014, Elsa has continued to act. She did an episode for Valheen vangit, a Finnish scripted reality TV series.