Los Lunas

Tim Montoya is about to take the role of a lifetime as an acting student in New York City.

The 2002 Los Lunas High School graduate is on his way to the bright lights of the big city. Montoya has been accepted into the professional performing arts program for 2002-2003 at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City’s Upper West Side.

“This is everything I’ve ever wanted,” Montoya said. “I’ve always seen myself doing this.”

Admission to the AMDA is very competitive, and students are selected from throughout the U.S., Canada and many other countries. This year, students auditioned in 18 cities in the U.S. and four cities in Canada. Montoya will join 550 other actors and performers in the AMDA’s full-time, two-year program.

Montoya auditioned in Arizona, where he performed two monologues — one from the classic “Comedy of Errors” and another from the modern drama “Death of a Salesman.”

The LLHS graduate says he didn’t think he would be accepted to the AMDA on his first try.

“I thought I was going to have to audition again next year,” Montoya remembered. “I didn’t plan to make it.

“Acting isn’t work for me. It just comes naturally. I think acting is just being yourself in an extreme situation,” Montoya said. “You are projected through your character in this different place.”

Over the years, the young actor has found constant inspiration in the antics of the late comic Andy Kaufman, a former “Saturday Night Live” and “Taxi” alum.

Montoya knows everything about the funnyman’s life from watching old television clips of Kaufman and the movie “Man on The Moon,” starring Jim Carrey.

“I have always looked up to him,” Montoya said. “He really brought about my desire to act. I had seen his work on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and I got hooked after I saw the movie and read a biography about his life.

“I even got into meditation, like Andy,” Montoya recalls. “A lot of his jokes were never appreciated.”

Montoya thrives in both comedic and dramatic roles, although, he says, his comic side is what really sets him apart from the crowd.

“I’ve loved comedy ever since I was a little kid. At career day, I used to say I wanted to be a comedian,” he said.

Montoya has been performing his comedy routine in Albuquerque for the past four months at Chelsea’s Pub in Coronado Mall. Every Sunday, Montoya stands up on stage where he does stand-up. He is also part of an improv group that meets regularly to perform skits in the Duke City.

“I’m only nervous for the first couple of minutes, until I say my first joke and the audience laughs. Then, I’m okay,” he said. “Comedy comes more naturally to me. I think serious theater is more challenging.”

Although Kaufman’s influence continues to impact Montoya’s style today, acting has always been a part of his life.

“From middle school on up, I have loved acting. ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ was my first serious role,” he said.

Determined to dedicate himself to acting, Montoya quit varsity soccer as a freshman. “If the acting thing doesn’t work out, I tell people, I can always play soccer,” Montoya jokes.

Like Kaufman, Montoya gets a kick out of playing different roles. He does imitations of old Hollywood actors, from Frank Sinatra and the Brat Pack to current well-knowns such as Anthony Hopkins and Samuel L. Jackson.

“It’s weird: in my last role in high school, my character, Buzz Gunderson from ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ died. I remember when I walked off stage and knew it was the end,” Montoya said of his last high school performance.

For Montoya, there is nothing else in the world like live theater.

“I like to hear the audience’s response,” he said. “With comedy, everyone laughs and you know you’re good. With drama, like when I played Charlie Gordon in “Flowers for Algernon,” it helped me to hear the sniffles in the crowd.

“It started with one person, but before I knew it, the whole crowd started crying.”

Doris Vialpando, the drama director at LLHS, says she’s thrilled to see her former student go after his dream.

“He’s extremely talented and extremely motivated. He’ll do well,” she said. “His goal has been to be a performer, since the second grade. He realized drama is his passion.”

Vialpando has witnessed Montoya pull off serious roles, such as that in “Flowers for Algernon.”

“Tim has a very wide range. He pulled the character of Charlie Gordon together so well,” she said. “He was crying, and the audience was in tears while watching his pain and suffering.”

Montoya calls himself “the quiet one” in his family, even though he is known as the “funny man” to friends and teachers.

With pal Demétrio “Demét” Vialpando, the two were known as the “Matt and Ben” of the Los Lunas High School drama department. Tim and his friend were always toying with ideas for scripts and screenplays.

“Demét was the straight man, while Tim would bounce the comedy off him,” recalls Doris Vialpando, who is also Demét’s mother. “They worked so well together. It has always been easy for them to come up with skits in 15 or 20 minutes. They would show me, and I would immediately start laughing. We’re really going to miss Tim.”

On Thursday, June 27, Montoya leaves for the Big Apple where he will attend the summer session at AMDA. He will live in the dorms located on Broadway at West 73rd Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and take classes in theater, actor movement and stage study.

The two-year school, which was founded in 1964, offers full-time professional training programs in acting for the stage, film, television, musical theater and dance.

“After I get my certificate in professional training, I want to transfer to the Actors Studio,” he said.

Montoya ponders the reality of what is about to happen. “I’m excited about the future,” he said. “Can I seriously make a living out of it? I think so. Acting is what I want to do.”

Montoya isn’t scared of leaving friends and family behind when he follows his dream.

“I’ve always been able to be alone,” he said. “I’m not nervous about leaving. I’m ready to go. Life here is ending.”

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Jennifer Harmon