I met with Omar Gouda ’16 on Sunday morning to talk to him about his story and his relationship with theater. Gouda was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but spent most of his childhood in New Jersey near Atlantic City. He briefly lived in Egypt during the seventh grade and then moved back to Pelham, N.Y., where he finished off middle and high school.
His first performance was in the fifth grade in a musical called Wagon Wheels West. It was about a pioneer named Chuck Wagon who passes through a town and is framed by a villain for theft; Gouda played the judge, and his responsibility was about a page of lines in which he explains the context of Chuck’s situation and eventually hands him a prison sentence. “That teacher keeps a DVD of the performance to show exactly what not to do,” Gouda recalled. He remembers how on the night of the performance, a baby was crying in the front row. Gouda was so transfixed by the child that he only said his first and last few lines; as a result, the audience was understandably confused by Chuck Wagon’s sudden departure for prison. Gouda’s comfort on stage has gotten much better with time.
In Gouda’s own words, “Ish got real in high school.” He performed in two shows a year, half of which were musicals. During the fall of his freshman year of high school, he saw an audition posted for A Midsummer Nights Dream, in which he ended up playing a minor character and yet still had a blast. The director later pulled him aside and recommended that he look into forensic speech: “This is where I really hit the jackpot,” Gouda admitted. Forensic speech is a type of solo performance with several different categories, much like debate, where the goal is to formulate critical arguments in an eloquent manner. Gouda first performed a declamation, a 10-minute memorized solo. The assignment was to find any speech and perform it however he liked, and that year he won the competition. Gouda says that he never got leading roles in plays, so forensic speech was particularly enjoyable for him. He won first place in New York City, first place in New York state and fifth in the nation during his ninth-grade year. His sophomore year, Gouda won first in the city and state again. Junior year, he tried his hand at some different categories: dramatic interpretation and original oratory.
Dramatic interpretation is a solo performance of any published piece of theater in which the performer plays multiple characters. However, Gouda’s favorite category was original oratory, in which an actor writes his own piece and performs it. He wrote his piece about television salesperson Billy Mays, “the salesman who always yelled.” Gouda insisted that Mays was a big influence for him, and he performed interpretations of Mays’ commercials. His junior year, Gouda did not take the win: When asked why he thought there was a change that time around, he confessed that the drama piece was difficult for him to do correctly since he had to constantly switch between playing a woman and a man.
Senior year, Gouda performed a piece from Bruno Littlemore, a book about a monkey kept in a research facility for his “above-average monkey intelligence.” A mentally disabled janitor starts visiting the monkey, teaching him to speak and understand language. The entire speech is delivered by the monkey, who uses “gigantic words” yet is still kept in the cage and treated like an animal because of his animal nature. Gouda also performed this speech from Bruno Littlemore at the College in the open mic performance of Exploring the Arts. Gouda won first in New York state for the piece; in the competition, he performed another original oratory piece, which he wrote about his heritage. Gouda has an Egyptian father and a Japanese mother, making him an “eJAPtian,” in his own words. In his speech, he addressed issues of biracial identity, and the performance earned him first place in New York state and placed him in the top six nationally. Forensic speech has taken him all over the nation – Albany, Omaha, Nebraska, Washington, D.C. (which he insisted has a “way nicer subway than NYC”), Dallas, Baltimore and Indianapolis.
At the College, Gouda has already begun performing. Gouda played the role of the East Wind in East O’ West O’ earlier this month. He will also perform in the College’s production of The Ritz on Nov. 15-17.
Gouda says he would love to pursue theater after graduation, but realizes that he can’t really count on it. “Even with a degree from the academic pinnacle, Williams College, there is no way to present a Williams degree at an audition and have a better chance at being selected for a role,” he said. Gouda plans to explore the sciences, but if he were offered a guaranteed job on Broadway, he said he “would most definitely take it.”