Volume X, Issue 3 | June 12, 2024

Acting on Ambition

With theatrical training from Santa Monica College — plus the discipline of military service and the martial arts — Claude Daniel is ready for his student debut at Juilliard, and to make a childhood dream that began in his native Sri Lanka come true.

SMC In Focus



From his first stage appearance as “a little Viking carrying around a basket of fish” in his native Sri Lanka to his acceptance at The Juilliard School in New York, Claude Daniel has been determined to become an actor. And Santa Monica College has been crucial to his journey.

Claude, whose stage name is Claude Arima, originally became interested in acting while watching the iconic martial arts movies of Bruce Lee as a child. Then middle school enabled him to star in a play based on the popular European comics character Asterix. “It was written and directed by a teacher who had worked in a traveling theatre troupe,” Claude says. As more school productions followed, he adds, “I figured, yeah, this is for me.”

From Sri Lanka to SMC to an Army Interval

When the time came to pursue his future in earnest, he journeyed more than 9,000 miles to the world’s entertainment capital — Los Angeles. “I knew I wanted to be in L.A., and that’s how I came across SMC,” Claude recalls. “I read that their theatre program was really good.”

After applying to SMC’s Theatre Arts Department, he quickly found that the program earned its positive reviews. But he also learned that living in the United States, and Southern California in particular, was far more expensive than in Sri Lanka. “You can run out of money quickly, which I did,” Claude admits.

With the rest of his family back in his home country, Claude felt he had nowhere to turn for help. So, he signed up to defend his new country by enlisting in the U.S. Army. His service lasted six years, during most of which he was stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas.

“I loved it there,” Claude says of the army. “And if I didn’t want to be an actor, I would have stayed in.” But the lure of the spotlight tugged as strongly as ever, so he returned to SMC when his active-duty service ended.

Act Two

Claude came back to his theatrical studies with his ambitions undimmed, but something else had changed: COVID-19 had forced the world into lockdown. Yet the show must go on, although, for a time, classes had to be conducted virtually and productions were performed via Zoom.

Under those conditions, however, Claude’s talent and commitment still shone brightly to SMC Theatre Arts Chair Perviz Sawoski and her fellow faculty. So Perviz cast him as Menelaus in the department’s production of Euripides’ tragedy The Trojan Women.

That led to Claude’s turn as the Creature in Broken Mirror – A Frankenstein Odyssey, loosely based on the classic by Mary Shelley. By then, fortunately, the pandemic had subsided, enabling students to return to classrooms, and Claude, along with his peers, to the stage.

“Both performances won him nominations for the Irene Ryan Acting competition at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival,” Perviz notes proudly.

For Claude, though, nothing could top the sensation of, once again, performing in person. “That transition to actually being on stage, in front of an audience, was amazing,” he says.

Training at SMC also enabled Claude to eliminate what he calls his “bad habits” as an actor. For example, while studying karate had honed his body, he confesses that it had also caused him to “scream my head off every day for years on end.” So he especially appreciated the voice classes taught by Crystal Robbins, the college’s Lessac Master Teacher of Voice, Speech and Body Work.

“Those voice classes are amazing,” Claude says, who took all three of Crystal’s courses at SMC: Beginning Voice for the Stage, Advanced Voice for the Stage and Stage Dialects.

For her part, Crystal says: “Claude has been a delight to work with. He brings a spirit of inquiry, professionalism and dedication to all he does.” To honor Claude’s devotion to vocal training, she also bestowed on him an Arthur Lessac Award in 2023.

“Claude demonstrated not just rigor but also a willingness to experiment,” she adds. These traits led Crystal to urge that Claude audition for Race Relay, a cross-departmental theatrical event and community dialogue about issues of equity. “He performed beautifully with professional actors,” she recalls.

Next Stage: New York

While completing his Associate in Arts degree at SMC, Claude began auditioning for top theatre programs across the nation. After auditions in Chicago, he was accepted by the prestigious Juilliard School, whose alumni include Robin Williams, Viola Davis, Kevin Kline and many other notables of stage and screen.

That’s important because Claude wants a career in both media. “I look up to actors who are able to do that,” he says. So while he’s game for working on action movies, he also longs to play Shakespearean roles on stage, like the leads in Coriolanus and Hamlet. “Coriolanus was the first Shakespeare production I ever saw live,” Claude remembers fondly.

Growing up in Sri Lanka, Claude admits that he came to Los Angeles “kind of naïve and starry eyed.” But with the talent shown from an early age, the dedication he feels and the artistry he has developed at SMC, he is well on the way to making his dreams a reality.

The SMC Theatre Arts faculty team has no doubt he will succeed. “I believe Claude rightly deserves the opportunity and honor of going to Juilliard,” Perviz says. “Not only is he very talented, but he is also extremely professional and disciplined as an actor. I am so proud of him and wish him great success.”

Crystal, who was among the SMC faculty recommending Claude to Juilliard, agrees, adding: “I anticipate great things out of him.”

Meanwhile, as Claude keeps developing his craft as an actor, he will always be grateful for the classes he took and the productions he worked on at SMC. “I’m going to take all those lessons with me,” he says.

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