Four years ago, I was beginning to get the “road blues.” I had spent over 20 years touring around the world, practically non-stop, with various stage productions and bands, including the Village People since 1995. When you spend 150-200 days every year away from home—on planes, on buses, in hotels, etc.—you can really get burnt out. It was beginning to affect my home life too. I knew I had to find something on which to focus.
Then my better-half at the time, Deanna, suggested I go back to school and get my bachelor’s degree. While I procrastinated and thought about it—and had Back to School and Old School nightmares…both funny movies, but sobering from a forty-something perspective: “Hey, who’s the old dude?!”—Deanna got proactive and began searching for a university. As soon as she mentioned Arizona State, I knew it was meant to be, and when she told me about the Film and Media program, it was a done deal.
Had you been previously enrolled at a University?
I was a theatre major and music minor at the University of Miami, FL from 1984-1986. I never finished because, well, I started getting offers to work “professionally”—professionally simply means getting paid! The UM Theatre Conservatory had a strict policy that no student was to take outside work, and that just didn’t make sense to me. I was an impatient twenty-year-old who wanted to hit the ground running and get paid to perform, so I quit and moved back to Los Angeles to be “an actor.” Within a year, I was cast in my first union stage role and I never looked back. In the summer of 1988, I was sitting on the steps in front of the Sydney Opera House, and I knew I had made the right choice, but even then I was thinking, “Someday I’ll go back and finish school.”
Why study online?
Everything had to be online, because of my schedule. Not only am I away a lot, my schedule fluctuates, and it’s very difficult to commit to anything; not even a hybrid program (mostly online, but a few days a semester in the classroom) was an option. And I was also only interested in actual brick-and-mortar campuses that offered online degrees. I like the idea of wearing school colors and cheering for the sports teams. Wherever it was I ended up as a student, I wanted to wear school colors and support my team, but also take a little pride in knowing I was not simply a fan but a student, as well…now, I “Wear Gold” on game-day!
The other consideration I had was that it had to be an online course of study that interested me. Having worked in entertainment for most of my life, when I discovered that ASU offered a Film and Media degree, and it could be done completely online, I knew the time had finally come to “learn” something about the industry I had been working in for almost twenty-five years!
What about the Film and Media Studies program appealed to you?
It wasn’t so much that I wanted to learn about the process of filmmaking or the business side of the industry—that stuff, I have many years of hands-on experience with—but I was more fascinated with the study of race and gender representation in the media, especially film and TV, and the history of media, as well as the significance of its evolution—e.g. what it says about us as a society and culture or of a certain generation. I cannot say enough about the quality of courses on this subject offered by ASU Film and Media Studies.
What was it like balancing work, life, and school?
Trying to carry 16 credit hours and be a responsible parent and partner—which also included doing my share of running a household (paying bills, mowing the lawn, getting the kids off to school, helping the kids with their homework— and touring (work) and having a social life) was not easy. It was sometimes overwhelming, but that’s what made the experience worthwhile. The sense of accomplishment at the end of every semester, let alone graduation, was priceless.
How did you manage your own time in order to succeed?
I studied almost every day—sometimes for a half-hour, sometimes a marathon. It was nice to be able to work ahead, which allowed for a few free days every month. When I was home, I would close my office door and everybody knew dad was “at school.” But I literally went around the world three times during the years I was at ASU. I studied at 35,000 feet, in the back of tour buses, in hotels, in restaurants, backstage at concerts, in TV studios…you name it. It’s funny, jetlag and studying work well together: Wake up at 3 a.m. in a darkened Paris hotel room, watch the next film for class discussion. Perfect fit.
But time-management included taking my laptop and books to shows, and many times I would be sitting there in costume working on assignment for school, books opened, highlighter in hand, which prompted many people to ask what I was doing; my answer, “homework” never failed to get a smile and a “good for you” response. Then, when I’d get out on stage, my mind would still be thinking about what I was working on—I may have been singing Macho Man, but I was thinking about Asian American representation in Gran Torino (Eastwood, 2008)! Just prior to my graduation in May 2012, I was on stage in Durban, South Africa in front of 25,000 people, singing and dancing, and stressing about the PowerPoint presentation on Film Noir that I had to finish that night for my Anti-Semitism in the Media class.
Did your classmates ever know they were engaged in course conversations with a famous, traveling musician?
The coolest part of being one of the Village People is being able to separate myself from it! As soon as I’m out of my leather, as soon as I am away from the other five members, I am hardly recognizable, and I like that! I didn’t want any of my professors or fellow students to know “who” I was—if you put “Eric Anzalone” into Google you’re going to get a lot of pictures and info about someone who isn’t “really” me. Using my first name, “James Anzalone,” allowed me to be a forty-something dude who lives somewhere in NJ; it suited me just fine.
There were a couple occasions that prompted me to divulge “who” I am. That said, I did make a few friends, both professors and classmates, that I continue to keep in touch with, and they know all about me.
What can someone expect from the online experience and program?
Online classes are not the easy way out! I get the idea many students, or potential students, think taking online classes is an “easier” way to get a degree. The fact is, the instructors know that you are in an unsupervised environment and, since many of the exams are technically “open book,” they make them that much more difficult. What makes online classes different from regular classes is that they are perfect for people who need to negotiate schedules, or perhaps for those who really like a certain program or degree offered by a university which isn’t local, as was my situation on both accounts, when I enrolled at Arizona State.
I would say, expect to get so much more out of online classes than you ever imagined! Because the “virtual” classroom demands personal involvement—a student must be much more proactive, disciplined, and structured—I believe the learning experience is heightened. Indeed, that was the biggest surprise I discovered as an online student at ASU. That and how cool it feels to finally say, at 46 years-old, “Yeah, I have a college degree.” Hindsight is 20/20…that 23 year-old kid who sat on the steps of the Sydney Opera House in 1988 could never have imagined just how cool.Apply today: Bachelor of Arts in Film and Media Studies