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Senior to leave behind small town for New York acting studio

By KBell
May 12, 2012 at 12:12 a.m.

Tad Cooley, a senior at Industrial High School talks about his path to overcoming obstacles in his life from an autoimmune disease, to pursuing a passion for the theater in a small rural Texas town. Being deaf in one ear and partially deaf in another hasn't stopped Tad from reaching for the stars.

VANDERBILT - Not that long ago, Tad Cooley was just a boy in a tutu, harnessing all of his middle-school silliness at a talent show in the Industrial High School auditorium.

"I was sitting out here going, 'Who is this kid?'," the school's theater director, Mike Doggett said. "It was this completely off-the-wall performance, but it was completely committed and focused. I'm like this kid's got something."

Now Tad is a senior, still on stage, still sometimes silly, but also downright serious about his craft. His journey has had its ups and downs - like any good story worth telling - but now Tad is approaching the climax of his saga: In August, he'll leave his hometown of Vanderbilt to study at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.

"This small town - I love it, but I want to get out," Tad, 18, said. "I'm ready for a big challenge, and I'm ready to be something in life."

After Tad acted in his first play in seventh grade, he was hooked. He said being on stage inexplicably changed the way he approached life, and since that first taste, he's been dedicated to being an actor.

For him, that meant giving up one of the staples - expectations even - of small-town South Texas: football. Switching from the field to the stage at first earned him plenty of ridicule and doubt from both family and friends.

The taunting became so much to handle, Tad said he quit theater after his freshman year. But he couldn't stay away for long.

"It wasn't until it told myself I'm not going to let anyone determine the way I think or choose the way I feel. I'm just going to go and do it," Tad said. "I did, and man I don't regret it."

Around the time of the teasing, Tad was dealt another blow that would tear at any teenager: He needed a hearing aid. Tad had been completely deaf in his right ear since he was a child, and as he grew, the deafness began to increase in his left ear.

At first he bemoaned what he thought would be embarrassment, only accentuated by stage lights. But then he turned on the hearing aid. Like a blind man gaining sight, his ear heard for the first time all it had been missing.

Now, the hearing aid helps Tad better articulate on stage, and it's certainly come in useful in musicals - like the lead part he played in Victoria Community Theatre's rendition of "High School Musical."

"I'm proud of it. I am," Tad said about his hearing aid. "I like it because it makes me more different."

Tad took his confidence to a January audition in front of several schools and acting studios. That's where the New York Conservatory found him and gave him a coveted invite back for another audition.

Not long after, Tad was not only accepted to the two-year acting school, but also offered one of their biggest scholarships. He's never been to New York, but his career-long teacher thus far, Doggett, plans on taking him in June.

"He thinks he knows what he's about to experience, but he doesn't really yet," Doggett said, unable to hide his excitement for his student.

"I have no idea what I'm about to get myself into," Tad said, wide-eyed. "I'm ready."



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