Tales of Grit and Greatness: Eric Messner ’01

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we’ve launched Retriever Stories, a place where Retrievers of all stripes can reflect on their UMBC experience and where it’s led them. Check out this brief promo video here, then read on for the story of Eric Messner ’01, acting, one of the three alumni featured therein. Eric is an actor who’s appeared on The Wire, Veep, and The Men Who Built America, worked with Arena Stage and Everyman Theatre, and can be heard as The Mighty Thor on Graphic Audio’s Avengers series. Here’s what he had to say about his time here at UMBC…

EricMessner206236What does Grit and Greatness mean to me? It means that working hard and your personal and professional advancement are intertwined.

I came to UMBC as a slightly older student. I went to a few years of college and then stopped and worked in the theatre world for a bit. When I returned to school, I chose UMBC and came in with a determination to learn as much as I possibly could during my time here. I won a partial scholarship upon my entry to the university and during several of my semesters here.

One of my favorite teachers was professor of theatre Xerxes Mehta (who is now retired). Xerxes told me once during work on a scene: “You’re good, Eric and your instincts are good, but you seem to hold back ever so slightly.”

I think about that phrase often, and it pushes me as an actor, and as an artist, to always try to give fully into the work I do. I think that’s a big part of the grit that I carry around with me from UMBC.

UMBC also broadened my horizons past theatre. One of the big issues with fulfilling all the requirements for a major and a particular track is that I always wanted to take all of the other classes, too. One class I took outside of theater that stands out for me was environmental science with Sandy Parker, an associate professor in the geography and environmental systems department.

It was an utterly fascinating class. It was also weirdly prophetic, in that so many of the things he was telling us 15 years ago have come to pass. It rekindled an interest for me in nature and conservancy, and the importance and need for the protection of the environment.

What was my favorite place on campus? The fifth floor of the Albin O. Kuhn Library. In that era, it was the floor that had all the plays, and it was far enough up to be really quiet. I went there regularly just to do homework, and, of course, to browse whatever play I could find on the shelves.

What advice would I gave to an incoming freshman starting UMBC during its 50th anniversary year?  I would say that if they can, they should try to step outside their comfort zone as much as possible. Sure, it’s not always easy, but I feel like that’s why you’re there at UMBC — to learn about the things you don’t know, and not to simply reaffirm everything you know already.

— Eric Messner ’01, as told to Richard Byrne ’86 and Julia Celtnieks ’13

Tell us your tales of grit and greatness here!

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