From Hollywood to Nollywood- How The acting dreams of two Penn State Altoona Alumni Have Taken them Across the World.

By  Susan Field ’06

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Zach Mirer

Zach Mirer believes that if you are ignoring your calling, life will find a way to will you toward it.

After attending Penn State Altoona for two years and then graduating from the University Park campus in 2007 with a degree in advertising and public relations, Mirer got a job working for a national brokerage firm in Boston. Life was good. Mirer had a steady income, drove a nice car, and had an office overlooking the Boston Harbor. And while he was grateful, he knew it wasn’t the life for him.

“I’m very outgoing and an adventurer,” Mirer says during a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I knew there had to be more to life than sitting in an office all day.”

With the economic downturn in 2008, working in the financial industry became more trying—salaries were cut in half and jobs were being terminated. Mirer experienced the fear of uncertainty and feeling like nothing—even his next paycheck—was within his control. He realized that the one thing he could control was pursuing something about which he was passionate: the performing arts.

Mirer was born in Manhattan, but grew up in Florida. As a kid, he played the drums, taught himself photography with his dad’s camera, and dabbled in writing, painting, and local theatre. At Penn State Altoona, he was a member of the newspaper staff, and remembers that the theatre classes he took added substance to his life.

“I had put all that stuff [performing arts] on the backburner. Life taught me that you can’t make a living that way, so I based a lot of my decisions on societal expectations and took the path of least resistance with my career,” Mirer says. “But then I started thinking, ‘if you have an interest in something, just do it.” I stopped coming up with reasons why I couldn’t, and just did it.

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Mirer at the drums, in front of 650-seat auditorium at which he has perfomed

Mirer took up drumming again and started playing at a large church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He also taught himself how to use a film-editing program and created a documentary of a trip he and his friends took to Nevada. Those two experiences made him realize that having an effect on people’s emotions, and creating something from nothing, made him feel alive.

While at a funeral of a friend of his father’s, Mirer met an agent, who represented writers in Hollywood. Mirer started talking to the man about his desire to act. The man gave him one simple piece of advice: move to Los Angeles.

Moving across the country was easier said than done, and Mirer knew he had to gain experience and form a game plan first. A quote he had heard – “if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen” – gave him inspiration. “I always got stuck in the ‘I don’t know what to do. How do I get there?’ mentality. But then I realized that when you don’t know what to do, do something! People almost literally wait for opportunity to knock on the door, instead of creating the opportunity,” Mirer says.

Mirer started calling local theatres and asked to meet with the theatre directors. He got two meetings in Portsmouth. One of those two meetings led to a meeting with a local film producer, who introduced him to his first acting coach. He began doing table-reads of scripts with screenwriters in New Hampshire, and also got involved in community theatre in Boston.

“I stopped coming up with reasons why I couldn’t, and just did it.”
— Zach Mirer

Meanwhile, he was still working in financial services, and used business trips to L.A. as a means to network and find a job that would allow him to move there. In September 2012, Mirer got a call that he had landed an administrative/office operations job in L.A. The start date was in one month. Mirer sold everything he owned, packed the bare essentials into his Hyundai Elantra, and began his journey toward his new life.

“People have more power in life than they think they do. If you really want something, you will do everything you can to get it,” Mirer says. “I got an apartment in L.A. where I could walk to work to save money and put the savings into acting lessons. I learned to live within my means in a society that does not reward that behavior.”

For two years, Mirer juggled his day-job with acting classes and rehearsals in the evenings. In the fall, he finally saved enough money to leave his day job to dedicate himself to acting full time. Mirer’s days consist of acting classes, studying scripts, submitting to roles, and going on auditions. “I’ve been networking and getting myself out there. I read and do my research and try to put myself in the right places at the right times,” says Mirer, who just found out that he is Screen Actors Guild (SAG) eligible because of work he did on an ABC pilot.

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Mirer with the cast of Zombie Rules

In March, Mirer finished an eight-week run in the play Zombies Rule, at a small theatre in Hollywood, and appeared in a minor supporting role on Killer Kids, a series on Lifetime Movie Network. Followers of Mirer’s Facebook and Instagram will see a myriad of colorful pictures of his travels around Hollywood, exploring the outdoors, reading stacks of scripts, and going on auditions. Mirer also posts humorous video clips of himself acting.

Immersing himself in the actor’s life hasn’t been easy, but Mirer has found far more satisfaction in the experience than he did when living a conventional lifestyle. “The hardest thing about becoming an actor is letting go of self-judgement,” he says. “You get to work with these amazing, brilliant people and you start letting go of those stigmas life teaches you: ‘don’t be an actor, be a doctor.’ When you’re younger, you think, ‘I love this [the arts], but I don’t want to be poor.’ When you’re older you realize that you just want to be healthy and happy.”

Follow Zach on Instagram @zachmirer and Facebook.

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Mirer and his friends hike to the famous Hollywood sign

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Osas (Martha) Ighodaro Ajibade

Osas Ajibade -nee Ighodaro

Osas Ighodaro’s experiences at Penn State helped shape her into the independent person that she is today. The once-timid freshman, who chose Penn State Altoona for her first two years because it was small, comfortable, and felt like home, has blossomed into an international actress and host , who jet sets between New York and Nigeria, living her dreams.

“Coming from a small high school in New York, I was nervous about coming to college and being overwhelmed and getting lost,” says Ighodaro during a phone interview from Lagos, Nigeria. “Penn State Altoona was a good fit because it was more of a family-type feeling, but I still had to learn to do everything on my own, and from there, that independent quality in me just continued to develop.”

While at Penn State Altoona, Ighodaro, a Bronx-native who is a first-generation Nigerian-American, participated in the STEP team, the Black Student Union, and was crowned Miss Penn State Altoona. She majored in broadcast journalism and minored in entrepreneurship and theatre.

After graduating in 2005, Ighodaro moved to New York City to pursue acting. She changed her stage name from her given name, Martha, to her middle name, Osas. Osas mean’s “God’s gift” in Nigerian.

“People have always told me that I don’t look like a Martha, and when people heard my middle name, they always asked what it meant and it turned into a conversation starter. By changing my name to Osas, I was also bringing my Nigerian-heritage into my acting,” Ighodaro says.

Ighodaro landed small roles on episodes of Law & Order, Conviction—a Law & Order spin-off series, and Meet the Browns, a sitcom created by Tyler Perry. She also thrived on the pageant scene. She was crowned Miss Black Connecticut and was the first Nigerian-American to be crowned Miss Black USA in 2010.

“I have big dreams, and it’s really nice to see a lot of them coming to fruition.”
— Osas (Martha) Ighodaro

After she earned her MFA in Acting from the Actor’s Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York, Ighodaro came to a crossroads. In 2012, while debating staying in New York versus moving to California, she had a fateful conversation with her aunt, who lives in Nigeria.

“My aunt said, ‘why don’t you think about coming to Nigeria? The entertainment industry is growing,’” Ighodaro says. “My aunt remembered seeing an ad that a soap opera over there called Tinsel was holding auditions. Being on a soap opera was something that I’ve always had posted on my vision board, so I emailed my audition tape, and they got right back to me and said that they’d love for me to perform the role of Adanna.”

Tinsel is shot on location in Lagos and is the number one soap opera in Nigeria. The story tracks two influential studio owners and their rival film production houses as they battle for box-office dominance. Ighodaro’s character, Adanna, is a Nigerian-American student in Nigeria doing research for her thesis.

“Adanna is very earthy, bohemian, free-spirited,” Ighodaro says. “It’s a fun character to play. She’s very outspoken with no filter. She’s always getting herself into trouble.”

Ighodaro is currently on hiatus, as her character has temporarily returned to the U.S. for school.

Success on Tinsel has led to other opportunities. Ighodaro hosts Maltina Dance All reality show, a popular dance show in Nigeria, and hosted the 2014 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards.

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Hosting Maltina Dance All reality show in Nigeria

Having worked in both Hollywood and “Nollywood”—what the Nigerian entertainment industry is called—has given Ighodaro a unique perspective.

“The main difference is the location and resources. The work ethic is the same, and maybe even greater in Nollywood because there are less resources available and everyone has to work harder,” Ighodaro says. “Even if the resources aren’t the best, that doesn’t stop the actors and producers from putting out work, even if it’s not always up to Hollywood standards. Things are improving—the industry is growing and it’s amazing to witness.”

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Performing the opening to the 2015 African Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards

Finding ways to give back to her roots is important to Ighodaro. As founder of the Joyful Joy Foundation, she works to end hunger, preventable disease, and poverty in Africa. She also has a goal of one day owning a business in Nigeria.

“I’ve always wanted to open a laundromat. I know it sounds silly, but I remember going to a laundromat when I was younger, and thinking, ‘I would like to open one of these,’” Ighodaro says with a laugh. “Or maybe a rec center, where people can play sports, or an arts center or movie theatre. Anything that provides a service that will help the community and serve people.”

Ighodaro splits her time between Nigeria and New York, where her immediate family still lives. She and her fiance, Nigerian actor Gbenro Ajibade, who she met on the set of Tinsel, are planning a summer wedding.

“I want to continue to grow in my craft and dabble in production. I take things one day at a time, so I don’t get overwhelmed,” Ighodaro says. “I have big dreams, and it’s really nice to see a lot of it coming to fruition.”


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