Arts students pursue real-life experience in New York City, Los Angeles, during gap years


Photo courtesy Ben Wolstein

Ben Wolstein (’19) deferred a year from Columbia University to play trumpet and piano in New York City jazz clubs. This year, he wants to “take it easy and play a lot of music,” he said.

By Bella Brody

Wolstein plays the trumpet.

Ben Wolstein (‘19) loves playing the trumpet — so much so that he’s decided to play every night at different “jam sessions” in one of the greatest music hubs in the world: New York City.

Wolstein, who played trumpet in Whitman’s Wind Ensemble during high school, is taking a gap year before he attends Columbia University next fall. He currently lives in New York City and plays the trumpet and piano in jazz clubs as much as he can.

“The idea of this year was just to take it easy and play a lot of music,” Wolstein said. “I was a little burned out after last year and after high school, so a break was definitely good.” 

Gap years have recently become more popular, according to a Boston Globe article. Many students who take a gap year volunteer, travel, work or just take a break from the academic track.

Last year, Lukas Gates (’19) won the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival with a photograph he took of Holocaust survivor Ruth Cohen. Before heading to college, Gates is taking a gap year and working at a local photography studio. 

While Lukas Gates (‘19) originally wanted to go straight to college and pursue his academics — possibly majoring in social sciences — he decided to take a gap year and reapply to college in 2020. 

After developing a passion for photography in high school and working as the photo director for The Black & White, Gates decided to continue photography during his gap year. He’s currently working as a production assistant at Stunt Photography, a local photography studio that does everything from senior portraits to bar mitzvahs to weddings. 

While working, Gates has become familiar with certain aspects of adult life that most students don’t experience before they enter the workforce, like the importance of remaining money-conscious. 

Though Gates said he loves working at Stunt Photography, he’s planning on leaving his job in February and embarking on a road trip with his friend, possibly to Canada to sightsee. 

As he continues through the rest of the year — undergoing the college process again — he’s keeping his options open and considering colleges he hadn’t even heard of until recently. 

After immersing herself in Whitman’s drama department, Kira Gandolfo (’19) decided to take a gap year and apply to colleges for theater.

Kira Gandolfo (‘19) wrestled with the same decision as Gates her senior year of high school. She had auditioned for a mixture of college theatre programs and regular academic programs, unsure of what she wanted to do in college. She was struggling to make a choice of either settling with the non-theatre school she had been accepted to, or take the next year off to re-audition for acting programs exclusively.

Her love of acting is why she ultimately chose to take a gap year and re-audition for university theatre programs, devote her time to auditioning in order to yield better results and hopefully get accepted to program she is passionate about. 

“I had in my mind for so long that I would be fine going to university for a non-arts major,” Gandolfo said. “But, it got to a point where I would be so unhappy if I did.” 

During her gap year, Gandolfo is a literary management intern at the Mosaic Theater Company of D.C. She reads plays to help the company decide on what to perform the following season. In helping with the decision process of the theater’s repertoire, Gandolfo said she’s getting a feel for the business side of the acting world. 

Sydney Wolstein (’14) always planned on taking a gap year in Israel. But, after realizing her passion for acting was more than just a hobby, she moved to Los Angeles and took acting classes for a year before enrolling in the University of Southern California.

Sydney Wolstein (‘14), Ben’s older sister, also decided to take a gap year after high school to pursue acting. After graduating from Whitman, she deferred both the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the University of Maryland, packed her suitcases and moved to Los Angeles. 

Wolstein had always planned on taking a gap year, but she didn’t plan on pursuing acting; leading up to her senior year, Wolstein wanted to spend a year in Israel after graduation. She later realized that her passion for theatre was more than just a hobby, so she formed a gap year plan in L.A. with her mom’s help.

“I love acting,” Wolstein said. “I’d always brushed it off as a hobby or something that I was just doing when I was younger, and I didn’t really consider taking it as a career path. Then my senior year I was like ‘why am I not considering this as something that I could do for real?’” 

In the August after her senior year, she moved to L.A. and began a two-month, structured acting intensive course with The New York Film Academy. She lived in an apartment with three other girls. 

After the program ended, Wolstein took several other acting classes in the city, including classes in improv, scene study, camera auditioning, voice and commercial acting. But living alone in L.A. at 17 had its challenges. 

“It definitely wasn’t an easy year,” Wolstein said. “It did feel a bit lonely at times.”

Though she was far from home, Wolstein said that living in L.A. allowed her to grow and learn about herself, and she decided to stay in California even after her gap year. Instead of attending the University of Maryland or the University of Wisconsin, Wolstein enrolled in the University of Southern California in the fall of 2015. Since she knew she wanted to pursue an intense acting career, she decided to use college as a time to study something different; Wolstein majored in communications. However, throughout her time at USC, she continued to take acting classes independent from her major. 

For some students, gap years act as a transition point into the rest of their lives. For Gandolfo, it’s been a learning experience, and she’s found inspiration in the people she works with.

“I’m meeting people who are doing theatre professionally everyday, and making a real living out of it,” Gandolfo said. “They are just so happy.”