As he points to the small scar on his face, Dario Banuelos ’23 can’t help but chuckle thinking back to the day he discovered his love for acting.
He was attending a cookout with family in 2008, around the same time “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was showing in theaters.
“There was an intense chase scene where Indiana Jones slides under tables with a motorcycle. I had my bike with me, see a table at the cookout and I go, ‘Oh, I’m going to pull an Indiana Jones,’ and of course, things turn astray,” recalls the recent graduate from Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“I immediately go flying into a bunch of rocks, hit my mouth, come up, and see my mom freaking out because I was a bloody mess,” Banuelos said. “Yeah, probably not the smartest thing to do. But that’s when I knew I wanted to go into acting. I just got a thrill out of transforming into a character and going all in.”
Banuelos would go on to participate in plays in elementary and middle school, but he stepped away from performing in high school because “all the school did was musicals, and I hated singing.”
During those four years off the stage, Banuelos spent time exploring the medical field. He became a licensed certified nursing assistant (CNA) and planned to pursue the pre-med track in college.
That changed during the end of his senior year of high school, however, after Banuelos participated in clinicals.
“I did job shadowing all over the place in large hospitals and small practices, and worked with various medical professionals like physicians, athletic trainers, and optometrists,” he said. “I just couldn’t see myself doing all that for the next 50 years of my life.”
When he got to Wabash, Banuelos spent most of his freshman year trying to figure out what he wanted to do.
“I asked myself, what did I love doing when I was a kid?” he said.
Even though the answer was acting, Banuelos admits he was initially hesitant to jump back into the art.
“Going four years without any kind of acting, I felt like I was starting back at square one,” he said. “Those high school years are when young actors develop the most. That’s when you learn the basics and become very conscious of your decision-making. I felt like my growth was stunted.”
Banuelos, a theater major and Spanish and economics double minor, regained his confidence as a performer after taking Associate Professor of Theater Heidi Winters Vogel’s improvisation class.
“Professor Vogel really helped get me back on my feet,” Banuelos said, noting that he was nervous about taking her improv class his freshman year. It was choice he made after being on the waitlist for an introduction to acting class. “I’d never tried improv before, so it definitely wasn’t easy. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone every class.
“I would argue that improv is actually a lot harder than acting because you have to be creative, ready to go, and immediately thinking on the spot in front of a crowd of people,” he said. “Kicking off my time at Wabash with a bang like that really did help me gain my confidence back.”
Improv was initially a reach for Banuelos, Vogel said.
“He was quiet, and the art of improv isn’t,” she said. “He was a part of a small class of about seven students. I think that dynamic was really great for Dario because all of the students really bonded and grew to feel comfortable with each other. All of them found their voice and gained the confidence to try out stuff in public and to not worry about looking silly, because that’s kind of what improv is.”
As director, Vogel really got to see Banuelos “come out of his shell” his junior year when he performed as Oliver in the classic Shakespearean comedy “As You Like It.”
“In the beginning of his acting career at Wabash, I felt like Dario’s shyness was holding him back. Over time and with more practice, he grew to trust himself on stage,” Vogel said. “He will never be the bombastic, stereotypical theatre kid but he speaks with great power and truth.
“‘As You Like It’ has really difficult language, even for Shakespeare, because it doesn't rhyme. He had this breakthrough one day, and I just looked at him and said, ‘You know what you’re talking about and you have real stakes in this,’” she said. “I was blown away by his ability to speak from his heart.”
Banuelos, who also acted in “Where Is Our Beloved Community,” and “Stage Kiss” during his time at Wabash, said he grew more assured in his abilities thanks to the support of his family.
“My mom and dad made it to every show they could,” Banuelos said. “My mom cried at every play. I always tell her this right before the show, do not bring your phone to take pictures or videos, and what does she do? During ‘Stage Kiss’ I could see her and the reflection of the lights going off in the top right corner of the crowd. She’s standing there on her phone, all smiles and tearing up.”
As a single-child of two migrant parents from Mexico, Banuelos said he owes all of his successes at Wabash to them.
“They both came here and sacrificed so that I could have a bright future,” he said. “I got the best parents in the world.”
Banuelos is now on his way to Spain, where he will be teaching English as part of the North American Language and Culture Assistants Program (NALCAP). During his time in the country, he hopes to connect with his family’s heritage and pursue acting opportunities.