In pursuit of theater

In pursuit of theater

In his younger years, Esdras Toussaint imagined watching himself on television.

Toussaint followed his vision and found his ultimate career as a director, producer and adjunct professor of Performing Arts at Pierce College.

Toussaint’s latest achievement was directing Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” which premiered at the end of October.

Toussaint left a comfortable life in Haiti and immersed himself in theater in New York City.

“I fell in love with it, and there was no way I was going to go back and do anything else,” Toussaint said.

Theater professor Esdras Toussaint at the Performing Arts Center at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Oct. 31, 2023. Photo by Luis Quintana. 

Toussaint’s story does not begin here.

He was born in Haiti to loving parents who valued a good education for Esdras and his siblings.

Toussaints’ mother and father gave up their well-established lives in search of better opportunities for their family.

“By all accounts, we were well off,” Toussaint said. “My father had work and that placed us in a pretty good place to be growing up in Haiti.”

At the age of 11, Toussaint and his family moved to the United States.

Toussaint credits his parents’ decision at his young age for his current success.

“Had it not been for that move that my parents made several years back I would not be where I am today,” Toussaint said.

Toussaint added that it was that little bit of sacrifice by great parents.

Toussaint’s parents had great aspirations for him and hoped he would pursue a career as a lawyer, engineer or doctor.

Toussaint accommodated his parents’ wishes and pursued an education in International Affairs.

“I was planning on going to law school and working for the United Nations,” Toussaint said.

Toussaint was happy enough with this direction, however he realized how much he loved watching TV as a child.

A twist of fate in Toussaint’s personal life caused him to reevaluate his path going forward.

Toussaint’s father encouraged him to consider other options.

“You know, I found my calling by following my passion and my love, and you should do exactly the same,” Toussaint’s father said to him.

With his father’s blessing, Toussaint embarked on his journey to his true passion.

Toussaint left his family in Florida and moved to New York City where he joined several acting studios.

He received professional training, attended grad school and earned his master’s degree from Columbia University.

Toussaint ultimately moved to Los Angeles to get into the film and television industry. However he quickly changed his focus.

“The minute I got here, I got right back into theater because that is what my passion is,” Toussaint said.

Toussaint sought to combine his love for teaching and his love for theater by applying for a position with the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD).

Toussaint did not hear back from LACCD until several years later when he was offered a teaching position at Pierce.

Performing Arts Department Chair Michael Gend is partially responsible for bringing Toussaint to Pierce.

“I was part of a committee that was interviewing candidates and Esdras was the best,” Gend said.

In Toussaint’s six years at Pierce, he has developed a great reputation to compliment his other attributes.

“I have nothing but positive things to say,” Gend said. “He’s a remarkable teacher and a really great and accomplished director. I really love working with him.”

Toussaint has directed many plays and faced many challenges along the way.

Toussaint recalls a play he was involved in called “Eight Nights” written by Jennifer Maisel.

The play revolves around a Holocaust survivor and requires knowledge about the Jewish faith.

He did not know enough about it to do the play justice, so he sought help from outside sources.

“I was able to call out to the Jewish community and ask for assistance,” Toussaint said. “I had a great many people come through like the Museum of Tolerance.”

Toussaint also had to deal with actors who were experiencing generational trauma and saw that as an opportunity to reach out to the community.

“We had a wonderful woman who is a psychologist who gave her time so that she could ground them and keep them in the real world even while we took on this heavy topic,” Toussaint said.

One of Toussaint’s actors, Deniz Boysan also praised him for his directorial talents.

“I would say he is a brave director,” Boysan said. “He understands the relationship between the stage and the audience.”

Boysan added that Toussaint is a warm spirit and wants the best of his students and he will work with them to get them to the next place.

Toussaint is always looking forward to his next challenge.

“I think I want to do something that scares me,” Toussaint said. “I’m constantly pushing my students to break barriers and find a new place to explore something they’ve never done.”

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