Tony Estrella ’93 on His Accomplishments in the Worlds of Theatre, Film, and Academia

In the beginning, he had no desire to act. Born into a proud working class family in Providence, Anthony “Tony” Estrella grew up in the Pawtucket-Smithfield area, noting that he was among the first in his immediate family to attend college. “I was lucky to be born during a time when parents began encouraging their kids to go to college,” Estrella says. “Before that time, there wasn’t really a lot of parental support.” When the time came for him to select a college to attend, Estrella says that it was a no-brainer. “URI seemed like a great college to me,” he recalls, “so there was no pressure to get into a so-called ‘better school’ for a much larger price. I was pretty sure I was qualified, so I applied knowing that I wanted to do something with literature.” Estrella was excited to receive his acceptance, and entered his freshman year as a Secondary Education major.

And yet, during his time at URI, Estrella noticed a new passion blossoming under the surface. After taking a number of classes in the Theatre department on acting, as well as numerous classes in the English department on Shakespeare, he realized that a career in acting was the direction he truly desired to go. There were other factors at play, however, that kept him from pursuing acting earlier on. “I was constantly taking Theatre classes,” he says, “and I considered adding it as a major, but, because of my working class background, I didn’t think I could ever make a career out of it.” It was then that his calling card came. He auditioned and landed a small role in URI Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, and, for him, that was the tipping point. Estrella decided from then on that he wanted to act, and added Theatre as a major in his junior year.

In 1993, Estrella’s love of Shakespeare led him to graduate with a B.A., double majoring in Theatre and English. He now works as an actor, director, writer, and producer, with both roles in notable films and original stage-plays in his repertoire. Estrella has appeared in films such as Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, 2010’s The Company Men, the Academy Award Winning film Manchester by the Sea, and Jack Black’s Netflix comedy The Polka King. He recently made an appearance as a doctor in Little Women. He has written and produced numerous original adaptations of older stage-plays and novels, including Hedda Gabler, King Elizabeth, and The Dollhouse. His primary work, however, consists of serving as the Artistic Director at the Gamm Theater (previously located in Pawtucket and now moving to Warwick), where he’s produced over 80 plays. Estrella also takes the time during the school year to pay tribute to his alma mater, teaching as an adjunct faculty member for our Department of Theatre. In his classes, senior-level acting students study under Estrella with a focus on works by the Bard, but Estrella also takes the opportunity to give advice to his students. “I try to tell my students to not only participate in all things theatre,” he says, “but also to reach out to different disciplines and make connections. Doing so helps you to embrace the liberal arts education. Don’t look down your nose at your gen-eds either. Take them seriously, smarter actors are better actors. I always encourage my students to take in the university in full.”

~Written by Chase Hoffman, Writing & Rhetoric and Anthropology Double Major, URI Class of 2021