Conventional wisdom tells us that college is perhaps the most significant period of personal growth that we will experience in our lives. It is when we have to ask ourselves the big, intimidating questions: Who am I? What do I want?
For Montclair State University student Donovan Russo, answering these questions have proven to be an arduous yet immeasurably fulfilling task.
Russo, a junior English major with a minor in finance, is a young polymath in the making: he’s a fitness enthusiast, film junkie, sports fanatic, writer, recording artist and screenwriter all in one package.
“I am just into a lot of things,” Russo said. “I don’t like to stay in one place. I need to be active; always growing as a creator and as a person.”
However, Russo admitted that this outgoing attitude is something he did not always exhibit or practice. In fact, for most of his freshman and sophomore years, Russo veered more toward the reclusive lifestyle, focusing almost exclusively on his screenwriting with the occasional workout session at the gym to clear his mind.
“That was pretty much it,” Russo said. “Things were simpler, and not necessarily in a strictly good or strictly bad way, just sort of ordinary.”
In terms of this passion for screenwriting, he first started writing his own full-length features during his freshman year. For him, screenwriting is his greatest passion — his love for telling stories and creating interesting characters is what he strives to start a career in.
“I have written tons of screenplays over the last few years,” Russo said. “And even though they aren’t masterpieces or anything, I am really just trying to continue practicing and honing my craft.”
Russo submitted some of his many stories and ideas to various outlets and competitions. He is confident that with enough hard work he can break into its infamously competitive industry.
But as many creators — or anyone in general — can attest to, there are also setbacks and obstacles along the way. For Russo, his screenplay “Every Step You Take” was one project that did not go the way he wanted.
“I had planned to do a whole shoot with actors and everything,” Russo said. “But people backed out, and I didn’t think the project came out great at all, so eventually I abandoned it.”
Aside from creative issues, Russo also stressed how personal problems had affected him tremendously around the time of “Every Step You Take,” including the loss of his grandmother.
“She was always supportive,” Russo said. “Someone like her being in my corner meant a lot.”
He admitted that some of these unfortunate personal developments might have actually been a good thing — a blessing in disguise, one that made him start to think about things differently. He felt more inclined to branch out, to try to break up some of the monotony going on in his life. So, he decided to take a short break from screenwriting and looked toward his love of music for a potential therapeutic release and began writing his own songs. Eventually, he released his own album titled “The Pet Project” on SoundCloud.
For Russo, this was the first real time he had jumped into something completely head-first, and doing so instilled in him the mindset that would lead to his multi-faceted personality.
“It’s crazy, I only just started learning how to play the piano a year ago,” Russo said.
What had started as just a simple side venture became a legitimate hobby — with 22 total songs released over the last few months. Russo also teased that he plans to release his next project, “Speed of Light,” just in time for summer on June 30.
Along with recording his music, Russo has also performed in public. Thanks to his friend and former teacher Fox Beyers, who he first met at Whippany Park High School in 2010, Russo was given the opportunity to perform at the Rock ‘n’ Joe Coffee Bar in Millburn, New Jersey.
“It was not long ago that he told me about his music endeavors — maybe just this past summer,” Beyers said. “He informed me of his EP “The Pet Project,” and when I first listened to his track “13 minutes” on SoundCloud, I found myself singing along.”
Beyers said he urged Russo to come play a few tracks at the cafe.
“He attended, played four tracks and was brilliant,” Beyers said. “I was impressed, but not surprised.”
Beyers went on to say that he would love for him to continue to perform more, like summarizing a portion of one of his screenplays in an open-microphone format.
“Yeah, I have some ideas,” Russo teased. “I definitely have some things aside from music that I am working about.”
For now though, Russo is scheduled to perform his music again on Feb. 22 and June 23.
When it comes to this cross-media success, a longtime friend and Montclair State student Andrew Paine, a junior education major, was ecstatic.
“We have been friends since we were 13,” Paine said. “I always knew [he] would do something big, whether it is writing, music or screenplays or anything.”
For most college students, finding their main passion is a challenge of Herculean proportions. Then there are the rare cases, like Russo, who often find new passions and ways to express themselves.
“Venturing out made my life better in ways I did not think possible,” Russo said. “I write more, perform more, work out more, read more and even talk to people more. I take it as a sign to keep pushing myself in new directions, even if I have little to no experience in it, I have to try.”
It took some time, but Russo found his own way — and with it, plenty of exciting, new opportunities are bound to arise.