"I guess I wanted to be a policeman or a firefighter," Ortiz said. "You know, anything that a little kid wants to be. I never dreamed I'd be where I am today."
When Ortiz enrolled at High Tech High School in North Bergen in 1998, he immediately signed up for the school's prestigious theater arts program. Soon after, Ortiz was hooked.
"It was an excellent experience for me and it got me started, wanting to be an actor and performer," Ortiz said. "I really got into it in high school."
So after graduating from High Tech in 2002, Ortiz headed off to Rider University, majoring in - what else? - theater arts.
"I definitely had the idea in my head of being a performer," said Ortiz, who has had roles in past Rider productions of "My Favorite Year," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," where Ortiz portrayed Linus, "Six Degrees of Separation," and an original play called "Children of Fatima," which caused quite a stir in Mercer County because of the play's controversial religious content.
"We had people protesting outside the theater every night," Ortiz said. "It was definitely different."
Now a 21-year-old senior at the fine school in Lawrenceville, Ortiz is enjoying one of his final collegiate roles, portraying a character, Ziggy Garcia, that he created for Rider's production of the famed 60s musical, "Hair," which will run from Nov. 10 through 19.
Ortiz was given artistic license to create the character for the show, giving Rider's production a taste of originality.
"We were all able to create our own characters and incorporate that into the script," Ortiz said. "We have a cast of 31, so it's been a different experience for me, working with such a group. It's actually been very liberating, because I was able to create my character. It's such a personal show now, even with the big cast. I've become so close to this cast and this character that it's been a life-changing experience."
'Saturday Night Live' Ortiz has also been branching out into improvisational comedy. He performs with a group that does improv for other colleges and high schools in Central Jersey and regularly does a sketch comedy show on the Rider campus every Saturday that has a pretty familiar name.
"We call it 'Saturday Night Live,'" Ortiz said. "We have a lot of talented people who perform. That's been a very good experience for me."
Hopefully, the Rider version of "SNL" is funnier than the one that NBC-TV airs every week.
"Actually, I think it is," the modest Ortiz said.
Ortiz hasn't decided what the future holds after graduation in May. He does have a minor in graphic design and has been sending out resumes in that field.
But the dream of being a performer will continue, whether it's acting, singing or doing improv comedy.
"I'll be going on a lot of auditions and doing whatever it takes," Ortiz said. "I have to be able to get out there and keep trying. I would hate to fall flat now. I'll be ready to go on the auditions."
For now, it's the challenge of "Hair."
Rider University's production of "Hair" will be played Thursday, Nov. 10 (preview) and run through Saturday, Nov. 19 at the Yvonne Theater on the campus in Lawrenceville. The show dates are as follows: Friday, Nov. 11 - 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 - 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18 - 8:00 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19 - 8 p.m. Tickets for the show are priced at $10 for adults and $5 students and /seniors. For reservations call the Rider Alumni Office at (609) 896-5340.