The senior faculty of the SUNY-Geneseo Department of Theatre and Dance proudly showcases our alumni.
Many, though by no means all, either majored or minored in Theatre, Theatre/English, or Dance, or completed School of Education Concentrates in Theatre or Dance. However, it is important to note that many others came to Brodie Hall seeking to augment their studies in every other discipline on campus from Anthropology to Women's Studies; refine their verbal, organizational, and writing skill sets; and expand their understanding of the human experience and their own creative potential.
Some have pursued artistic careers, others represent a broad spectrum of professional achievements. All who contributed, however, explain here in their own words how the Theatre and Dance Department has been instrumental in empowering them to achieve their professional goals and how their SUNY-Geneseo Theatre and Dance experiences have enhanced their personal and professional lives.
We are proud of their successes and grateful for their support of the Department of Theatre and Dance and the College.These photos and statements are also posted as a rotating exhibit in Brodie Hall between the Alice Austin and the Robert Sinclair ("Black Box") Theatres.
The alumni represented have been selected by the senior Theatre and Dance faculty. They must have been graduated for at least five years and represent the "best of our best" during their time at Geneseo and in their post-undergraduate careers.
If you would like to suggest an alumnus/alumna, please feel welcome to contact Professor Randy Barbara Kaplan: email@example.com .
Alizon Baretsky Santamaria, Class of 2004
Costume Shop Manager, Department of Theatre Arts, Towson University
Having a degree in theatre doesn't mean you won't find work. It does mean you might end up working outside your field for a time and being uniquely qualified for the position. Theatre people are accustomed to working long hours against hard deadlines. They're creative problem solvers, collaborators, and mediators. They're students of human nature, philosophy, and history. They're used to getting their hands dirty to get the job done. Don't ever let someone give you a hard time for having a theatre degree. Continue learning, creating, observing, and leading. The world is your audience; let them watch as you blaze the trail.
Shazia Sohrawardy, Class of 2009
MS, Medicine, Drexel University College Of Medicine
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Theater isn’t just about telling a story, it’s about conveying it with YOU as the medium through which the tale is created for the audience. Before I started with Geneseo theater and GENseng, I was quite unsure of myself, stumbling through conversations and lacking security in my appearance. After getting involved with theater, I found that I was so much more comfortable interacting with people, improvising in conversation, and relating to others. GENseng, specifically, also made me confident with my culture, my looks. It made me love being in my own skin - literally. GENseng helped to connect me with my roots. It gave me depth and added to my college experience, not to mention, it made for great table talk and often shocked people that the “science-y” me would ever love acting.
These attributes didn’t just come into play during social situations. To the chagrin of my classmates and me, our time at Geneseo was limited. However, those same skills that helped me so much in college also proved to be essential to thriving in a professional setting. From working side by side with intimidating, older professionals to attempting medical school, the impact of being involved in theater infused and supported my endeavors. Moreover, theater taught me how to work in a group, as part of a cohesive force striving to put out the finest work, yet another priceless lesson. To try to perfect a role in theater involves constant struggle, multiple attempts and an unending goal to “get it right.” GENseng and acting made me understand this, and realize that although there will be struggles, it’s important to try your hardest, put yourself out there and hope for the best.
Dan Fenaughty, Class of 2008
I graduated in the spring of 2008 and since then have been traveling around the country pursuing my acting career wherever it will take me. I have been part of both regional and touring productions, straight dramas and classical musicals, experimental pieces and children’s theater, and as I look back and consider my training in contrast to the work I am actually doing, I couldn’t be happier with Geneseo as my background. Geneseo’s Theater Program prepared me for my post graduate life through experience, diversity and practical knowledge, even if I was not always a theater major or minor.
Being allowed to join in productions during my time as a non-theater major made my decision to join the department clear and easy when the time came. I felt welcomed and appreciated by my professors and fellow students. I felt challenged by the course work and inspired by the communal environment. The opportunity was always there to join in and it truly was a wonderful safe place to try, fail and try again, which was an essential process to my education and acting training. Once enrolled in the program, my courses in directing, scene design and theater history gave me a deeper understanding for the art. I even was able to put the practical knowledge of stagecraft and set construction to use when I was hired as an intern at a theater and actually promoted to Technical Director for a time.
The range of productions that were mounted during my time at Geneseo was, and still strikes me as, staggering. Having the opportunity to see and be involved with classical plays as well as musicals was excellent training for the more traditional summer stock seasons in which I have been fortunate enough to be cast. While the “boundary pushing work” of GENseng and student-produced projects made me comfortable working outside what may be thought of as “traditional theater.” Exposure to different courses also aided in my experience. Having dance, art, and music all in the same building created a unique environment and student body. All of this has made a direct impact on my artistic palate and has opened many professional doors for me in my time in the “real” world.
Finally the practical knowledge of the business obtained at Geneseo has proven invaluable. The support of the professors and fellow students has continued even past graduation and led to many wonderful opportunities. I am continually challenged in my professional life and feel that I am able to meet those challenges because of everything Geneseo has taught me. Geneseo as a whole has shaped me into who I am today as a person. However, most of all, I can perceive the direct benefits and lessons of the theater program in my daily life and for that I am eternally grateful.
Dana LePage Stallard, Class of 2008
MSW, Social Work, University of Michigan Social Worker, Spence Chapin, Manhattan, NY
I wasn’t a theater major or minor, and never dreamed of starring on Broadway or even being in a commercial.
In fact, I had never even acted before auditioning for the first show I was ever cast in - a GENseng production called A [Korean] Comedy of Errors. After the positive and inclusive experience I had while acting in my first show, I went on to participate in nearly a dozen more drama productions during my four years at Geneseo. Being involved with the Theater Department helped to significantly nurture my confidence and creativity and challenged me to be comfortable in my own skin while stepping into roles that were completely different from me and my own experiences. In my current work I can see how my theater background contributes to my understanding of teamwork, improved my public speaking skills, and ability to be flexible and disciplined at the same time. Most importantly, my involvement in theater and provided me with a close-knit family and a real place of belonging.
Renee Madathil, Class of 2007
Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, University of Montana Psychology Post-doctoral Resident, University of Washington School of Medicine
My time in the classrooms and theatres of Brodie Hall is something I deeply
cherish, and as the years go by, I have come to realize that I learned much more
than how to read a light plot or hold a paintbrush. Being a “theatre person” was
something that I was always curious about, but I was unsure of how I would fare
in a program that was so different than the typical academic regimen I was
used to. One Stagecraft class later, I decided to take a leap. What I discovered
was a department that was invested in nurturing my creativity, and a faculty
who pushed me to think well outside my neat and tidy academic box.
just a few things I learned along the way: when the inevitable crisis occurs—remain calm, keep going, and note
where the fire extinguisher is;the painting can always be repainted—sometimes it’s better to just start
fresh than to try and make something “work;” and finally, all shows end with strike—it’s the process, the outcome, that
holds the most value.
These are all lessons that I utilize more than I ever expected in my life as a
graduate student, wife, and artist.
Luke Sworts, Class of 2004
M.S., Nazareth College
Mental Health Therapist and Preventions Specialist, Neighborcare Health, Seattle
Being a "Brodie-ite" means different things to different people. For me, Brodie Hall served as a studio space to explore and display my work in ceramics and painting. But it also served a second valuable purpose. Working in the theatre scene shop allowed me to develop and solidify my abilities as a craftsman, an artist, and a professional counselor. These experiences helped me to acknowledge the leadership style I enjoy working under, taught me to lead by example, and helped me recognize the value of teamwork and communication. You wouldn't believe the similarities between coordinating a group of work- study undergrads to build a platform and facilitating a collaborative art therapy project for elementary students! The patience, communication, and flexibility needed backstage in Alice Austin or the Black Box are the skills I use everyday with my clients. It was also these ‘behind the scenes’ experiences that instilled an appreciation for the details and the technical components when I watch a performance. Because of my experiences in the scene shop, I have learned to recognize and respect the dedication of people’s actions on and off the stage.
Renee M. Hartz-Jones, Class of 2007
MA, College of New Jersey, Class of 2012 MS Candidate, Applied Behavior Analysis, Rider College Special Education Instructor, Bancroft Neurohealth, Lindens Behavior Stabilization Unit
Little did I know that when I walked into Brodie Hall as a curious First Year Student, I would walk out four years later with a theatre degree. Although I am not working in the field, the lessons I learned in Brodie have helped me in more ways than I can count, and for this I am incredibly grateful. These experiences helped me grow as a student, an artist and often as a humanitarian.
In the classroom, Theatre/Dance faculty demand quality of thought, effort, and performance. Students are allowed to make bold claims, as long as they’re backed up with research, and are encouraged to constantly ask questions, developing a hunger for knowledge. These methods instill a confidence that allows for students to take their work to the next level, and often perform to their highest potential. Personally, this teaching style has inspired me to pursue graduate coursework in order to continue to satisfy my hunger for knowledge. At Geneseo, not only did I learn content, I was taught priceless lessons about how to be an inspired student who takes an ownership and active role in the learning process. These lessons have helped me to be successful in my graduate program, and to take responsibility for my own education in a creative and individualized way.
So often I feel that students are discredited and sold short. I’ve heard claims of an increasing laziness, apathy, and lack of self-motivation amongst students. Unfortunately, I believe in many cases that those claims are true. However, it has become clear to me that such trends are not inevitable. My experience in the Geneseo Theatre/Dance Department served as a demonstration that students want to be challenged and respond well to high demands. As a teacher, I try to remember this in my classroom everyday.
It’s said that a mentor is a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. I would find it difficult to argue that anyone in my life to this point has been more deserving of this title than my professor in the Theatre/Dance Department at Geneseo. Even though I am a graduated Geneseo student, she continues to be a source of professional and personal advice in my life. She has taught me how to take pride in my work, how to persevere through challenging times, and how to be a strong professional woman. These lessons help me everyday, in my personal, educational, and professional lives.
Just before graduation I wrote the following words in response to my experience in Geneseo’s Theatre/Dance Department: “As I approach my entrance into the ‘real world’ I realize that nobody will be holding my hand, looking over my shoulder, or giving me tests to make sure I’m getting the most out of life’s experiences. I will always get out what I put in.” I believe these unsolicited words accurately describe the reality of the world in which I live, a world that I am able to be successful in thanks to my experience at Geneseo.
Frank S. Lin, Class of 2007
MBA, Bernard Baruch College Instructor, Accounting, Long Island Business Institute Manager, JET Tax Service, Inc., NYC
My experience in Geneseo’s Theatre program was fulfilling both on and off the stage, but it wasn’t what I expected.
Entering college with a faint interest in acting simply to have my fifteen seconds of fame, I learned that it took hard work, passion, and determination to successfully bring a story to life. Reflecting on my experiences in the various shows I’ve participated in reminds me of how much I matured not only as an actor, but as a person. The amount of time I spent researching my characters, understanding the details of the play, and rehearsing for performances helped me develop a sense of discipline unparalleled by any other classes I took or any other knowledge I gleaned from a textbook.
Today I’ve carried those attributes into another one of my fields of interest, Accounting. The Geneseo Theatre program created the foundation for me to have the confidence to take on and meet my career challenges. When I participated in a Geneseo show, it was not just part of my second major or an after school activity, but an opportunity for me to develop the various skills and talents necessary for my career and in my life.
Marissa Mulder, Class of 2006
Professional singer, New York City
Though Geneseo’s theater and music departments may seem a bit on the small side, those programs are mighty ones that provided me with wonderful teachers, friends and opportunities. The friends I made also happened to have oodles of talent! Now a good majority of us are here in New York City pursuing our passions, and I'm happy to say many of my Geneseo colleagues are thriving.
Mike Rosengarten has been working consistently since graduation, traveling all around the country performing in shows and even playing guitar in the Broadway pit for Wicked. I've watched Nick Moran blossom into a powerhouse vocalist in New York City, gaining confidence and strength and owning every stage he steps upon. Ian Laskowski is getting closer and closer to Broadway every day, having just made it to the final call back for a new Broadway show where he got the opportunity to sing for the show’s composer, none other than Marvin Hamlisch.
I've achieved my own successes, having just earned a great review in The New York Times for my latest cabaret show. I don't think any of our successes are accidental. It comes from having a strong passion for what we do and a strong work ethic. These traits were developed at Geneseo with the help of teachers who challenged us and pushed us to be the best artists we could be.
I remember rushing back to Geneseo in the dead of winter, cutting my holiday break short to be in a production of Sweeney Todd with my friends. We practiced every day for hours and beyond, even during our free evenings, helping each other nail those impossible Sondheim lyrics, encouraging each other to push ourselves and our characters beyond our comfort zones. I remember a particular acting class with assigned scene partners, and I remember the many rehearsals I had with that partner. I remember the intense work ethic that acting class gave me, reading the play from start to finish and then again, finding the subtext in every word of the script, figuring out how my character would walk, talk, or even eat a sandwich. I remember weekly voice lessons and choir rehearsals where my vocal technique was honed and perfected daily and made stronger by the week.
Now in New York City each day I am pounding the pavement: taking classes, going to shows, listening to other people sing, all the while paying close attention to other artists. In turn, I become a better artist every day. I sing every day. I have two paid singing gigs at restaurants and I try to go to as many open mics as I can. Even if I'm singing the same material, I work on it just to find new and subtle nuances every single time. My passion was born in Geneseo and continues to grow here in New York City. There is nothing my friends and I cannot accomplish. If you want something badly enough, you will work toward it, no matter how challenging it is, and you will achieve your dreams.
Ian Laskowski, Class of 2006
When I started my education at SUNY Geneseo, the Musical Theater program was relatively new. The great thing is, I had the opportunity to basically create my own program. I decided to jump head first into what was offered. I knew that I needed a lot of training in the fields of Dance and Acting so those became my main foci. I think one of the most important things that you can do is gain experience on the stage, and I loved having those opportunities. You can take countless classes, but without the experience of performing on stage in front of a live audience you miss out on what is essential. Geneseo had so much to offer me: mainstage musicals, straight shows, Geneseo Dance Ensemble, Choir, and even student organization-sponsored shows that constantly kept you busy and focused on your career goals. I was able to perform in a small Black Box Theatre and on a large proscenium stage. All of these experiences sharpened my craft and allowed me to enjoy every moment of my college career through which, I believe, I grew as an actor and person in general.
Since I graduated I have been lucky to have been performing consistently for the past six years. Throughout that time, I have never doubted where I came from, and I would highly recommend Geneseo to anyone who is seriously interested in the Performing Arts.
Tara L. Kaczorowski (Conroy), Class of 2006
Ph.D. Candidate, Special Education, Specialization in Technology Leadership and Research, SUNY Buffalo
While I was not a Theater major, the Department of Theater and Dance was a big part of my life at Geneseo. During my undergraduate career, I performed in three “Main-stage” musicals, six Musical Theatre Club reviews, five student-directed shows, and four Orchesis performances… Not bad for a non-major! Find me another school where I would have been afforded these opportunities.
Though I am known to my friends as being very talkative, I have always struggled in unfamiliar social settings. Being part of productions as a non-major helped me face some of my social anxieties as I was grouped with unfamiliar people and often put on the spot to think outside the box when acting. I never felt so uncomfortable and so empowered in my life. The skills I learned and refined while performing there have helped me in my current career path as a Ph. D. student in the special education field. Part of my job requires me to present to my peers, mingle with new faces, and respond to on-the-spot questions.
I attribute much of my success in my current career to my theatrical experiences at Geneseo and only look back with fondness. Brodie was a second home to me and where I met many lifelong friends and my wonderful husband.
John N. Kaczorowski, Class of 2007
English Teacher, Cheektowaga Central Schools
The Performing Arts department at SUNY Geneseo is unlike any other. In addition to the high level of instruction from faculty of the utmost quality, the opportunities to participate and perform in all walks of the arts are limited only by how much you want to sleep.
Some might say I lived in Brodie. They might not be too far off. I appeared on Geneseo stages countless times during my five years here as a Theater/English and Musical Theater: Voice Concentration dual major. From Symphony Orchestra and String Band to Chamber Singers and Student a cappella groups to Dance Ensemble to plays and musicals that ranged from student-written, one-performance plays to fully-produced faculty “Main-stages” (and who could forget MTC?), I was not only allowed, but encouraged to pursue instrumental, vocal, dance and theatrical study and performance at the same time. Many schools will force multiple-interest performers to choose only one walk of the arts to pursue and wind up inadvertently “pigeon-hole-ing” their graduates who decide to pursue performance at the professional level. My training and numerous opportunities to hone multiple crafts at Geneseo paved the way for a very successful career in regional theater including full seasons, multiple award nominations and wins, both individually and as part of an ensemble and being named Buffalo’s 2011 “Actor to Watch” by the Buffalo News.
I have often been told by professional directors that it is easy to spot a “Geneseo actor.” We are “punctual, thoughtful, prepared performers” who “take direction well” and “bring new ideas and choices to every rehearsal” and “continually add layers and dimensions to every role.” This is no accident. Geneseo actors are taught, mentored and shaped this way masterfully by a faculty that is second to none.
And I haven’t even mentioned my day job yet! Suffice it to say that as a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher, I have a hyper-critical audience at all moments of the day, be it administrative or student. Learning to deal with pressure, honing improvisational skills, gaining confidence and coupling proactivity with the ability to react effectively are all facets of an education from SUNY Geneseo’s Departments of Theater and Dance and Music. These by-products also come in handy for my decade-long recurring role of Creative Director of a summer theater camp, through which I have also received a community mentorship and service award, simply by emulating my own Geneseo mentors.
It is impossible for me to imagine my life being as rewarding as it is, personally and professionally, without Geneseo at its core. Oh… And marrying an intelligent, beautiful and gifted performer I met here was certainly a “perk.”
Hara Kang, Class of 2005
Professional Actor Licensed Real Estate Broker, Prudential Douglas Elliman, Easthampton, NY
The day I came to Geneseo, I didn’t expect anything from the school when it came to my ethnic background. I found that I was wrong, and I felt like I was given this unbelievable opportunity. That opportunity was GENseng, an Asian American student performance ensemble within the Theatre/Dance Department. Surprisingly I learned more about my culture from the four years that I’ve been at Geneseo than I ever did at home.
In thirteen years GENseng has done numerous productions about Asian and Asian American culture and history. I honestly have to say that I would not be where I am today without GENseng. I am a Real Estate agent in the Hamptons and an actor. GENseng helped me learn numerous skills that have helped me land – and keep -- a job in the Hamptons and enabled me to act in films, video game voice overs and theatrical productions.
Because of GENseng and the other opportunities I had to act in main stage shows at Geneseo, I have pursued an acting career and also met some of the closest friends that I will ever meet in my whole life. You come to rehearsal and you feel like you belong to something that really matters.
This is not just an experience, its a chance to get to know who you are and where you came from, your culture and yourself.
Most of all, I learned, "To be great, be whole; exclude nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you. Be whole in everything. Put all you are into the smallest thing you do."
Joan V. Monplaisir, Class of 2006
Peace Corps Volunteer MSW, Smith College School for Clinical Social Work Behavioral Interventionist, Peck Full Service Community School, Baltimore Mental Health Consultant, University of Maryland Center for Infant Study
I have always loved acting but I was very shy my first year at college. Being cast in my first production at Geneseo gave me so much confidence. And I was not only involved in onstage activities: for four years, I worked behind the scenes helping to build sets and hang lights for some amazing productions.
Acting on stage was an emotional release for me; I felt and still feel so at home on the stage. It was also quite challenging and through studying different characters, it brought me to higher levels of being able to understand how the world works. Being a part of Geneseo’s Theatre program definitely inspired me to study psychology, more specifically, forensic psychology. I found it intriguing to analyze the inner workings of people and ascertain why they do what they do. There were many professors who helped me discover what it means to be a person of color in theatre. So many thought outside the box and cast me in roles that may or may not have been ethnically specific. When I joined the Peace Corps after graduation, I took theatre with me to Zambia and used it as a form of therapy for women and orphans who had been diagnosed with or affected by HIV/AIDS. It is thanks to my experiences with Geneseo’s Theatre program and Peace Corps that I am pursuing my Masters in Clinical Social Work. I want to specialize in using play therapy/psychodrama in my work with children and adolescents. I am honored to be a "Brodie-ite" and “Tech Kid" alumna.
Mike Rosengarten, Class of 2006
Professional actor, musician, conductor
What’s the most important skill an actor/musician can possess? Networking. The first job I got playing in a Broadway pit was through networking. The position I was granted - to musically supervise and contract a recently Drama Desk nominated Off-Broadway musical - was through networking. And whom did I contract for that show? People in my network. One of whom a fellow Geneseo Alum. None of my accomplishments would have been possible without the interpersonal skills I learned being in a small yet diverse college atmosphere like Geneseo.
For me, the real question in choosing a school was whether to go for a conservatory program, or to get a liberal arts degree. Conservatory programs are wonderful in that they allow you to really focus on all facets of your chosen art. However, like most college students I wanted to explore multiple paths before I chose the one to which I would devote my life.
Geneseo was a place that allowed me to study theatre, but also spend time with people who are outside of the theatre world completely. My roommates and best friends were business, chemistry and communications majors. Learning to deal with people from all walks of life with such varied interests contributed greatly to how I approach my business.
Many conservatory programs don’t allow you to even set foot on stage for the first two years of your education. Some still bar you from performing in professional theatre outside of school, such as summer stock. At Geneseo, I got to perform on the main stage, right from my freshman year. I performed in multiple ensembles and student-directed plays and musicals. These experiences were truly transformative. Also, I was encouraged to audition at professional regional calls like “Straw Hats” and “NETC,” through which I earned roles in great summer theatres. It was through these jobs that I learned how to work, as a professional on stage. And the true payoff came when I graduated and already had a resume full of excellent credits.
The amount of growth I managed to pack into my four years at SUNY Geneseo is something I will always be grateful for, along with the fact that I was able to graduate free of student loan debt (I’m certain that is not something I could say had I chosen to attend a private conservatory.) It seems nearly every day I’m reminded of some lesson I learned there. Most of them were not even from classes, but just being around the kinds of remarkable people who populate Geneseo.
Nancy Kim, Class of 2006
Senior Research and Insights Analyst, Martha Stewart Omnimedia
Deciding to be a part of GENseng was one of the best choices in I could have made during my college life at Geneseo. I previously did not have any sort of experience in theatre or acting prior to college. In fact, my first-year resident advisor had tricked me into trying out for GENseng’s fall production of Yellow Fever and surprisingly I had gotten the female lead role of Nancy Wing, “cub girl reporter” in Rick Shiomi’s play.
After my first taste of the stage, I was hooked. I continued to do several more productions, including Falling Flowers (2004) and A [Korean] Comedy of Errors (2005) I strongly believe GENseng was a factor of my decision to switch from being an early childhood education major to graduating with a Communication and Media degree. I currently work for an advertising agency, and some of my enhanced skills, key requirements for success in my job, I attribute to my theatre training, such as the having had the opportunity to perform in a number sold out performances; this clearly had enhanced my confidence in public speaking. Now, during business meetings or networking events, I have no problems addressing large audiences and feeling confident enough to make my points clearly and succinctly.
Most importantly, GENseng had taught me about strong bonds. I met some of the most amazing people and friends from this remarkable program. I still remain close to several of my fellow actors. When we get together to share meals and good times, we always seem to find ourselves walking down the “memory lane” of our cherished moments in GENseng. We laugh, we smile and we share this very special connection that we’ll always have. It's great.
Dave Gordon, Class of 2006
PhD Candidate and MBA, Carnegie Mellon University Performer - Wannabe Superhero
During my four short years at SUNY Geneseo, I took to the stage as often as my schedule would permit: becoming a self-conflicted Auschwitz survivor, a twisted Mongolian war lord, or a socially (not to mention choreographically!) inept member of a 50's "boy band". With each new role, I learned - sometimes years later as I'd reread a script or watch an old performance - that realizing a character on stage allowed me to better understand part of myself. I wasn't just a doctoral student, MBA, or software engineer, and reducing (or allowing others to reduce) me these scant few resume-ready labels restricted me both from being who I was and from becoming who I wanted to be. Recognizing this diversity made me happier as a person and also helped me gain new academic, performance, and working opportunities after graduating.
As my fellow students and I embraced different aspects of ourselves on stage each evening, we were supported by teachers who taught by example through their work with us. I worked with directors who were just as willing to direct me underneath a proscenium arch as to discuss our mutual roots in Judaism, and vocal coaches who seemed to know just as much about life, philosophy, and the arts as they did voice technique. This showed me that I was defining those around me by their relation to myself: my friend, my family, my boss - which denied them the freedom to be whomever they chose, and also denied me the opportunity to learn all they had to offer. I began to believe that there was no reason friends couldn't be mentors, family - even nieces and nephews - couldn't be teachers, and bosses couldn't be peers. Though I have yet to embrace this fully and instinctively, it's allowed me to gain wisdom from the most unexpected of individuals as well as give others the patience and understanding I hope they'll give me.
Interestingly, one of the most valuable (and widely applicable) lessons I received was not only the shortest, but took the form of a question. At one point or another, nearly everyone has heard the adage that, "it's not what you say, but how you say it." However, taking this to heart is easier said than done. However, one director in particular had a knack for spotting when we, as students, knew what to say, but not how to say it. Each time I finished such a line, there would be the briefest of pauses followed by "Dave, what is your operative?" This would immediately cause me to re-examine the line for an alternative meaning or interpretation, and adjust my delivery of it to better communicate what I thought that alternative might be. Often times, when I feel I know what I want to say but not how to say it - whether it be in the context of a meeting, research presentation, or deep conversation - I think to myself "What is my operative?" and I know how to say what I mean.
Marisa Fratto, Class of 2006
MFA Candidate, American Repertory Theatre
Several years ago, I spent a semester studying at the Moscow Art Theater School as part of my MFA program at ART/MXAT at Harvard University. I know that partly why I was accepted into this program was because of the skills I brought with me from my undergraduate training at Geneseo. Most specifically, the fact that I was taught specificity of intention and action, proper ways to warm-up and focus myself for the work (you would be surprised the amount of people that have no idea how to properly warm-up!) as well as character development during my acting classes at Geneseo has allowed me to focus on really working moment to moment because I was taught from day one at Geneseo that my body was my instrument as an actor. Also, being an actor with whom people want to work requires you to be able to understand all elements of production. During my time at Geneseo I had the opportunity to learn about "backstage life"; the different roles in set design, lighting, sound, and costumes, which I think has helped me immensely as I am able to form sincere relationships with everyone on my creative team from crew members to costume designers because I understand how important their roles are to the production. Geneseo also offers you many chances to perform and this is vital to your work as an actor. Through all my work on the main stage, Vocal Miscellany, scene presentations, Chamber Singers concerts, even being a TA: all these things are where you really are able to practice your skills, learn from your peers, professors, and really make those leaps and bounds in your work. Most importantly, having a liberal arts education has been unbelievably beneficial because I was able to tailor my own education to my interests and goals. Deciding to take on another major in English has made me a better actor in terms of text analysis, research, and my knowledge of different genres of literature and theater. I am proud to speak of my undergraduate education at Geneseo because it truly plays a vital role in who I am today. Without it, I would never understand all the work that really goes into this profession, and it is a lesson for which I am truly grateful because it gives me confidence in all areas of my life both on and offstage.
Todd Quick, Class of 2006
Professional Actor Graduate Teaching Associate, Purdue University
I cannot overstate the impact my time in the Geneseo theatre department has had on my career. For me, the department’s strengths came from its small size. As a theatre major, I was offered an incredible amount of individual attention from the faculty, who each took it upon themselves to make a personal connection with me, and who each contributed significantly to my growth as an artist. In addition, because the program at Geneseo is a liberal arts education in the theatre, and not a conservatory, I was able to gain experience working in all aspects of theatre: acting, directing, producing, design, stage management and technical production – an experience that would not be possible in a larger program. I was able to draw on these experiences immediately after graduating Geneseo and entering the professional theatre world; in fact, several of my first acting jobs came my way specifically because I also knew how to stage manage a show and build a set. None of that would have happened without my time at Geneseo.
Currently, I am a working actor and a member of Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers. I am also pursuing my Master of Fine Arts degree in Acting at Purdue University, where my broad background in theatre arts at Geneseo has allowed me to earn a spot as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. I am privileged to be able to teach courses in Theatre Appreciation, Theatre History and Acting Techniques - all areas of theatre that I was immersed in while a student at Geneseo.
Erin Zimmerman, Class of 2007
Instructor, Academy of Theatre Arts, Buffalo, NY
As a young high school senior thinking about the future, I knew one thing for certain: theatre was the most important aspect of my life. I also knew that a life as a struggling artist/performer was not what I wanted. I figured I would find a compromise in being an English teacher who directed the high school musical or served as the advisor to a high school drama club and that would be sufficient. Lo and behold, I found that SUNY Geneseo had a specifically designed program that allowed a student like myself to receive a degree in Theatre and English, perfect for my life plan. Between that and my successful college visit, I was sold. Geneseo became my top choice.
The first semester of my freshman year I was registered for two beginner theatre classes, play analysis and introduction to technical theatre. Between these two classes I was immersed in every aspect of the theatrical world. I quickly learned that there were so many other things a person could do in the theatre besides be on stage. I gained experience in the scene shop and saw what happened behind the curtain. I began to understand what it was like to read a play and develop a concept for a production.
Needless to say, by the end of my first semester my time in class and experiences in the department had me hooked. I was eager and anxious to learn everything I possibly could. Gone were the ideas of teaching English and doing theatre in my spare time. I now knew that I could make a living in the theatre, and that was what I wanted to do.
Throughout the next four years I continued to take advantage of the numerous opportunities available to me. I often tell people that I gained the best possible education from Geneseo because as a liberal arts school I was able to take any theatre class offered. I didn’t have to choose to be a performance track or a technical track, which left me the freedom to take those classes I knew I would benefit the most from. I filled my schedule with production and performance classes, including acting, directing, stage management, and sound design. I worked part time in the scene shop and the box office, and was also a member of Alpha Psi Omega, the national theatre honor society.
Eight years later I am still employed full time at Academy of Theatre Arts, an afterschool program for children with its own theatre space. I have spent the past five years teaching, directing, working backstage, helping with technical elements, running front of house operations and fully absorbing myself in the world I have always loved. I can honestly say without my experiences in the Theatre/Dance Department at Geneseo I would not be able to do what I do every day. I spent four years in Geneseo developing and furthering my knowledge in theatre and my passion and love for it. I now spend my days passing that same knowledge, passion and love down to my students. It feels great to know I am putting my education to good use every day. My time in the program at Geneseo gave me the skills I needed to do my job and do it well. I am forever grateful to the program and what it has afforded me. It has been said that if you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life. I fully understand and appreciate that sentiment and I am lucky enough to say I know what that feels like first-hand.
Chris LaBanca, Class of 2006
Actor, Director, Producer, Educator
The two things I learned while studying theatre at Geneseo that have driven me to success is that you take nothing for granted, and that your art is a tool to change the world. You cannot take a part, or a show, or even an audition, for granted; you must work hard every single day to earn your living. To this day, the one show that I did at Geneseo that continues to inspire me is Tracers. As a cast, we bonded so closely over what we were accomplishing. We worked so hard for each other to make that show work that we were ready a full week before we opened. I really didn't like the script when I first read it. But by the time we were through as actors, it stands as my favorite production. But additionally, the number of people who spoke to me, even months later, about how much the show touched them was simply staggering!
Geneseo taught me that theatre can touch and change lives, and in turn, the world. Since leaving Geneseo, I've been a professional actor, the Director of Drama at SUNY Alfred, and started a rape awareness initiative called The Aegis Project. I am using my craft to change the world. It hasn't been easy to build it from the ground up, but the work ethic I developed at Geneseo has propelled me to success.
Michael D. Porter, Class of 2006
History and Economics Teacher Ashland-Jewitt-Windham Central Schools, Windham, NY
Theater at Geneseo provided me with the skills necessary to stand up in front of a class every day and perform for my students. As a teacher, I need to maintain the interest and attention of adolescents and have the guts to press on when it gets tough. Outside of school, I act regularly in community productions and keep in touch with with Geneseo alumni regularly, some of whom are my very best friends. I'm thankful for the opportunities I had to act in main stage, GENseng, and VegSoup productions, all of which helped me to develop my abilities and even to direct the student productions where I teach. I am a better teacher, a better student, and a better leader because of my experience with theater at Geneseo.
Melissa Lauricella Bergstrom, Class of 2005
M.A. in Theatre Education (focus on Theatre For Social Change), Emerson College Currently working in Boston, MA, as a freelance artist, actor, teacher and playwright
SUNY Geneseo gave me a well-rounded theatre education that has enabled me to wear many different hats in the field. In fact, during my time as a Theatre Performance major at Geneseo, it was both required and encouraged to examine theatre from multiple points of view, and to be mindful of how all the different elements of performance, design, and production worked together to create a unifying experience. The program allowed me to examine theatre in the context of society at large, investigating the role of the theatre in our world and the possibilities that lie in the power of performance. This point of view has continued to inspire me to never stop searching for innovative ways to use theatre as a transformational tool for dialogue and social change for communities at large. During my study there, Geneseo often brought in theatre artists from around the country and world to work with the students, and the effect of these encounters was monumental for me. I was able to work with Moises Kaufman (Tectonic Theatre Project), Roy Kift (Camp Comedy), and Theatre Mitu (NYC-based artist collaborative), all of whom influence the kind of culturally resonant work I strive to create today.
At the present time, my interest as both an actor and writer lie in creating documentary pieces of theatre that have the potential to affect social and political change, and I find that the seed for this passion was planted during my time at Geneseo. My work with professors and peers at Geneseo also inspired me to found my own theatre company in 2007, the Charlottesville Women’s Theatre Project. I am currently a Boston-based actor and teaching artist, earning my M.A. at Emerson College in the field of Theatre Education, with a focus in documentary theatre, theatre for social change, and community engaged work.
I find each day in my work at Emerson that I am grateful for my education at Geneseo and can say with confidence that the caliber of the program at Geneseo matches and often surpasses the experience my peers received at private undergraduate institutions. The chance to take on leadership roles in Geneseo’s Theatre Performance program have served me well; I am currently a Graduate Assistant for two of my professors at Emerson, sit on the Executive Board for the program’s student organization, and am currently developing a solo documentary theatre piece about women and war. Geneseo taught me that you should never limit yourself and that if you willing to focus and do the work, the possibilities are infinite.
Chuk Obasi, Class of 2005
Director/Actor, TE'A Project, NYC Company Choreographer, The NiteStar Program
I consider my time as a student in Geneseo to be an aspiring performing artist's dream. The relatively small class sizes, the multitude of outlets where you can perform, even the encouragement of students to create work for themselves... If you are serious about your craft, there is no excuse not to thrive here. As for life after college ... My first professional acting job in a play was offered after I auditioned with a monologue that I polished with coaching in the Department of Theatre and Dance for my junior review. From there it eventually becomes quite subconscious how tricks of the trade that you learn in school come in handy, but whenever you stop and reflect, you get it...
Fiona Lee, Class of 2004
Ph.D. Candidate, English Literature, City University of New York
GENseng has given me fond memories and grown friendships, but it has also helped lay the groundwork for my Ph.D research. As a Ph.D candidate in English specializing in postcolonial studies, my days are filled with reading histories of colonialism and resistance; decoding theoretical texts about power, oppression, culture, aesthetics, race, gender and nationhood; and mulling over the relationship between politics and culture, globalization and identity to write my dissertation.
It dawned on me recently that the stuff of my intellectual pursuits was being nurtured while I was involved with GENseng without my being aware of it. Recently, I met a scholar working on Korean comfort women and it occurred to me that my ability to engage in conversation with her about the subject was partly the result of all that I learned from the production of Falling Flowers as Ok Yeun (Spring 2004). When
I took a class on Chinese cinemas in which we talked about the impact of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on filmmakers, I realized that my knowledge of the subject began not from a lecture, but from playing Karen in Letters to a Student Revolutionary (Spring 2003). In a discussion about the history of Chinese immigration to the U.S., my contributions about Angel Island were not learned from a book, but from playing Chin Moo in Paper Angels (Spring 2002). GENseng taught me that ideas do not just come from books and classrooms alone, but that they germinate, take root and grow through performance and imagination.
Chaelon Costello, Class of 2003
Actor, Yoga Instructor
Many a late night was spent in Brodie Hall, as I remember, in my time at SUNY Geneseo. English was my major track, but somehow I managed to find a home for myself amidst the MTC’ers and School of the Arts. My involvement in the Theatre Department would actually be the catalyst to push me toward pursuing my MFA in Acting, which I received in May 2010 from The New School for Drama in New York City. NSD prides itself and its program upon collaboration and the ability for artists to get in a room and work together smoothly, respectfully, and hopefully, creatively. Each “cell” in my graduate program was comprised of actors, directors, and playwrights. We spent a great deal of time on the new works of these budding playwrights with our directing peers at the helm and our mouths, bodies, and spirits wrapped ourselves around these new works. What I had no unawareness of, until I hit the stride of my first year at NSD, was that Geneseo laid the foundation for me to be an excellent collaborator. I learned how to be in a rehearsal room, the absolute importance of -- if not demand for -- preparation, and generally just a love for my fellow artists. Whether it was a late night spent in Alice Austin getting ready for the next MTC show or those early morning weekend rehearsals or the rigor and sometimes athletic rehearsal processes of the Geneseo faculty for Main Stage and Black Box productions- it all translated into my becoming a reliable and generous actor, scene partner, and frankly, person. I have no doubt that my time at Geneseo laid the literal mortar for me to have a strong, focused foundation to stand on as I progressed and the confidence to know that if I am prepared and determined, I can accomplish exactly what I want. So not only have I completed my MFA: within a year of graduating I was selected to participate in the T.S. Eliot Old Vic/New Voices US/UK Exchange program. Thanks to that opportunity I spent a week in London with fellow New York City actors, directors, and playwrights putting on seven respective new works on the Old Vic stage for a full audience, workshops with The Factory, Frantic Assembly, and Kevin Spacey himself. I have also been a member of The Bats at the Flea Theatre, one of New York City’s most reputable Off-Off Broadway resident theatre companies. People always have told me that you become aligned on a path that is meant for you. I transferred into Geneseo almost on a whim my sophomore year and without that change, I would not be where I am today. I could not be more grateful.
Michel Marrano, Class of 2002
Sound Designer and Engineer, Blazing Music and Sound, North Carolina
The theatre program at Geneseo gave me the opportunity to discover a lifelong passion for sound design that led me to the career I have today. The direct, personal, one-on-one faculty support gave me the tools to be successful beyond my years at Geneseo. The program also taught me how to meet the demanding challenges of live theatre by giving me real world practice in a supportive environment. But most of all – it was fun! Some of my closest friendships were forged in the halls of Brodie Fine Arts Building which always felt like a “home away from home.” I would highly recommend this program for anyone who is interested in theatre.
Carl Marcelo, Class of 2001
Store Planner, Aeropostale, Inc. Founding Member and Coiner of the name,”GENseng”
What was only supposed to be a short play reading turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my Geneseo college career.
When GENseng first debuted in the Fall of 1999, only three roles were in Flipzoids, the first GENseng play – and only three students auditioned including myself. After quite a few meetings discussing the first idea and coming up with the name 'GENseng', the performance ended up being a huge success despite the little publicity, if any, GENseng got at that time. GENseng started out with no budget of any kind, no props, and minimal costumes. Since the first staged reading of Flipzoids, GENseng has "snowballed" into what it is today. After each performance, the audition count got higher, the talent got better, the audience got bigger, and before we all knew it, we had to turn people away from the Black Box because there just weren't enough seats or spaces left for people to sit in.
GENseng means more to me than just a play reading ensemble. What makes GENseng so special is that I was a part of something special. I remember going through long rehearsals late at night, making sure everything and everyone was achieving their best. I have seen many student actors, most of whom were not even Theatre majors, grow as actors as well as people. I learned a lot about different Asian backgrounds, histories, cultures, and theatres of which I was not aware before becoming involved with the Fall 1999 staged reading of Flipzoids. I met many different friends along the way through every production in which I participated from 1999 to 2001, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. It was definitely a very great and rewarding experience for me to be present on the ground floor and play a significant role in creating one of Geneseo's most popular theatre ensembles.
Today I am proud to say I am serving as a consultant to the GENseng production of Eye of the Coconut and giving back to the College and the GENseng family.
Stephanie Brush, Class of 1995
M.S. Education, Old Dominion University
The State University of New York at Geneseo Department of Theatre/Dance was instrumental in shaping my success both as a performer and teacher of performing arts. The analytical and technical skills I use on a daily basis -- from breaking down a script and analyzing a character to directing, choreographing, designing sets, and creating costumes for children’s theater -- all stem from my course work as a Geneseo theater major. While these fundamental skills have given me a solid foundation for working in the theater, I’ve discovered that more importantly, great work relies on inspiration, dedication, and self-discipline. I aspire to teach my own students these qualities of hard work and dedication, and I attribute my success as a teacher and leader in my community to lessons learned at Geneseo.
Anna Neaphyte, Class of 1995
When I first came to Geneseo Fall of 1991, my major was Studio Art with a minor in Psychology. The first was my tried and true talent up to that point, and the second was added on to appease my immigrant parents who just couldn't comprehend that a decent living can be made through the arts and arts alone. Much to their chagrin I ended up graduating with a Theatre major, and I am convinced in their eyes this was something of a let down. But from my perspective, I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing at that time to give me the proper foundation from which to build a fulfilling independent adult life.
Most of my young life I was very shy which is why art was my thing, what I did alone, after school, at home ... to pass the time. Discovering theatre (or rather theatre discovering me) was the equivalent of suddenly being given a key to a door you never knew existed. A world expressed through verbal and physiological communication. Art made manifest in 3-D... nay, 4-D! … and of course, a community consisting of unique, fearless individuals, some of whom became life-long friends and inspirations.
Acting started it all (first role, Inez in Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit), and then stagecraft, set/costume design, and finally directing. No other major would have enabled me to transform a work of fiction into a living, breathing, tangible product. And it is these skills that helped me pursue, not only countless creative ventures, but also successful corporate positions. Many people are terrified of public speaking because they have never had an opportunity to act in a play as an adult. Many people have ideas but don't know how to make them reality because they never had a chance to direct a play as an adult. And many adults never take chances because they haven't experienced being something other than themselves long enough to know that could be possible. Without my experience as a Theater major at Geneseo, including a robust program and very supportive faculty, I am not sure that I would've developed the confidence necessary to live a life all my own with no regrets.
Today, I am working full time at a job that I enjoy with people I respect and enough disposable income for creative pursuits like singing and songwriting. I perform at art openings, private parties and most recently for children. I love spending time in the recording studio and drawing on my life experiences to create performance art. I dream of doing bigger and bigger productions complete with live band, co-performers, dancers, video projections and a tour crew, and I know my Geneseo experience will play no small part in making those dreams come true.
Melanie Aceto, Class of 1995
MFA, New York University Assistant Professor of Dance, SUNY-Buffalo Artistic Director, Melanie Aceto Contemporary Dance
The Dance program at Geneseo allowed me to continue my dance training while studying Psychology and Spanish. Because Dance offered so many opportunities in terms of course work, performance, and choreography, my love of dance grew during my undergraduate days at Geneseo. After seeing one of the many professional guest dance company performances at Geneseo, I knew that I too had to dance.
The dance training, education, and individual attention that I received in the Geneseo dance program prepared me well for graduate dance program auditions. I was accepted to every school to which I applied – including New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, and SUNY Brockport.
After earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dance from NYU Tisch and dancing professionally in New York City for seven years, I now proudly teach in the Dance program at the State University of NY at Buffalo and have established my own dance ensemble, Melanie Aceto Contemporary Dance.
Joe Lomonaco, Class of 1993
News Anchor, WHAM 1180-AM Radio, Rochester, NY
I graduated from Geneseo with a degree in Communications. I succeed as a working writer, producer, director and voice actor because of the Department of Theatre and Dance. My coursework in Communications lead me to a career in radio broadcasting, a career I love (I’ve been privileged to voice hundreds of local, regional and national commercials, and I even have a recurring, featured role on the FOX animated series Family Guy), but my time spent with the Department of Theatre and Dance helped me to find my passions. Theatre showed me how to be a better writer, a better performer, a better director. Theatre taught me how to find new and better ways of engaging an audience. And my time with the Theatre and Dance Department gave me the courage to play and experiment and try new things. So now, thanks to everything I learned during my time in Geneseo, I get to be on the radio, and act, every day. And that is totally AWESOME!
Jonathan Hefter, Class of 1993
I spent much of my four years at Geneseo as an amateur schizophrenic.
Poli Sci major by day, Theatre rat at night.
Could have made a case for naming the path between Welles and Brodie after me, much of my afternoons spent stuffing my International Relations textbooks into my backpack, to be left untouched until long after rehearsal, where I learned that the day's fatigue was easily shed in favor of a script and some gaffers tape during a blocking rehearsal.
Acting's all I ever wanted to do, and at Geneseo I dove into all I could handle, while "safer" notions of a high school Social Studies teaching gig kept me shuttling back and forth between buildings, a part-timer on paper and in the heart.
I hit the Mainstage, but reveled in the Black Box work, appearing alongside soon-to-be-professionals in "Journey of the Fifth Horse", student productions of "Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth", undergrad-written and produced sketch and improv shows, MC'ing fundraisers, and generally hanging around as much as I could.
My years in Geneseo theatre inspired me to pack a bag for New York, where I lived and worked as an actor for over 15 years. I learned to trust my instincts, value collaboration, and remember to play.
The spectrum of acting and studying opportunities available at Geneseo instilled in me the drive to stick with it, the notion that skills can be developed, but the innate desire to pursue this illogical path was irreplaceable.
At Geneseo, I was treated as a professional for the first time; I learned the value of the many hands that together produce a show, and the costs of ego and arrogance.
I was encouraged, but not inflated. Pushed out of the nest, but with a kind wink from faculty and friends alike who had come to know me in a way I had always wanted to be known.
Now, I'm in operations for a worldwide live entertainment production company, and I act and direct on the side. I've learned to operate well in service of the final product, and acknowledge the voice in me that knows this is what I've always wanted to put my efforts towards.
I still have every script, every playbill...and those Poli Sci textbooks, too.
Keira Edwards Maher, Class of 1993
Reading Teacher and Speech Pathologist Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office
As a major in Speech Pathology, my course schedule was crammed with classes in that field. However, outside of those classes, I was inevitably drawn to Brodie. Countless theatre classes and almost every theatre production filled my time at Geneseo, and are easily the richest memories of college for me. More than having fun, more than learning specific skills for theatre arts, I was learning lessons for life.
Throughout my a varied post-undergraduate professional journey beginning with stagehand, followed by theatre electrician, stage manager, grad school (twice!) in Reading and Speech Pathology, and culminating in my current work as a Reading teacher, and Speech Pathologist, I have continuously drawn on the lessons learned in Brodie. The ability to organize information and material, and to delegate tasks to other colleagues I learned from running shows. Working as a team is crucial in a theatre production, and becoming adept at this skill has carried me far in my professional work. Being creative, adaptable, and calm when a prop was broken, an ankle sprained, or three pages of script were skipped impacts directly to being able to continue when therapy materials are missing, or a client needs medical attention during a session, or an assessment must be completed start-to-finish in thirty minutes. My time in Brodie also taught me carpentry, electrical skills, cooking, and cleaning, but most importantly, I experienced vibrant and lasting family bonds outside of my relatives. Theatre is life in every way imaginable.
A better question to ask is, “What didn’t theatre teach me?”
Christopher Duggan, Class of 1993
Professional Dancer and Wedding Photographer
The most important gem I got out of my years in the theater at Geneseo was unlocking my ability to be creative. I learned how to be inspired in my craft and to be innovative in my business, to be creative in my life. Geneseo gave me the foundation to live a life in the arts and to find my right place in it. I'm forever grateful to The Theater and Dance Department at Geneseo for teaching me to have the courage to blaze my own path and live a creative life.
Brendan Burke, Class of 1992
Producing Artistic Director of Shadowland Theatre, Ellenville, NY Adjunct Instructor, Department of Theatre, SUNY New Paltz
The intense and comprehensive general curriculum, hands-on, practical experience of the theatre program, and the strong, value-based friendships I developed at Geneseo have proven to be the most influential aspects of my time spent there. My day-to-day work running a theatre requires a diverse skill set that was born right here in Geneseo. The wide variety of classes in multiple departments and the comprehensive requirements of the theatre major gave me the skills I need to meet the varied demands of my career. The hands-on experiences of the department, in particular through the student produced directing program, mirror the variety of my current daily responsibilities: artistic, administrative, political and technical. But it is the long-term friendships established here that I cherish most.
I’ve been the lucky recipient of life-long relationships with a remarkable group of thoughtful, smart, fun, ambitious and responsible people who are involved in their communities and leaders in their fields. All in all, Geneseo has led me to an interesting and extraordinary life for which I remain grateful.
I was a theatre major in college, and I always imagined I’d make a life in the theatre, either as a director or an academic. Instead, I followed a path that led me from the Manhattan Theatre Club to MTV Networks to my current career as an Associate Creative Director at an advertising agency.
Over the years, people have been surprised and tickled to hear about my theatre degree (not to mention my unofficial minor in comparative religion). So it makes me interesting at cocktail parties and excellent at pub quizzes, but it gave me so much more than that.
My education gave me the ability to stand in an empty black room and create worlds. It taught me the rhythm and sensuality of language, the craft of story. It taught me how to swallow my fear, stand up in front of strangers, and persuade them to follow me into laughter or terror or grief. It taught me that evil can be charming, that goodness can be complicated, that love is sometimes a dagger plunged into your beloved’s heart. It taught me how to think on my feet, how to be in the moment. It taught me how to concept, how to improvise, how to riff an idea with a partner like we’re playing jazz.
A theatre education is nothing less than an education in what it means to be human. And no matter where life takes you, there is no overestimating the value of that.
Jeff Zampino, Class of 1992
Creative Director, Pinstripe Marketing
Producer, Litewave Media
In my four years as a student at SUNY Geneseo, I changed my major three times. Not until my junior year did I realize what direction I should take.
Though I am not officially pursuing theatre as a profession, both of my jobs are closely related to the arts.
As creative director for an ad agency, my job requires me to use several skills that a Theatre degree helped me to learn. The ability to speak in front of large groups, to think of unique solutions to problems, and to present work to clients are all essential skills in my job. My acting classes were definitely assets in my ability to excel in these areas.
My second job as producer for a small film production company is probably an even more direct offshoot of my degree. Knowing how to set up shots, “block” actors and create visual interest were all skills learned in my directing and set design classes. Working within a budget (especially a ‘shoestring’ budget) is also a common challenge I learned to manage.
I treasure my time in Geneseo not only for my lifelong friends, (some of whom I still work with) and professors (with whom I also work as poster designer for main stage and GENseng productions) but also for the visual and graphic skills that I gained in the Art Studio Department.
Eileen Buerkert, Class of 1991
Professional Singer, Massage Therapist
Although I was a Music major at SUNY Geneseo, most of the time it felt as if the Theatre department was truly my home away from home. I learned humility, I learned how to be bigger than life, I learned that sometimes, people are harder on you because they know you are capable of more. When I went on to graduate school at Indiana University to concentrate on a career on the operatic stage, I realized that a lot of singers are uncomfortable with the acting requirements of their roles. I never felt anything but confident. I was grateful every day for the skills I learned on the stage and in the classrooms of the drama department at Geneseo. And I have the faculty at SUNY Geneseo Department of Theatre and Dance and my peers to thank for that.
Lillian Murphy, Class of 1991
Professional Makeup Artist Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University Member, Grammy Award-winning Chicago Symphony Chorus Supplemental Member, Grant Park Symphony Chorus Administrative Assistant, Marketing and Custom Program Teams, Executive Education
SUNY Geneseo was a very important part of my development as a performer, a citizen, and a student of life. Like so many others who have been involved in the Theatre Department over the years, I had big dreams of making my way in the world as an artist, even if I wasn't always sure what kind of artist I would be. Geneseo gave me the opportunity to explore everything and to try everything -- backstage and onstage, from one-act plays to readings to full-length musicals. The breadth of experience I was able to receive, plus individual attention and support from the department, has proven invaluable to me since graduation. I knew how to balance multiple projects, how to express myself, how to audition, and how to work as a part of a team as well as a soloist. After finishing graduate school in Indiana and moving to Chicago, I joined the Chicago Symphony Chorus (CSC), one of the most esteemed professional symphony choruses in the U.S., in 1999. In 2010 the CSC won a Grammy Award for Best Choral Performance for our recording of Verdi's Requiem (Riccardo Muti conducting). Winning the award as a member of the CSC was truly exciting, but even more exciting was being given the opportunity to take a picture of myself with the award (plus the award the Chicago Symphony Orchestra won for Best Classical Album!) in the fall of 2011.
Don Scimé, Class of 1988
Professional Theatre Artist
Being a Theatre Major at Geneseo prepared me for happy accidents. I remember reading about The Living Theatre in my Experimental Theatre class. Just recently, I had the fortunate opportunity of acting in an original play there -- with founding artistic director Judith Malina watching in the audience. As someone primarily focused on performance, I remember taking my required directing class, at first thinking “This is the last time I’ll use this.” As part of my first paying job after graduation, I was asked to direct three one-act plays for the (former) Studio Arena Theatre School in Buffalo, NY. I thought I’d never write my own work as an actor. But I truly believe that every play I was asked to read, every light I hung, all those days in American, Asian and European Theatre classes, every moment I sat onstage and every moment I was asked by a Geneseo professor, “Why is this working or not working?” has helped inform my work as a storyteller. People often consider a Theatre degree “impractical”. I disagree. Geneseo not only taught me to question, it gave me practical skills for my future: I have acted in, written and produced the SAG feature film, The David Dance which was a recipient of the Panavision New Filmmaker Grant, and performed in my own theatrical version of that film as part of The New York International Fringe Festival and in Washington, D.C. I am a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and The Academy Company, where I received The Charles Jehlinger Award for Best Actor and The American Theatre Wing Scholarship. I’m also a member of AEA and AFTRA.
Steve Bonnadonna, Class of 1988
Technical Design Manager,M.G. McLaren Engineering Group, Yorktown Heights, New York
I never planned on being a Theater Major….I was supposed to build the Bionic Man.
I didn’t really think I’d be working for Oscar Goldman at the OSO repairing crash landed astronaut test pilots, but that was the path I was headed down when I started college. I started with strong determination but no idea of what life would be like when I left the tiny town of Nunda (pop. 2,700) for the University of Illinois (pop. 48,000 undergraduate students). To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement.
I was chased back home and spent a year at community college, soul searching, before I decided to restart the pursuit of the Bionic Man a bit closer to home. I came to Geneseo with two years of college under my belt and a plan to acquire an undergraduate degree in Biology, on which I would build graduate programs in Biomechanics.
Along the way, I found the Brodie Commons. I hung out there quietly, doing my Biology and Chemistry and Physics homework, watching the music majors and theater majors and dance minors. Before long, they noticed me too. I distinctly remember the day near the end of my first semester when I was approached by one of the more outspoken drama people. She said to me in her Long Island accent, “So….I’m Stephanie. Who are you?”
The course of my life had just changed forever. We talked for about 20 minutes and at the end of our conversation, she asked if I would be interested in working on her production of The Fantastiks over the Winter break. I had actually grown up around community and high school theater and thought it might be fun. Plus, I was beginning to really like these people that I hadn’t yet taken the opportunity to get to know. From that production, I moved on to second; then a third; then a fourth. In the following Fall, I became a Technical Assistant in the scene shop and continued working on show after show, gaining knowledge, responsibility and most importantly; friendships.
The crisis of conscience came at the end of my third semester at Geneseo. What about the dream? Steve Austin needed me, didn’t he? I took a sabbatical from classes, but oddly enough, I didn’t stop working on productions. The urge was too strong. I needed the work. I needed the community. Without realizing it, I had found a new calling.
My professional life has showed as much evolution as my search for a vocation, though I have remained firmly in the entertainment field since leaving school. I started working for a scenery fabrication shop after college and after several months found my way back to live theater at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ. My shop experience, both academically and professionally, helped me weather the ebbs and flows of seasonal regional theater as well as becoming a foundation on which to develop professionally. I graduated from carpentry/welding to layout to become an assistant foreman, a draftsman and a machinery designer, all fueled by the lessons learned developing as a theater major at Geneseo.
In 1996 I headed for the lights of Broadway via the stage door of PRG-Scenic Technologies, one of the shops that provide scenery and automation for those productions. I was hired in the engineering department as a technical designer and soon found myself selected as the Project Engineer for our company’s foray into the world of amusement parks. This proved to be another chance encounter that totally altered the path of my life, but by now change and evolution had become SOP. I spent 15 years at PRG as a draftsman, technical designer, project engineer, project manager, installation director and department head before finally figuring out what I wanted to do when I grew up.
In May, 2011, I removed myself several steps away from live production and several steps closer to Steve Austin; or at least toward animatronics developed in the large scale for the entertainment industry. As a Technical Design Manager for the Entertainment Division of the McLaren Engineering Group, I find myself at what I consider to be the most interesting part of production: the beginning. Here I work collaboratively with over a dozen mechanical and structural engineers and a client base of hundreds of the most talented individuals in the world. Projects range from analyzing deck platform systems to rigging system adequacy and safety to designing the largest performing animatronic robots in the world. It’s fascinating. It’s challenging. It’s fulfilling. And most of all, it’s never dull.
Geneseo and the Fine Arts Department took me in and welcomed me. It supported me. It respected me and challenged me. It taught me that the way to success was through collaboration and communication. It taught me that someone needs to be in charge, but not at the exclusion of listening to others. It taught me that sometimes you need to do the grunt work and that there is satisfaction in that as a member of a larger team. There weren’t any “light bulb” moments, just an ever-present feeling of belonging and community. Eventually, there was the realization that you can live your life that way. I’ve taken those lessons with me and have used them every day.