Alumni Profiles: 1980-1999

Class of 1995

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

  • Independent Artist

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.

Class of 1993

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

  • Professional Actor

I spent much of my four years at Geneseo as an amateur schizophrenic: Political science 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.

Class of 1992

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.

Stefanie (Henkin) Gunning, Class of 1992

  • Associate Creative Director, MRY Advertising Agency, NYC
  • Creative Writer

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.

Class of 1991

Lillian Murphy, Class of 1991

  • Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University Member

  • Professional Makeup Artist, Grammy Award-winning Chicago 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.

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.

Class of 1988

Don Scim?, 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.

Class of 1986

Merete Muenter, Class of 1986

  • Director/Choreographer
  • Speech Communication Major / Dance Minor

My four years at SUNY Geneseo provided me with experience that I continuously use in the "real world", not only in my theatre career, but in my social circles as well. I majored in Speech Communication and minored in Dance, and I am constantly using what I learned in both of those programs to pursue my life and work in New York City. Whether it is in front of an audience, in front of a camera, or face to face contact, everything I do now stems from what I learned on that beautiful campus.

I was fortunate to be a part of the enriching dance and theatre program at Geneseo, because it provided me with opportunities to audition and perform as a freshman and sophomore, which so many other university programs don't allow underclassmen to do. Because of this, I learned how to audition and how to really perform throughout all four years, which built my confidence as a dancer and as a person. Auditioning early in college put me in a competitive environment that provided immediate constructive feedback about what I needed to work on regarding my strengths and weaknesses, and how I could improve the quality of my dancing in order to be noticed at auditions beyond the walls of the Brodie building. This was invaluable to me as part of my education not only in the dance department, but also in my other classes, because it taught me how to present myself with poise, how to keep calm under pressure and to be resilient upon rejection, and how to strive to reach the next level in terms of technique, professionalism and performing. I learned how to be a team player, working with artists and classmates who all had a common goal; to throw caution to the wind and create the best work possible. The unity that resulted from the creative atmosphere resulted in unbreakable emotional bonds with my fellow dancers and theatre performers that are still going strong today. These tight friendships and the incredible respect we all had for each other made our performances on stage even more rewarding.

Additionally, I gained knowledge about how to be a good businesswoman in terms networking, promoting myself, getting the work and improving on what I had done previously, and thus achieving the goals I had set for myself. With the supportive faculty and the nurturing environment that allowed me to make mistakes and learn from them in order to find my niche as a dancer and performer, I learned how to make myself stand out in a crowd. The faculty at Geneseo taught me how to embrace and promote my individual qualities as a person that would make me a unique candidate for any kind of work that I would pursue after graduation, whether it was theatre, or something totally unrelated.

It was also a huge bonus that I could study dance intensely, learn about the technical side of theatre through the student-run productions, and also audition for and perform in the musicals and plays in the drama and music departments. Nothing was exclusive or divided into separate dance, music and theatre communities. Everything was shared between the young artists/students in the Brodie Commons and on every Brodie stage. I performed in the dance concerts, in the musicals and also in a play, and I choreographed and assistant directed a student-directed musical as well. I learned so much not only from the faculty, but also from being constantly exposed to students who possessed a different expertise from my own. I have spoken to alumni from other colleges who were not allowed to mingle or perform with other departments the way we were at Geneseo, and because of that I know for sure that I chose the right university to attend. By the time I graduated, I had gained enough confidence to dive into the world of theatre and actually be able to swim, not just paddle.

I received my first professional dancing job through a contact at Geneseo. That started the foundation for what has been a very long and fruitful career for me, performing as a professional dancer in musicals and dance concert work for twenty years, working in NYC, on tour, regionally and internationally, and now I work as a musical theatre director and choreographer. I was taught by a passionate faculty who cared that we learned things as correctly and as thoroughly as possible. I was surrounded by students who possessed no fear about trying anything, which encouraged me to have no boundaries with my creativity. We continue to cheer each other on even all of these years later. I am still in touch with a large number of my dance and theatre friends and faculty from Geneseo, and my life has been so meaningful because of them. I am truly blessed and I feel honored to be a part of the "Meet Our Alumni" roster.