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ONU theatre alumni shine in leading careers, show promise to undergraduate students

ONU's Department of Theatre Arts invites everyone to participate in the magic of theatre. (ONU photo/Communications & Marketing)

ONU's Department of Theatre Arts invites everyone to participate in the magic of theatre. (ONU photo/Communications & Marketing)

Musical composer Stephen Sondheim once said, “I certainly wanted my name in lights. I wanted my name on a marquee. I wanted recognition on Broadway.”

For artists, it’s a liberating feeling when one’s work is recognized in front of an audience. Actors attend countless number of auditions during their careers, all in hopes of catching their big break on a Broadway stage. Some achieve that dream, but most do not.

Broadway is the Olympics for actors. They accept the brightest, most talented actors in the theatrical world to transform themselves into leading characters in front of a New York City audience. When an actor receives that special call from that well-known casting director, his or her life has changed forever.

Ohio Northern University’s Department of Theatre Arts is a training ground for the ins-and-outs of Broadway. The department prepares its students to become stage professionals as actors, dancers, singers, and backstage managers through degrees in theatre, musical theatre, and international theatre production. Minors are available in arts administration and dance.

The theatre department is unique among its national peers, providing seven to eight theatrical productions annually for students to showcase their many skills. And, not all of those experiences happen on the stage. After all, there are sets to build, props to be groomed, and lighting and sound equipment to enhance each show. And, with the guidance of skilled professors, ONU students successfully operate a show as if they were working on a Broadway production.

“Our productions give students a chance to put theory into practice, and provide many high-impact learning opportunities each year,” said Laurie Bell, the department’s chair and professor of dance.

“The students get a very hands-on program,” added Kathleen DeVault, the ONU Freed Center’s production manager and resident lighting designer. “We do more productions than most universities our size, so the students have more opportunities to perfect what they have learned in classes.”

The department also affords its students opportunities to become involved in an on-campus comedy troupe, coffee house cabarets, and other unique extra-curricular activities. The department also welcomes about 30 guest artists, including professional directors, light designers, and costume designers each academic year.

“If you multiply that over a student’s four years at ONU, the student should have a well-established professional network before graduation,” remarked Bell.   

That network also includes several alumni who have been living the dream since leaving Ada.

  • Mary Beth Donahoe, a 2014 musical theatre alumna, is currently in the ensemble and being understudy for the lead role of Belle in the national tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
  • Brady Miller, a 2015 musical theater alumnus, is performing in the national tour of the musical 42nd Street, a show in which 2013 international theatre production alum Saori Yokoo is on the production crew. Yokoo also worked as an intern for the national tour of the popular musical Wicked, and has assisted with the national tour of Bring it On: The Musical.
  • Glenn Stanton, a 2008 musical theatre graduate, has been featured in several television productions, including Sirens, Chicago Fire, and the upcoming Fox show, Rosewood.
  • Brandon Price, a 2007 theatre alumnus, has performed as a member of the Missoula Children’s Theatre, one of America’s most famous children’s theatres. He enhanced his ONU degree with a master’s degree in educational theatre from Emerson College.
  • Bryan Beckwith, another 2007 theatre graduate, is thriving in the Chicago area, acting in theatre productions, improvisation groups, sketch-comedy groups, as well as television and film projects.
  • Joe Disbrow, a 2013 international theatre production alumnus, is currently assisting with the national tour of The Irish Tenors, and helps with sound engineering at The Goodman Theatre.

"It’s very rewarding to see our alumni happy, successful, and discovering so many ways to use the knowledge and skills gained during their time at ONU,” remarked Bell, citing that many ONU theater alumni have successful careers as teachers, and are showcasing their talents in civic productions in their communities.

DeVault added, “You can be extremely successful and not be on Broadway. Many of our students find work in regional theatres, on cruise ships, at theme parks, in television, and in commercials, and have fulfilling careers.”

Joan Robbins, dramaturge and professor of theatre, said, “Theatre training at ONU enriches students as human beings, making them better collaborators, as well as promoters of the arts, regardless of the professions they ultimately pursue.”

Laurie Bell concluded, “For the future of ONU theatre, I would like to see us build upon the quality experience we currently provide, and expand the curriculum to meet the needs of changing technology and requirements of the professions of our majors. I want us to prepare students to go out into the world being capable and confident of the education and artistry gained during their time at ONU.” 

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