Geva Alliance Spotlights Brockport Theatre Talent
Through full-access internships and events on campus, Brockport students are well prepared for roles on and off the stage.
In the first semester of her freshman year at Brockport, two pivotal things happened for Teresa Campbell ’14: she learned that the College had a professional partnership with Geva Theatre Center, and she went to Geva to see its production of A Christmas Carol. She knew she needed that environment to be an integral part of her college experience.
Initiated in 2000, the College’s alliance with Geva — the most attended regional theatre in New York State and one of the 25 most subscribed in the country — allows Brockport students to gain unique insight into the operations of professional theatre, through programs at the College featuring guest instructors, lecturers, and artists from Geva, as well as internships at the theatre, in which more than 50 students have participated.
“I was visiting a family friend in Germany and barely had an Internet connection when the email came through confirming I got the internship,” Campbell said. “I was so happy, I was crying!”
The experience did not disappoint. One of the highlights was acting in a world-premiere play at Geva, All Your Questions Answered, by Tony Award–winning playwright Greg Kotis. As part of the 2013 First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival, Kotis worked closely with Campbell and Geva’s nine other interns that fall (another four of whom were also Brockport students) to produce the play.
“For us 10 young people to be a part of this —,” Campbell said, at a loss for words. “I don’t take it for granted.”
One day, the students were handed sheet music that Kotis had just written that morning. “My hands were shaking!” said Campbell. “No one else had heard this music before.”
It is this level of access on which the alliance prides itself. Skip Greer, Geva’s director of education, says the partnership fits well with the theatre’s mission.
“A career in the arts is often acquired through apprenticeship — it’s been passed on that way for generation after generation — and it’s always been a part of our mission to provide artistic apprenticeship to our community. Teaming up with Brockport affords us the invaluable opportunity to launch many young artists into the world,” said Greer.
The internships are rarely based in acting alone; students also delve into other interests, from costumes to publicity to company management.
“A theatre professional with a liberal arts background and professional experience before, or shortly after, graduating from college is uniquely positioned to move into the professional world,” said Frank Kuhn, theatre professor and interim chair of the Department of Theatre and Music Studies, who serves as the College’s liaison with Geva.
Michael Sheehan ’08 was among the early Geva interns. Working under the theatre’s general manager, he handled contracts for actors and directors, assisted the company manager, worked in the education department, and observed rehearsals.
“The Geva staff were great about having me experience a little bit of everything,” Sheehan said. After his internship, he held various roles with Geva for another seven years. He is grateful to have been introduced to the administrative operations in addition to the on-stage experience.
“Geva opened up the doors to this whole world of administrative theatre that I didn’t really know or think about beforehand as a path into the arts,” he said.
That path is precisely the niche in which Sheehan now works. While he continues to act in productions all over the country (he recently played Van Helsing in a production of Dracula in Kentucky), he is based in New York City and works as the producing director and education director for Powerhouse Theater, a company specializing in the development of new plays and musicals.
“It all started with Geva and with Brockport, with each step leading to the next,” Sheehan said. “It’s all about the connections you make, and Geva was a huge part of that for me.”
The same is true for Campbell, who now lives in New York City and works with Tectonic Theater Project, which, in its 25th-anniversary season, is also celebrating its artistic director Moisés Kaufman’s receipt of a National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.
The Geva staff made Campbell feel they appreciated her contributions, too. “I was never thought of as just an intern,” she said. “In meetings, my voice was heard just as much as the professional staff. I was so appreciative to have my identity and role recognized — to be given a voice.”
Kuhn emphasizes how integral — and rare — these connections are. “It is unique for a liberal arts program to have an internship with a professional theatre,” he said. “It gives students a taste of the real world of professional theatre, and an opportunity to see, first of all, if it’s really for them, and, secondly, what opportunities there are in the profession.”
For several alumni, that preparation led to a career right at Geva: Ian Hildreth ’09 works as Geva’s sound engineer, Jenny Daniels ’09 as union assistant stage manager, and Angela Giusepetti ’12 as assistant company manager.
A Christmas Tradition
From its inaugural production in 2010 through to the present day, Brockport interns have been a part of Geva's A Christmas Carol. Matt DeLuca ’16 is part of this year’s ensemble. DeLuca completed his bachelor’s degree in theatre in May, then spent the summer studying acting at the Stella Adler Summer Conservatory in New York City. He’s now back in Rochester to intern with Geva, not for academic credit but for professional credit. The Geva partnership extends to Brockport students who completed their degrees one semester prior.
As they’ve prepared over the last few weeks to kick off their Christmas Carol run — on stage now through December 24 — DeLuca and company have been swept up in 12-hour tech rehearsal days, though he says they don’t feel that long. Since Geva has produced this show for seven years now, he feels they’ve got it fine-tuned like a science.
Throughout the show’s preparation, DeLuca has been working alongside the Brockport alumni on staff there. He called it “encouraging” to work with theatre professionals who came from the same place he did. “It’s really cool to have the professionals helping you out,” he said.
Also performing in this year’s Christmas Carol ensemble are Heather Leary ’16 (theatre major and women’s studies minor), Jared Morgan ’16 (theatre major), Alexis Russo ’16 (dance major and theatre minor), and current intern Adam Urbanic ’17 (theatre and computer science double-major).
Geva at Brockport
The internship program is only one part of the alliance. Through several other avenues, Geva talent comes to the Brockport campus.
A lecture series, Stage Whispers: Conversations with Theatre Professionals, brings in two guest artists or staff from Geva each semester to talk to students and community members. The next Stage Whispers event features Christopher Mannelli, executive director of Geva. Free and open to the public, his talk will be held Thursday, December 8, at 10 am in the Tower Fine Arts Center’s Black Box Theatre.
Each semester, the College hosts an instructor from Geva, teaching courses such as Geva from the Inside, Page to Geva Stage (being offered in spring 2017, exploring how the texts being produced are developed), and Acting for the Camera (being offered in fall 2017).
Geva artists also offer a workshop every semester. This fall, an actor from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum offered a workshop on tools for discovering a character in a text. Past workshop topics have included stage combat, wardrobe, and comedy.
In addition, a director from Geva offers audition workshops for Brockport students each year, and students are invited to audition for Geva’s actor files. Theatre majors also receive complimentary tickets to Geva productions.
“Brockport is incredibly lucky that, of all the schools in the area that have theatre programs, we are the ones who got this,” said Sheehan. “It really ups the ante on what Brockport can offer its students.”