Getting to Know You: Some heartfelt insight from the Musical Theatre B.F.A. Class of 2016

SENIORS 2016

IXCHELIxchel Cuellar from San Francisco, CA

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State? 
If you want something, work for it everyday. You can transform in four years if you put your mind to it. 
 
What is your most treasured memory from the last four years?
Performing at the President's Tailgates with my classmates! It was a tradition that I cherished watching since the beginning of my freshman year and it was so special to finally get to share that Penn State tradition with my class. 
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you? 
Susan Russell's History of Musical Theatre Class changed my life! 
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
While in school, it is so easy to get swept away in your goals within the program. But remember, you are a human first. Take time for yourself. Remember what is important to you as a human and work for those things just as hard as your class work. Your mental health is imperative while going through such an intense training program. 
 
Also, take advantage of EVERYTHING this campus has to offer. Penn State is such a special place that has so many incredible things going on everyday. Don't let four years go by without leaving the School of Theatre!
 

ERICAErica Durham from Pittsburgh, PA

​​What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
The biggest thing I will take away has to be the amazing friendships I have made within my class and this entire musical theatre community. I have made friends that have been there for me through every step of the past four years and I know that even after I leave Penn State, I always have that amazing support system. 
 
What is your most treasured memory from the last four years?
My most treasured memory has to be coming out for my bow on the opening night of 110 in the Shade, where I had the great privilege to play Lizzie Curry. This moment means so much to me because I felt every year of training here at Penn State transform into a performance I was very proud of.
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you?​
Oooo, this is a tough one. I think the class that had the strongest impact on me has to be Acting 420 with Richard Robichaux. This class really pushed me as an actor and changed my perspective on what it is that we do as storytellers. I feel like a bolder and better actor because of it. 
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
As cliché as it sounds, enjoy every minute of your time at Penn State, as it goes by so quickly. Also, learn as much as you can. You have so many wonderful opportunities to try new things and meet new people that have a different point of view than you that it would be such a waste to not explore. 
 
The dream or goal that most excites you?
Honestly, I am just excited to start the journey that is going to be my career in this business. Penn State has given me such wonderful tools that I cannot wait to get out into the "real world" and show em' what I've got! 
 

COURTNEYCourtney Echols from Scottsdale, AZ

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
At Penn State, I have learned so much about myself, and have grounded myself as an artist and human; I am now confident in myself and in my abilities, and cannot wait for the next chapter of life! Even though soon I will be among the thousands of performers auditioning in New York, I am the only Courtney Echols in New York.
 
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? 
I was born with poor eyesight, as I have strabismus, which means I am far-sighted and have astigmatism, and therefore started wearing glasses at 18 months old. I wore thick corrective lenses until fifth grade, and was then informed a lab in New York City can attempt to make contacts for eyes. Fortunately, the scientists at the lab were brilliant, and I now wear contacts that are made in this lab in New York City. If I could wake up tomorrow with perfect eyesight, that would be amazing. But for now, I am content with my contacts and glasses! 
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you?​ 
This was a tough question because almost every faculty member has positively influenced me immensely over the past four years. I'd have to say acting class fall semester of my junior year with Richard Robichaux was definitely life changing. This class was only offered one semester with Robichaux as the instructor, and I am so honored to have taken this class with him. He has a very specific teaching style, nothing like I had ever experienced—very blunt, straightforward, and probably the most honest feedback I have ever received. The simplicity of his teaching style and the honest nature of his acting really inspired me as a young actress. 
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students? 
I would tell prospective students to take full advantage of Penn State, as this university has so, so much to offer. For example, join a club that interests you, get involved in THON, look into Greek life, maybe even start up your own club! It's very easy to overlook the many opportunities at the university when you are focused on your grades and in rehearsal and balancing all the general education classes. It's truly a wonderful university nestled in such a lovely town, so take full advantage of every second here at Penn State! 
 
What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? 
My ultimate dream, since the age of 10, is to perform on Broadway, just like every other musical theatre major out there. Haha. I grew up dancing, starting at 3 years old, and when I saw my first musical at age 10, I told my parents I wanted to move to New York and perform on Broadway. I have not stopped pursuing my dream since then, and am grateful for my extremely supportive family and friends that have assisted me in this journey. Thank you Penn State for helping me get one step closer to achieving my dream! 
 

SCOTTScott Fuss from Arroyo Grande, CA

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
The ability to find happiness regardless of the circumstances.
 
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
A full head of hair.
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you?​
Steve Snyder/Shakespeare.
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
Be kind, to yourself and others.
 
What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?
Going to France with no plan. 
 

TOMMYTommy Hart from Dallas, TX

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
There isn't one correct way to be an artist. Do what works for you and run with it.
 
​If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be? 
I want to be able to do the splits! Flexibility has always been one of my weaknesses.
 
​Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you?​ 
Dr. Bev Patton and Raymond Sage have helped me strengthen my voice in incredible ways over the past four years. They've been a constant source of wisdom and support, and they've kicked my butt when I really needed it. I can't thank them enough.
 
​One piece of advice you would give to prospective students? 
Set goals for yourself! Make a plan! Achieve them! If you fail, then reassess and try again! You'll be surprised what you can accomplish. 
 
What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? 
Perfecting the protein pancake recipe—not too fluffy, not too thin.
 
Anything else you'd like to say to the Penn State Musical Theatre community?​ 
Thank you Penn State! You taught me to play hard, and work harder.
 

KATIEKate Johnson from Greenville, NC

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
I will take away so many things from my time here. However, I think the most important thing I have learned is that with hard work, anything is possible. 
 
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
I would want to gain the ability to eat whatever I wanted and stay skinny. Haha, no, just kidding, I would probably want to gain the ability to stay patient because sometimes it's really hard. 
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you?​
Mary Saunders changed my life. I really couldn't sing well when I came to school here and Mary believed in me and helped me improve more than I ever thought I would. 
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
To prospective students, I would tell you to cherish and take advantage of everything you can learn in the program but not to forget to take advantage of the community and world around you, too. 
 
The dream or goal that most excites you?
Being a mom!! After being on Broadway, of course! 

 

CONNORConnor Jones from Houston, TX

What’s the biggest thing you’ll take away from your time at Penn State?
The importance of training and letting your craft and personal self have a constructive environment to ferment and mature. 

What’s one of your most treasured memories from the last four years?
The first day of snow during my freshman year. A few of the other southerners in my class and I woke up to snow for the first time, ran out, and played for hours. It was magical.

What was one of your favorite classes at Penn State?
My favorite class is “Business of the Biz.” There are so many general life lessons that the education system neglects to tell you about that you learn in this class: How to transition into adulthood not only with your finances and networking, but emotionally and how to shift your perspective to make life work for you personally. They are great lessons to learn, and I recommend that every student take this class. My favorite teacher is Richard Robichaux. Funnily enough, I probably had him the least amount of time. He is just an immensely intellectual human being, who, even when criticizing your work, can make it seem eloquent and bring about a life lesson with every opportunity. He truly cares for his students, and takes great pleasure in watering our minds. 

What advice would you give to prospective students?
Don’t stress!! Every single thing you may think is dire and necessary to get perfect, is not. I didn't realize until my last semester that I put way too much thought into everything I did here, when all I needed was to try and put myself into everything I did, not try to be perfect. University is a place to find who you and your craft are, not a place to perfect. Be open, take any opportunities given to you, and let go of what doesn’t work out for you. Everything is a learning experience, not a test. 

What are you dreaming about next?
The dream or goal that excites me most doesn’t really have to do with theatre, but rather, my person. I believe this is important to remember, because an actor can only portray as much as they have experienced themselves (so don’t forget to feed yourself along with your craft). My dream is to visit as much of the world as possible, to experience as many cultures as I can, and gain new insights from every bit of it. Luckily, a musical theatre career can help me do this as well. 
 

CHRISTINAChristina Kidd from Fairfax Station, VA

​What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
My four years at Penn State were plagued with ups and downs, and I was forced to find my own strength. I have had some difficult times here, but I wouldn’t trade my experiences for easier times because dealing with hardships has made me who I am. I know myself so much better than when I went into school. I’ve learned to be resilient and to make peace with myself. I’ve learned how to have courage and to keep fighting for myself and for what I believe in.
 
What’s your most treasured memory?
The summer before my junior year, Penn State Centre Stage produced Next to Normal in the Pavilion Theatre. Acting in this particular musical has been a dream of mine since I saw the original 2009 production, and it was an incredible honor to play the role of Natalie in a professional setting. Working in this show taught me important lessons; Natalie was my most dramatic role to date, teaching me that I am equipped to handle serious roles, and Next to Normal was my very first rock musical, which has pretty much become my signature style of show! Most importantly, Next to Normal solidified in my mind just how powerful live theatre can be in terms of addressing the human condition and opening people’s minds and hearts. It was a humbling and gratifying experience. 
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had the strongest impact on you?​
Every teacher at Penn State’s School of Theatre has had a significant impact on me, but one class in particular stands out as going above and beyond my expectations of university education. Every Saturday, Erik Raymond Johnson teaches “Combat for the Stage and Street,” which has turned out to be far more than an average theatre class. This class has solidified my acting ability, inspired my career goals, and empowered me as a human being. Erik’s passion for his work relit my own passion for stage combat and martial arts. Working with Erik for two years now has given me many opportunities that put me in a whole new class of theatre professional—I feel confident in my qualification to work as a fight captain or choreographer, and that my training in stage combat will give me a unique edge as a performer. Perhaps even more importantly is the self-confidence I have gained through Erik’s combat class, both in my acting and in life. Erik is a huge proponent of self-defense, so we have spent class time practicing real martial arts and learning how to use combat skills for safety in street scenarios. I now truly believe that everyone, especially young women, can and should develop the ability to protect themselves. This class has given me an invaluable sense of ownership of my self, my body, and my actions. It’s an incredible feeling that gives me strength in every aspect of my life, and that’s something I will carry with me no matter where the future takes me.
 
Advice for prospective students?
Do what you feel is right for you! Along your journey, you’re going to have so many voices telling you what is best for you and what you need to change about yourself if you want to succeed. You need to have the assuredness to hear all of those voices, but know which ones are true for you. Your teachers will be wonderful, the professionals you work with will be wonderful, yet most importantly, know what is true in your heart and in your gut. You are the only one who truly knows yourself, and you should never compromise who you are to suit someone else’s vision. Be the very best version of you, with an earnest and open heart.  
 
The dream or goal that most excites you?
I believe that the performing arts have the ability to influence the world for good. My goal is to always be involved with projects that can inspire audiences to make the world a better place. Artists have the ability to use their creativity for a greater purpose: we can help cultivate love and understanding and give voice to the people who need one. That’s what I want to do. Whether it is through acting, singing, painting, dancing, writing songs, directing, or any other form of art I may utilize along my journey, I want to use my skills to help my fellow human beings.

 

JOHNNyJohnny Link from Batavia, IL

What is your most treasured memory from the last four years​?
I have a lot of great memories from my four years here at Penn State, so it's hard to slim down to one. Therefore, I have two. It is always a joy to go to New York City with the B.F.A. program as a whole. We have a chance to see a show together, all fifty-something of us, and share a theatrical experience. It's a generic memory, but it reminds me how precious it is to have a community like Penn State. Second, I will never forget performing alongside many talented individuals in my final show at Penn State, 110 in the Shade. Rich Roland and the production team made it a beautiful production. If you told freshman-year me I would be playing the role of Starbuck in my senior year, I would have laughed in your face. You could say I've grown up a bit. I am forever grateful to the program for the encouragement and education they gave us all.
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
Musical theatre is not easy. It is hard, your body is pushed to its limits, your emotions are stretched to great lengths, and your character will be exposed. Figure out how to take time for yourself. You will need to recharge, and I don't mean just by sleeping (which is super important). I mean recharge your soul. Know what makes you happy and go do it. Take time for yourself, and your time here will be incredibly rewarding. 
 
What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?
This is tough, as I am young and still striving for my Broadway dreams—ha! Yet in the back of my mind, I think of somehow incorporating my experiences with my hard-of-hearing into the theatrical world. These companies exist, but what if I started a professional theatre that creates opportunities for individuals with impairments or experiences like mine?
 

SAMMISammi Sadicario from Coral Springs, FL

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
This year I really learned the importance of having my own voice as an artist. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in how other people see you, but it’s way more exciting when you allow them to see the real you. 
 
A skill, subject, or place you would like to learn more about? 
I hope to spend time in Israel and create theatre surrounding culture and ritual.
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had the strongest impact on you?​
Dr. Doan took me under his wing and really showed me how to find my voice. He encouraged me to start writing, which inspired me to create a solo performance titled Part-Time Believer. I can’t wait to see where I take it. 
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
Take advantage of all the awesome classes at Penn State. The university has SO much to offer, so take that extra class, minor, or join that club! You’ll need spectacular time-management skills, but it’s worth the knowledge. We’re here to be well-rounded human beings, not just singing robots.   
 
What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?
A cartwheel. 
 
Anything else you'd like to say to the Penn State Musical Theatre community?​
I’m so proud to become a Nittany Lion alum. Thank you for sharing this home with me for the past four years!
 

RICHARDRichard Spitaletta from Upper Saddle River, NJ 

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
I think the biggest thing I will take away from my time here at Penn State is that it is important to figure out who you are as a person, and then bring it to everything you do both onstage and off. Being a fully fleshed-out individual with unique points of view on the world and how it works is imperative to being a fully fleshed-out performer.
 
A skill, subject, or place you would like to learn more about? 
I would love to get more involved and even work abroad with the environment. If life ever allows it, I would like to join the Peace Corps, and take an environmental position abroad in Africa, Asia, or South America.
 
Teachers who made a strong impact on you?
Three people come to mind instantaneously when I think about influence on my time here at Penn State: Dr. Beverly Patton, my voice teacher for three years; Beth Burrier, my theory teacher/pony walk pal; and John Simpkins, the new head of our program.
 
One piece of advice for prospective students?
Learn to forgive yourself! People make mistakes, and I found that when I was younger, first trying to figure out who I was in this program and as a performer, I would punish myself endlessly for the smallest mistakes. We all do it, but learning to take the pressure off yourself and focusing on being an open individual is when you will really learn.
 
Something you have always dreamed of doing?
Backpacking Europe and/or Asia. Traveling in general is something I've wanted to do for a very long time, and there are so many places I want to go. Perhaps the strangest place I would love to visit eventually is Antarctica. I mean, come on, PENGUINS.
 
Anything else you'd like to say to the Penn State Musical Theatre community?​
I just want to say thank you. The hardships, friendships, and truly beautiful moments I've had here have all contributed to who I am today. I'm going to miss my life here in State College, but I'm ready to move on out into the real world and see what life has in store. To the rising seniors and underclassmen, soak up everything you can and enjoy as much of your time here as possible. Before you know it, it'll be a month before graduation and you will realize you still haven't climbed Mount Nittany. Much love.
 

BRINIEBrinie Wallace from Covina, CA

What’s the biggest thing you will take away from your time at Penn State?
The biggest thing I'll take away from Penn State is the concept of energy conservation and figuring out how to organize my priorities according to the energy I have for that particular day. 
 
​If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
If I could wake up tomorrow with a new ability, it would be between knowing how to budget or do my taxes. Those two things are the things I don't really know how to do.
 
Favorite class/faculty member that had a strong impact on you?​
My favorite class I had in my four years has got to be Susan Russell's class on musical theatre history during my junior year. It was a discussion-based class that delved into the social issues musicals presented, and it resonated so well with me because it was really interesting to hear how musicals evolved over the years in structure and content. 
 
One piece of advice you would give to prospective students?
Invest in the underclassmen once you are no longer a freshman. There is nothing more helpful or encouraging than when someone from the older classes pays attention to you as a person going through something they've already gone through. Not to mention, underclassmen are SURE to surprise you and inspire you in ways that you never imagined, if you let them. 
 
What is something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?
I've dreamed of supporting my mother and family with this profession for the longest time. I'm so grateful for this experience that has equipped me to do JUST that in a couple years’ time. 
 
Anything else you'd like to say to the Penn State Musical Theatre community?​
HAVE FUN. And, as terrible as this sounds, FAKE IT 'TILL YOU MAKE IT. Sometimes you don't WANT to go to that class that challenges you because it's not easy to be bad at something, but smile through it, and soon you'll be smiling authentically. I GUARANTEE THAT. 

 

 

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