Alumni Spotlight - Mike Smanko

Where are you from/why did you choose Penn State?
Perhaps this sounds “old fashioned” but I still live in the town where I was born, Rahway New Jersey, a close suburb to NYC.  When considering graduate schools, I chose three and was offered assistantships at all of them.   Penn State was the most welcoming and really took time to review my portfolio…. PSU also offered me the best grant-in –aid and assistantship opportunity.

What's one unforgettable memory from your days at Penn State? 
While there were many great memories of life at PSU, the ones that remain primary were the openings of both THE LOWER DEPTHS in the Playhouse and THE AMOUROUS FLEA in the Pavilion. What a thrill to see your scenic designs come to life onstage.  The opportunity to work with a great creative team on each production headed by directors, John Shearin and Susan Gregg respectively.

Photo showing set design of a production of "The Lower Depths"
(The Lower Depths – Playhouse Theatre 1972   Direct: Shearin  Design: Smanko)


Photo showing set design from a production of "The Amorous Flea"
(The Amorous Flea – Pavilion Theatre 1973    1972   Direct: Gregg  Design: Smanko)

What have you been up to since graduating? 
The summer after grad school I decided to “hit the streets” and look for a job.  I stopped at Sue Gregg’s new apartment in Hells Kitchen and John Shearin visited to welcome us to NYC and wish us luck.  That very night, I got a call from the Alvin Ailey Company offering a touring job….. I stayed for six years. In January 1980, I made the move to Broadway and never looked back.

An Opportunity
It’s funny how sometimes a project will fall unexpectedly into your lap.   While doing EQUUS in NYC with Dan Radcliffe, a woman left a note at the box office.  It seems that her husband was in the original Broadway production playing the lead horse,”Nugget”.   He had the original rattan horse head which had fallen into disrepair.  She wanted to know where she could have it refurbished.  I offered to restore the head in exchange for a donation to BROADWAY CARES.  After contacting our press department we decided to make an event out of this restoration.   Please follow the link below for the full Broadway World story.

Photo of the cast of Equus with Daniel Radcliffe


Photo of two Penn State theatre alums, Mike Smanko and Bob Buckler
(Retired NYC stagehand/ propman/ antique dealer, Bob Buckler busking in front of the Golden Theatre on 45th Street just prior to my matinee last summer.   Bob is a PSU THEA – BA tech from the late 60’s).

Photo of three Penn State theatre alums
(PSU buddies…. Tim O’Brien, Mike Smanko, Don Toto Las Vegas 2011 …… all PSU grad assistants / students from the early 70’s. They went west to Las Vegas and I went east to NYC.  Tim became a project manager for big corporate shows, Don became the head electrician/designer of the Hilton Hotel showroom in LV.  Both have retired from the IATSE. . In 2011 Don came out of retirement to assist me on the State Farm industrial show at UNLV.)


Connect with Mike and see his complete list of credits on his LinkedIn page.


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