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By Phil Daley on June 13, 2017

Only a work produced by the theatre industry could so blatantly express the feeling that many liberal-arts degree candidates might be already thinking. In fact, one could exchange the word “English” for almost any other liberal arts degree, including “theatre.” The character Princeton in the musical Avenue Q sings:

What do you do with a B.A. in English? / What is my life going to be?

Four years of college and plenty of knowledge / Have earned me this useless degree

I can't pay the bills yet 'cause I have no skills yet / The world is a big scary place

But somehow I can't shake the feeling I might make / A difference to the human race

And that’s just it. UC Davis theatre and dance majors have gone out into the world and been notably successful in a variety of careers, and I know they are all making a difference to the human race in some way. And why shouldn’t they be? They graduated from the 9th “most valuable” university in the country, according to a recent Forbes ranking list.

Students who choose to major in theatre and dance at UC Davis get a solid grounding in most aspects of theatrical performance. A student will get an introduction to acting; choreography; directing; history; stage-managing; and scenic, lighting and costume design. After gaining the basics, they can focus more on the areas that interest them.

As part of the curriculum, all theatre students must participate in performances in one of the areas mentioned above. The atmosphere is fun, and creative, with enduring friendships made from the very beginning.

Of the 738 living theatre and dance graduates from UC Davis, about a third are still working in ‘the biz,’ with many more still leading successful careers outside of theatre or dance. And they are certainly making a difference to the human race.

Broadway credits, Tony and Emmy nominations

I am awed by our theatre and dance majors’ stunning variety of successes, from Broadway credits to Tony and Emmy nominations, to longtime careers in “the business.” Here are a few highlights:

Photo of a stage
Eric Beane ‘05 is the lead automation technician for Cirque du Soleil’s in Las Vegas. (Cirque du Soleil courtesy photo)

Eric Beane, who graduated in 2005, is lead automation technician at Cirque du Soleil’s in Las Vegas, said to be the single-most expensively run theatrical show running anywhere in the country — and the automation proves it.

Claire Bennett ’06 is an Emmy-nominated production designer on the television show Modern Family, a show for which she also won the Excellence in Production Design Award from the Art Directors Guild two years in a row.

Constance Hoffman ’85 is a Tony-nominated costume designer for The Green Bird (2000) and has designed for performer Bette Midler as well as several opera productions made for television.

Karen Lawrence ’04 is a coveted Disney Imagineer recently responsible for the lighting design of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure ride in Disneyland.

Kristin Orlando ’08 is now the director of artistic operations for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.

Man in lion costume from The Lion King
Theatre major John Vickery ‘75 was first to play the role of Scar on Broadway’s "The Lion King." (LionKingWikia.com courtesy photo)

John Vickery ‘75 was the first to play the role of  Scar on Broadway’s The Lion King (now the third-longest running show on Broadway). He also has a long list of TV credits.

Isaac Woofter ’01 is a New York-based screenwriter and actor whose credits include the script for Steven Seagal’s forthcoming movie The Bushido Butcher.

Theatre professionals working at UC Davis

Plenty of degree recipients are presently working in theatre on the UC Davis campus. Among them are Caitlin Sapunor-Davis ’04 (Ann E. Pitzer Center stage manager), Chris Oca ’04 (Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts lead stage manager), Cecilia Villalobos ’02 (event manager in Student Affairs), as well as Mondavi Center staff members Ricky Tam ‘13, Dan Perlea ‘03 and Tristan Wetter ‘13.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention influential staff and faculty members at UC Davis who were once students: Darrell Winn ’64, who became the theatre department’s production manager for nearly three decades; Maggie Morgan ’84, now a faculty member in costume design; and Roxanne Femling ’83, who runs the costume shop and designs for many of the department’s productions.

Theatre majors who took unusual career paths

Many of our majors don't end up in theatre permanently, or perhaps at all. Among those who have gone on to have successful professional careers other than in theatre are Kevin Argys ’77, a longtime administrator and finance officer at UC Berkeley.

Students who work together sometimes stay together

I will tell you the degree isn’t the only thing that matters in going to college. A fair number of students in theatre at UC Davis met and married their significant others, including myself.

I met theatre major Katie Baad ‘06 while I was a music major ‘05 conducting a student-run production (a group called Studio 301) of Sondheim's Into the Woods where Katie was both a lead and producer. She is now the casting coordinator at California Musical Theatre, the region’s highest-budget regional theatre company.

Theatre major Drew Phillips ‘05 met and married theatre major Syche Hamilton ‘06. Syche worked off-Broadway as a stage manager and is now the associate director of marketing at TheatreWorks in Silicon Valley.

If taking a class or two, or even majoring in theatre, interests you, I highly recommend scheduling a meeting with any of the faculty, staff or student peer advisors. Better yet, go see a show!

Phil Daley ’05 has a bachelor’s degree in music and is a musician, aviation enthusiast and longtime staff member in the music department at UC Davis.

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