Theatre, Acting Alumni Pay It Forward By Coming Back to Alma Mater May 7 to Share Post-MSU Experiences with Current Students

Alumni included actors, writers, directors and producers working in the industry

Current students in the Department of Theatre and Dance heard from alumni working in the field at the BFA Acting Program's third-annual Spring Industry Panel on May 7.

Working alumni from the Department of Theatre and Dance came back to the campus on May 7 for the BFA Acting Program's third-annual Spring Industry Panel to discuss life after Montclair State University with current students. 

The panelists featured alumni, some recent grads and some from the '80s and '90s, all currently working in the film, theatre and television industries as actors, writers, directors, and producers.

"This year, the program invited working alumni to come back and speak with theatre majors in the department about the life of the performer – auditioning, working, and surviving as an artist," explained Prof. Sue Trauth, coordinator for the BFA Acting Program.

The panelists advice ranged from the inspirational to the practical, Trauth added.

Actor Stuart Zagnit, currently a cast member of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Newsies, advised students to keep moving forward instead of getting derailed, especially with the anxiety-ridden audition process.

"Beware of falling into the feedback track," he cautioned. "We often give really great auditions, only to hear nothing. Do the audition, then let it go. You've done your best. Don't dwell on 'what ifs' and 'if I'd only done thats.' The reasons you do not get offered a role have nothing to do with what happened in the audition room. I've found that, too often, we do not get an honest reply. So, while it would be nice to know, it's better to chalk it up to 'it didn't work out' and concentrate more on the next one.

"Keep moving forward. There will always be another audition," he quickly asserted.

 Zagnit also told students not to dismiss a job solely on the basis of a small remuneration, or even if there's none.

“Sometimes, you have to take the leap because you never know what networking possibilities will present themselves, be it a director, cast member, or whoever else might see you in the project," he said. "The business has changed so much that now, people take low-paying gigs as an investment to a better-paying situation and, if you turn it down, it may give someone else an opportunity that might have been yours."

Allegra Cohen, whose credits include producer and actress among other titles, agreed.

"Say 'Yes' and work for free to gain experience and network," she said.

Cohen added there's not a magic formula for success in the industry but offered some practical career advice.

"There is no one way of 'making it' in the entertainment industry," she said. "It's all about passion, patience, and persistence. Own exactly who you are, educate yourself on every facet of the industry,  and don't ever burn a bridge.”

The panelists all offered to serve as networking sources for students attending the event.

Trauth said the annual panel presentation is part of the Department's ongoing effort to keep its students connected to the professional theatre world.

"We are thrilled to have alumni return and provide both career guidance and networking opportunities for our students and look forward to future workshops and interactions," Trauth said.

To read more about all the panelists, visit here.