Students in the Department of Theatre and Dance Light Up the Stage

Current students and successful alumni are making their mark in professional arenas, on and off campus

It’s been an especially noteworthy year for the Department of Theatre and Dance. Current and former students are not only gracing, but also lighting up, the stage in both on- and off-campus productions, including on Broadway and other prestigious venues, and garnering rave reviews for their performances along the way.


Musical Theatre

Among them is EVAN RUGGIERO, a senior Musical Theatre major, who was recently featured in the Season 12 opening episode of the national television hit series, American Idol. For his audition, Ruggiero sang for the judges while accompanying himself on the guitar.

Ruggiero is a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 19 in his sophomore year at Montclair State. He recalls he was not initially keen on auditioning but reconsidered, adding there were several auditions that took place before the one in which he met the celebrity judges. He added he's happy he got as far as he did, given the hundreds and thousands who audition, even though he wasn't selected to go on to the next round. He also said he wanted to share his diagnosis story in the hopes it would inspire others.

"As far as the 'story' that I shared with the country, I wanted people to see that anyone could be an American Idol," he said. "After cancer, I started living life the way it's meant to be lived. I enjoy each day as it comes, and I don't sweat the small stuff."

It worked. 

"American Idol was a great experience and I received a lot of great feedback from my audition, as well as a ton of people reaching out to me about people they know who are going through something similar that I went through," Ruggiero said.

While Ruggiero said he probably won't be returning to audition for American Idol next year, he plans to continue to pursue his degree in Musical Theatre and graduate in the fall of 2013.  

Ruggiero's story and appearance on American Idol has been an inspiration to many and has garnered national media attention including a mention in the Today Show’s “The Clicker.” (Watch the video of Evan Ruggiero on American Idol.)


Theatre, Acting, Writing and Directing

KEVIN CAROLAN, who graduated in 1990 with a BA in Theatre/Film Studies, is currently on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical Newsies, a production based on the real-life New York Newsboys Strike of 1899. Carolan plays Theodore Roosevelt in the musical. (Read more here.)


EDWARD GERO, who graduated cum laude in 1976 with a BA in Speech and Theatre, completed a seven-week run in Washington, D.C., as artist Mark Rothko in the play Red. An established Shakespearean actor and the winner of four Helen Hayes awards, Gero is currently an associate professor of theatre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Read more here.)

Alumnae DARIA RAE FENEIS (BA Theatre Studies, 2007), ASHLEY BIEL (BA Theatre Studies, 2011), and AMANDA GUZMAN (BA Theatre Studies, 2009), along with Profs. Jane Peterson and Julie Lawrence-Edsell, starred in Concussion, a film that was not only accepted in the recent Sundance Film Festival, but was also one of the final 16 films, out of the 1,200-plus films submitted, selected to be in competition.

Concussion was written and directed by Montclair resident, Stacie Passon, who, ironically, graced the stage of Montclair State’s own Memorial Auditorium a couple of years ago when Lawrence-Edsell directed a benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues.

The Sundance film festival took place January 17-28 in Park City, Utah. For more information about the film, visit here.


ROB McCLURE recently played the title role in Chaplin, which opened on Broadway September 10, and received critical acclaim. A BA Theatre Studies major, McClure amassed more than half the requisite number of credits to graduate when he left in 2005 to join the national tour of Avenue Q. Following that stint, McClure originated the Chaplin role at the La Jolla Playhouse for which he received the Craig Noel Award, before he, and the role, were Broadway bound.

Chaplin closed in January.


PAULA GOLDBERG, who received a BFA in Acting in 1986, said her career has taken different paths.

"I have evolved from actor to writer and director and now a university film professor myself.  I am currently a lecturer at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas," she said.

Her professional credits include directing 30 episodes of the MTV series, Undressed and writing five produced screenplays. Her latest screenplay, The Perfect Family, starring Kathleen Turner and Emily Deschanel and released theatrically in 2012, was a featured presentation of the first Montclair Film Festival last spring.


MARC (SCHNEIDER) DONOVAN, a 2004 BFA Acting graduate, was in more than 40 TV and radio commercials, some on camera and some voice-only performances, worked at many regional theaters across the country, and has been featured on various television shows including Blue Bloods, All My Children, and Zero Hour. He was recently featured on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and is currently  starring in the Broadway hit musical Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah's in Las Vegas.


BRET LADA, a 2011 BFA Acting graduate, recently appeared on the TV series The Good Wife and Person of Interest.


JASON GROTE, a 1993 BFA Acting graduate, is working as a playwright and screenwriter, writing for such TV series as Smash and Mad Men, among others.

"My plays have been produced and developed nationally, including at Sundance, The O'Neill, The Denver Center, Baltimore Centerstage, Woolly Mammoth, Portland Center Stage, New York Theater Workshop, Playwrights' Horizons, ACT, Soho Rep, Clubbed Thumb, HERE, and elsewhere, and they're published by Samuel French," Grote added.


GIA McGLONE, a 2005 BFA Acting graduate, is currently on tour in Dreamgirls.


Two alumni and one alumna were in the national tour of A Chorus Line, which, ironically, they all starred in as students in the on-campus production. JOSEPH ROSARIO (Class of 2012) plays the roles of Frank and Paul—the same roles he also performed in the on-campus production—and is the most-recent addition to the company. Rosario joins SHARROD WILLIAMS (Class of 2012), playing Richie, the role he also performed in the University production, and BONNIE KELLY (Class of 2010), who’s playing the role of Bebe.

Assoc. Prof. Clay James, coordinator of the Musical Theatre program, said having even one student in a national touring company is enough to claim bragging rights, let alone three.

“Three Montclair State University graduates in the same national tour is pretty amazing and something we should all be really proud of,” said James.



Students in the Dance Division performed at the Joyce Theater in New York City in the Martha Graham Company’s annual University Partners Showcase on February 23.

It was a special occasion, said Prof. Lori Katterhenry, deputy chair of dance for the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“Montclair State University was one of only five colleges to perform at the event,” she said.

Seven dance majors performed the “Chorus” from Graham’s classic Night Journey (1947), an austere, theatrical piece that depicts the ancient Oedipus tragedy from the point of view of his doomed wife and mother, Queen Jocasta.

COLLEEN LYNCH, a senior and one of the seven dancers, said the experience was unforgettable.

“Performing at the famous Joyce Theater was incredible,” Lynch said. “Not only were we performing alongside the Graham Company during their New York season, we were also dancing on a space that has been used by many dance companies from around the world. We used our excitement and performed Night Journey with all the passion and emotion that the piece requires and felt completely connected to one another. I will never forget what I felt on the stage that day.”

Katterhenry agreed it’s a big “wow” factor.

“Performing at the Joyce Theater is a big deal because almost every big dance company in the world has performed at The Joyce Theater,” said Katterhenry.  “And to be considered part of the Graham season is a big deal because it is the Martha Graham Company.”

The students presented the work again in the Danceworks 2013 concert at the Kasser Theater April 4-7. 


LISA PELUSO, who graduated summa cum laude with a BFA in dance in 2004, is currently performing with Elisa Monte Dance, which she joined in 2011. 

As a student at Montclair State, Peluso was invited into the company in residence, Donna Scro/Freespace Dance, and performed extensively with the company until 2007. She was a scholarship apprentice/understudy for Jennifer Muller/The Works for several years, and has additionally performed with Flexicurve, project: Smith, Insurgo Dance Project, BEINGS dance, and KDNY.

Peluso's choreography has been commissioned by several dance companies throughout New Jersey. One of her recent collaborations, project: Smith & Peluso, is a solo-duet company directed by herself and duet partner NICOLE SMITH. Project:Smith & Peluso showcased their work at the Fringe Festival in Scotland in 2010 to international rave reviews.

Peluso recently returned from North Dakota where she and Tiffany Rea Fisher, associate artistic director at Elisa Monte Dance, reached out to the community through dance.  In addition, Peluso performed a solo and performed a group dance with the Dickinson State University students in a performance for the community. She also went to Farmington, Conn., where she and fellow senior members of Elisa Monte Dance set Elisa Monte's piece "Anima" on Central Connecticut University students.  The company will have its next residency in Lake Placid, N.Y., where they will have an informal performance for children and then a formal performance at Lake Placid Center for the Arts theater.  Elisa Monte Dance is holding its New York season at the Alvin Ailey theater in April.

Peluso also holds adjunct dance faculty positions at several colleges in New Jersey and is currently pursuing her graduate degree in dance education, as well.

“We are so proud of her,” said Katterhenry.

On February 8 and 9, BFA Dance students COLLEEN LYNCH, a senior, and JULIE CULLEN, a junior, performed two works at the Paul Taylor Dance Company at its first Informal Winter Showing at the PTDC Studios in New York. The event features choreography by current and past PTDC members, as well as Taylor 2 Company members. These new works are performed by members of PTDC and invited guests. Lynch and Cullen performed two works choreographed by Taylor 2 Company members.

Click here to view the PTDC Informal Winter Showing 2013 Flyer.


The Montclair State Advantage

James added that all the students’ successes are a glowing testament to the College and the University.

“It’s a sign of the outstanding training and opportunity that we afford all our students,” beamed James.

Carolan agrees, and credits the practical training he received at Montclair State, as well as the knowledgeable faculty, for preparing him for a lifelong career as an actor whose credits span theater, film, and television.
“The best preparedness for my career while I was at Montclair came mostly from the opportunity to perform,” Carolan said. “My education really took off once I was able to perform… actually acting in shows both within the program, and at Players, the student-run theatre on campus.

Grote and Donovan agreed.

"I gained lots of practical experience at Montclair State - it's where my first play was produced," Grote said.  "I learned how to make my own work happen, work with and speak to actors, and survive as an artist."

"My Montclair State education certainly prepared me for my career," Donovan added. "I was able to hone my craft in a nurturing environment, and learn to take personal responsibility and initiative - not to mention, the liberal arts education I received helped make me a well-rounded person and, therefore, a well-rounded actor."

All concur they have fond memories of their undergraduate years.

“I enjoyed the company I kept here at Montclair State: the good friends, [and] accessible faculty sharing their experience and knowledge about the business,” Carolan said. 

"I often think back fondly of the experience of working on the stages at Montclair State, working with my peers, and being directed by my mentors," added Donovan.

Goldberg summed it up best.

"In graduate school, I had a professor ask us to turn to the student on our left and then to the right," Goldberg said. "The professor then said, 'In five years, the person on either side of you won't be in the business and each one of you thinks you're sitting in the middle. That's powerful stuff and pretty much true. However, my peers at Montclair are almost all still working in the business. That tells you something about the program.

"The other [advantage] you can't take away from Montclair State is location," she continued. "At a stone's throw away from New York City, the opportunity exists for incredible guest speakers to come in and work and teach, as well as for the students to get into the city to see seminal stage work and have access to a very vibrant film community. I had a terrific experience as an undergraduate at Montclair.  I think one of the most important things an arts department can do is build confidence, community and offer support.  The training was solid but, most importantly, the relationships that were born out of my time there have remained to this day."