Nick working with students (from left) Damon Evans, John Ortiz and Chioneso Bakr

I have been slowly sharing the news of Nick Petron, MA ’70’s retirement after 50 years at Adelphi, the first 10 as professor and director and approximately 30 as chair of the Department of Theatre. Once they get over their surprise, many acknowledged that “it’s the end of an era.”

Nick was my instructor and director when I attended Adelphi from 1978 to 1982. When I shared the news with students and generations of alumni, I recognized a common thread in our experiences. Connie Trapani ’83 said it best: “Nick inspired us to believe in ourselves. He also made sure we had a reality check. The path that we had chosen wasn’t going to be easy, but if we kept our focus we could do it.”

Nick encouraged us to risk failure by trying to do things that challenged us, if we were passionate about them. I remember wanting to direct well so badly that I ended up directing my first scene very poorly. Nick encouraged me to keep trying to crack that nut, to figure out how to balance my imagination and ambition with better communication skills. I did that and began to grow. I went on to direct cabaret productions at Adelphi, then teach cabaret theater at other institutions before returning to Adelphi.

I would say there are at least 100 alumni who had the same support from Nick, including Jonathan Larson ’82, composer, lyricist and playwright of the musicals Rent (which won a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize) and tick, tick … Boom! Nick had so generously encouraged Jonathan when they collaborated on a number of original cabaret productions during Jonathan’s time at Adelphi and afterward.

If you know Nick, you are well aware of his passion for puns and a joke well told. Kelley Lynn Niemi ’84, an adjunct instructor of acting and stand-up comedy, remembered: “You’d run into him in the halls and he would always tell you a joke. ‘So this rabbi is on vacation … .’ Half the time the joke would be so silly or ridiculously bad, but I always looked forward to hearing him tell the joke, anecdote or story. It always made me smile and made my day better.”

I cannot talk about Nick without mentioning his right hand for more than 30 years, Barbara Sullivan. She was often the first person that prospective students and parents spoke with and many times she was one of the last students spoke with before graduating. Their ongoing repartee led to our department dubbing them “The Nick and Barbara Show.” Barbara said she’d retire when Nick did, so she’d have his back until the end, and she kept true to her word—Barbara is leaving Adelphi at the end of this academic year, too.

The end of an era, yes. But what a beautiful legacy has been forged here. Enjoy the pictures of Nick in his element over the years, as a director and as a teacher. On to the next wonderful chapter, Nick!

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Nick, you’ve got a pizza my heart.

Professor Nick Petron’s retirement at the end of Spring 2023 concludes the illustrious career of a remarkable educator-practitioner. For five decades, he has taught generations of students, including some who have achieved professional renown in the theater-drama world. His impact on Adelphi’s performing arts will be felt for years to come.

Vincent Wang, PhD dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

Nick was a major driving force behind my decision to continue to pursue my dream of working in the entertainment industry. His high level of professionalism and his tremendous honesty and incredible love of his craft and his students gave me that ‘kick in the butt’ that I needed.

T. Sean Maher '83 operations manager for the Yale University Glee Club

There were too many things that Nick taught me to make a proper list, but if I had to put something at the top, it was probably smiling in the face of overwhelming odds.

Chris Zaczek '98 actor, playwright, currently teaching English in South Korea

[At a college fair] my father got into a conversation with Nick Petron at the Adelphi booth and told me: ‘You got to go meet this guy. He’s so funny. He’s cracking me up. You got to come talk to this guy.’ And Nick was as funny and as lovely as my dad had said. I wouldn’t have been at Adelphi if I hadn’t met Nick first with his charisma and his charm.

Lauren Brickman '09 actor, writer, faculty member at New York Film Academy and an adjunct at New York City College of Technology and Queensborough Community College

Nick was incredible in that he always pushed me to keep chasing professional goals. He mentored me to never question [whether to do something] but to do it and then figure it out.

Isuri Wijesundara '18 Class of 2023 David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University, who starred in an episode of Little America on AppleTV+

Thirty-five years [after I graduated], Nick invited me to come back to Adelphi to teach a master class in Voiceovers and Life After College … . Always championing me and all of his students, we all felt a kinship … he treated us all like family. Nick was and remains, now 44 years later, one of the most influential men in my life … a mentor, a friend and a guiding light of pure love and laughter—a true hero to many of us.

Laura Jean Smith '83 Michiana's Morning News co-anchor at News/Talk 95.3 MNC

Nick, thank you for always finding beauty in the rough spaces. Your unwavering commitment to uncovering potential always inspired me. You have had a deep impact on my life, and I can only strive to bring the same light to my students.

Laurie Ann Drago '06 special education coordinator at Sunset Park Prep Middle School in New York City
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