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.