To study theater at Adelphi University is to find accomplished working professors, friends-for-life classmates, the proximity of New York City and a legacy of successful, supportive alumni.
Adelphi trains “people of the theater,” said Maggie Lally ’82, associate dean of faculty programs and associate professor of theater. “The professional experience of our faculty and their accessibility to the students make them mentors who guide students long after graduation.”
One of the strengths of the theater program is its versatility.
“Our BFA program serves student actors, designers, technicians and stage managers, but we also create flexibility in the program,” Lally said. “A lighting designer might want to explore directing, or an actor might want to try designing. The required courses open students up to different career possibilities, and we work with them to realize [their] goals.”
The program also encourages students to explore.
“I benefited from a general undergraduate education very similar to Adelphi’s BFA,” John McDermott, associate professor of theater, said. “Entering with an interest in museum studies and anthropology, I eventually found my calling in theater. Adelphi encourages each student’s own journey toward a life in the theater. The fluidity of our approach to production emphasizes individuality, collaboration and professionalism.”
Students also benefit from the collaborative environment, said Sean Sullivan, acting chair of the theater department. He noted that “the experiential learning provided through departmental productions is an opportunity for student-centered learning that promotes collaboration between faculty and students in the students’ educational journey.”
Those career possibilities can extend well beyond theater. The program teaches students to develop creative thinking, empathy, discipline, teamwork and collaboration, organization, communication, and the ability to think quickly on their feet—all skills applicable to a variety of fields. Graduates have gone on to successful careers as lawyers, social justice and corporate leaders, photographers, playwrights, filmmakers, composers, musicians and teachers of all kinds, such as elementary school teachers and those who teach theater and even math on the middle, high school or college level.
The following show just a few of the many ways recent theater graduates have used their degrees.
Polina Minchuk Macklin ’12: Taking Advantage of New York City
As she was about to graduate, Polina Minchuk Macklin ’12 was clear she wanted to be a scenic designer and work on Broadway. Then her scenic design professor, Sarah Martin, gave her some unexpected advice.
“She sat me down and said, ‘I give you permission, no matter what happens after you graduate: If you need to change gears—do it!'” Macklin said. “I thought, ‘Why is she telling me that?'”
As an undergraduate, Macklin had taken full advantage of Adelphi’s connections with theaters in New York. She had interned twice at the legendary Shakespeare in the Park. After getting her degree, she used the associations she’d developed to find work on Broadway and at The Public Theater.
Three years later, she applied to graduate schools. On the day she learned that she’d been rejected, one of her connections asked if she’d be interested in being an assistant production manager at the Lincoln Center Theater.
“Sarah’s voice popped in my head,” Macklin said. “And I was like, I think this is the moment. It was almost a relief.”
Today she is one of two associate production managers at the theater, in charge of taking the designs from paper to stage and maintaining the staging and setting for the run of the show. It’s a big job and she couldn’t be happier.
“I love being a boss,” Macklin said “I love being busy and I love being responsible. It just gives me a thrill.”
Isuri Wijesundara ’18: Embracing the Whole Person
Now starring in the new season of Little America on Apple TV+, Isuri Wijesundara ’18, who grew up in Sri Lanka, chose Adelphi over a conservatory because she wanted a wider, deeper education. She wanted to become a “whole person” by the end of her four years.
“Meeting people from all around the world—and being an international student myself—gives me perspective and awareness of humanity and the issues of the world that we live in,” said Wijesundara, who is completing a master’s degree at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale.
As a theater major and a Levermore Global Scholar at Adelphi, she was able to use her education to combine her passions for theater and social justice. She joined student government and took on leadership positions. She used her advocacy skills in several theater projects. In one, she and Lally partnered with the University’s Title IX office to produce a piece they called Now You See Me/Now You Hear Me.
“From my freshman year, Maggie helped me find the form of artistic style that I enjoyed doing,” Wijesundara said. “We did documentary-style theater all throughout my four years, where we actually sat down and researched stories of real people.”
Nicholas Petron, then the chair of the department, was also a key support. “He was incredible in that he always pushed me to keep chasing professional goals,” she said. “He was like, ‘Never question it. Do it and then figure it out.'”
Lauren Brickman ’09: The Value of Exposure to All Aspects of Theater
“I can draw a direct line from Adelphi to the career I have now,” Lauren Brickman ’09 said. “I tell my students this all the time. I could have never known at 19 years old that I was making professional contacts that would set me up for where I am now in my mid-30s.”
An actor and writer, Brickman is also a faculty member at New York Film Academy and an adjunct at New York City College of Technology and Queensborough Community College. She’s also taught at Adelphi.
Adelphi introduced her to aspects of theater beyond her acting major, Brickman said. “That exposure made me realize that there were so many other things about the industry that I really love.”
As an undergrad, she produced a cabaret with a close friend. She wrote 10-minute plays. She directed. She got her agent through the annual showcase. She found numerous mentors.
“A large part of where I am today is because of Maggie Lally’s mentorship and her example and her kindness,” Brickman said. “She was such a great role model. When I started to have opportunities to teach, I was like, ‘If I can teach like that, that’s pretty cool.'”
Leore Riven ’14: Theater Training Is Relevant Every Day
Leore Riven is a New York City public school teacher, and whenever he’s asked if he regrets getting a theater degree, he says he wouldn’t change a thing.
“A lot of the things that I learned in the theater department I bring with me,” said Riven, who teaches students with medical and special needs. “A lot of them are kinesthetic learners so I incorporate a lot of singing, dancing and movement in my teaching. When I was first starting out, my supervisors said that I brought a lightness and a playfulness, an energy that students came to learn, and they enjoyed it.”
After graduating, Riven got a job directing musicals for children, which is how he realized that he loved working with young people. He got jobs with private special ed schools, eventually landing at the New York City Department of Education and getting his teaching certificate. He’s studying to be a principal. On Sundays, he directs children’s musicals for a community group.
“Everything that I had learned at Adelphi—all my ups and downs, all the lessons that I needed to learn, the mistakes, the failures, all of that, plus the successes—really shaped me into who I am now, how I teach,” he said. “I’m so thankful that I get to take the skills and the knowledge and the lessons from the theater program and apply them to my everyday life.”
Michele Traina ’03: The Connection Between Acting and Educating
Michele Traina ’03 calls herself an actor-educator.
She owns a theater company for children that specializes in inclusion performances for children with or without disabilities. She acts, and she auditions daily, a practice she has continued since she was an undergraduate. She does stand-up. She tours her one-woman show, Divorce Diaries, which is now in development as a TV series. She teaches at Adelphi.
An actor working as an educator plays two roles, she said. “As a teacher, we have to really engage our audience—our students—and get them to be able to take in concepts, and demonstrate them. That takes a very gifted talent, which a lot of actors cultivate.”
Traina has rolled with the punches since she graduated. She started out touring with children’s theater and musical theater. When she got married, she wanted to be with her husband, so she earned a master’s degree in educational theater from NYU. When she got pregnant, she started teaching.
That brought her back to Adelphi to help start the process of reopening its theater education program. “I thought, these tools that I never knew in my undergrad—I could use them and actually be a performer in the classroom,” she said. “Connecting the two worlds between my relationships with the theater program education, it all came full circle.”