College of Arts and Sciences alumni return to the PepsiCo Theatre and encourage the Theatre Fairfield actors to carry on.

College of Arts and Sciences alumni return to the PepsiCo Theatre  and encourage the Theatre Fairfield actors to carry on.

Christopher Taggart ’05 is a theatre administrator currently overseeing Disney’s wildly successful Broadway adaptation of Aladdin.

Jennifer Katona ’99 founded the graduate program in educational theatre at The City College of New York.

Paul Marcarelli ’92 is the “Verizon guy,” whose “Can you hear me now?” has become a national catch phrase.

What do they have in common? They’re all part of the Theatre Fairfield family, a group of students and alumni who’ve found a second home in the cozy confines of the PepsiCo Theatre in the last few decades. And the trio — along with actress January LaVoy ’97 (who played Noelle Ortiz on the ABC daytime drama One Life to Live) and Colleen Kennedy ’09, staffing manager at Summer Institute for the Gifted who is working on her Fairfield MBA — came back to campus for “Life After Theatre Fairfield,” a biennial gathering in which alumni of the resident theatre company “tell all” about their lives after Commencement.

This year’s event was held on January 28 and attracted about 40 current students eager to see how theatre training translates to real life.

“The Theatre Fairfield family is just that – grads always help each other out and tend to ‘know’ each other across generations,” said Dr. Martha LoMonaco, professor of theatre and producer and resident director of Theatre Fairfield. “They tend to be caring, generous, loving individuals who do what they can to help our current students.”

Advice was plentiful during the evening. LaVoy, who is known for her stirring work in August Wilson plays, spoke about the years she spent paying the rent while going on as many as 500 auditions a year.

“I waited tables. I cleaned apartments. I temped,” said the actress. Her perserverance paid off: LaVoy has appeared on Broadway, was in the Tom Cruise film War of the Worlds and has been directed on stage by The Cosby Show’s Phylicia Rashad. And a steady stream of jobs in voiceover and commercials — not to mention more than 80 audio books she’s recorded — mean she’s able to pursue her passion — live theatre. “There’s nothing in the room right now and then we make life in the room,” she said of the experience. “I love it!”

Marcarelli, who is one of the longest-running and most recognizable spokespeople in television history, encouraged aspiring actors to bring their all to every part. He has parlayed his 10-plus years with Verizon into a career as a filmmaker. In fact, he had just flown in from the Sundance Film Festival, where The Royal Road, a film he executive produced, was screened.

“If you want work, you have to make it happen for yourself,” he said, telling the audience to work hard and always be honest. “Being the person someone would trust with their cat when they’re on vacation. That kind of trust.”

Though she didn’t pursue a theatre career, Kennedy said she uses the skills honed through Theatre Fairfield at work everyday. Like her fellow alumni, she stressed that the nature of Fairfield’s program means students learn all aspects of the theatre — from acting and directing to lighting, set design, ticket sales and stage management. And it’s all done in a high-energy environment where students collaborate and encourage each other, something that’s come in handy in her courses for her MBA at Fairfield.

“You are working with high stress. You project, communicate, multitask,” she said, noting those skills are invaluable in many careers. “You have an upper hand.”

Taggart, who joined the Aladdin team in 2013, encouraged those with a passion for theatre to branch out in their studies. “Take courses in areas that scare you,” he said, adding accounting and business courses are invaluable. “Think about how you can tie those things into theatre.”

Katona, who oversees the only educational theatre program at a public university, agreed: “You are getting an amazing liberal arts education,” she said, adding she’s found a way to have a highly rewarding theatre career out of the spotlight. She trains theatre teachers and partners with a K-8 school, which allows her to direct children’s productions, something she loves.

“If you don’t go to New York City (to become an actor), you’re not a failure,” she said. “Be confident in your choices.”

Many students stayed after the panel discussion to chat with the panelists over coffee and cookies. Maggie Greene ’15, a theatre and theatre management major, said, “Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and realize that all of these successful people were once standing exactly where I am. They, too, were nervous about graduation and finding a job… It’s wonderful to know that the Theatre Fairfield community extends past the PepsiCo Theatre and continues on long after graduation.”