By Steve Seepersaud
When Aaron Copp ’87 was a theatre major at Binghamton, the University didn’t have a large network of alumni working in the industry. The stage is set very differently today and Copp is just one of the many alumni connections the Department of Theatre tapped recently for a student career development program.
A lighting designer in New York, Copp put together a panel discussion for students that presented perspectives from costume, scenic, lighting and projection designers and production stage managers. It was part of Winter Theatre Week, held in the city Jan. 6-10, while the University was on winter recess.
This program launched in 2019 thanks to support from Albert Nocciolino, president and CEO of NAC Entertainment; Keith Hurd ’89, president of Marketing Entertainment Group; and Stephanie Courtney ’92, known as “Flo” the Progressive insurance pitchwoman. They supported the 2020 Winter Theatre Week, as did the Binghamton University Alumni Association and Harpur College Dean's Office.
“At Binghamton, my classes were very important, but what really made the difference for me when I got out was the contact I had made with outside working professionals while I was a student,” Copp said. “I got connected with people sort of accidentally. Now, the department has an amazing range of alumni who are plugged in, and we are happy to help current students.”
This year, 23 students, four faculty members and 14 alumni participated in the week of programming. Each morning, students listened to alumni guest speakers such as Tony-Award winning lyricist and composer Steven Lutvak '80. Then, the students split into tracks for afternoon activities. Those interested in performing participated in workshops to help them hone their craft, while students leaning toward design, technology and management went on site visits and tours with alumni hosts.
Kari Bayait ’08, marketing and promotions manager for the Theatre Department, said the week gave students an opportunity to see the fields of theatre and entertainment offer a range of opportunities beyond what they could have ever imagined. Winter Theatre Week, she said, is also a way for alumni to give back to a place that gave them a solid foundation of skills for their rewarding careers.
“So many of our alumni began working in productions in Binghamton and are now the masterminds behind content we see for Tony Award-winning Broadway shows,” Bayait said. “Our students now have a broad spectrum of careers to consider, and it is more apparent than ever that an education in theatre is the foundation that will let them pursue their passion. It's more than getting a show to opening night. It's knowing how to analyze data, create experiences for customers, and respond to societal and cultural shifts, do economic forecasting, programming, education and more.”
“Some of the presenters were so impressed with the students’ engagement that professional references for internships started to come in just days later,” she said.
For next year, Copp and Bayait are already in discussions about planning a session where students can design on the spot with professionals in a team setting, similar to how an assistant would work with a lead designer.
“To have more in-depth workshops and portfolio reviews next time would make this an even more valuable experience for our students,” Copp said. “I think this will build their skill sets and confidence for when they’re out in the professional world.”