Theater students earn their wings

A dozen BFA IV Theater students brought some holiday cheer to Parker at Stonegate Assisted Living Residence in Highland Park, N.J., on Saturday, Dec. 18, as they performed the radio play It’s a Wonderful Life.Glenn Quentin

The actors, students in Susan Schuld’s Advanced Voice and Speech class, stationed themselves at microphones to recreate Christmas Eve in Bedford Falls. They assumed multiple roles in the drama, based on the 1946 Frank Capra film about a suicidal George Bailey and Clarence, the angel who earns his wings by showing Bailey all the good he has done.

Jasmine Carmichael played Josephine, the superintendent of the angels, and Zuzu, Bailey’s daughter. According to Carmichael, the response to It’s a Wonderful Life was gratifying—so gratifying, in fact, that she says the performance seemed to nullify the age gap between the young performers and the residents.

“We really connected with the audience,” Carmichael says. “The residents were so appreciative and loving and enjoyed it so much . . . There was a sense of love and happiness and that we were giving a gift that was appreciated.”

Schuld, voice and speech instructor for the Mason Gross School’s BFA Theater program, says she plans to make an annual ritual out of performing at the facility. Schuld says she has long hoped to nudge students to employ their skills for social action.Justin Kruger

“The real, true way to get gratification is by offering services through civic engagement,” she says. “That’s where a true sense of gratification and fulfillment comes from. I want them to know they can go and offer a show any time. [Volunteering] gets them off of being self-centered and gets their awareness of how else they can be serving.”

Schuld says the audience responded generously: As she tells it, one woman grabbed student Brie Foister’s (Mary Bailey) hand and declared, “I love you!”; another asked Foister and her co-star, Tim Giles (George Bailey), about how much practice fueled their kiss.

But Schuld says she believes the performance benefited the students every bit as much as it did the Parker Memorial Home residents.

“It’s really important to find out how to fill back up [as an actor] while they’re being rejected left and right. Then they don’t give up,” Schuld says. A volunteer performance “is a way to continue to connect to the meaningfulness [of their art] and not just the business.”

Photo captions: Above right, Mason Gross BFA actor Glenn Quentin with Parker residents; above left, Mason Gross BFA actor Justin Kruger with a Parker resident after the show.