As the first, exclusive higher education partner of the Tony Awards, CMU interviewed a variety of School of Drama alumni to learn more about educators who were important in their lives. Read their stories below.
SPOTLIGHT ON: René Auberjonois (A'62)
Called an "actor's actor" by his peers, René Auberjonois has earned many accolades for his performances in television, in film and on Broadway during his long career.
Auberjonois earned a Tony Award for his Broadway performance in "Coco," in which he co-starred with Katherine Hepburn. He has been nominated for Tonys four times. Other nominations came for "City of Angels," "Big River" and "The Good Doctor."
He received his first theater job at the age of 16. "John Houseman gave me invaluable guidance and support," Auberjonois commented recently by phone. Later, while attending CMU, Auberjonois credits many of his professors for their assistance with his craft.
"Allen Fletcher, Charles Werner Moore, Mary Morris, Edith Skinner, Carlo Mazzone were the teachers at Carnegie who guided me as I laid the foundation for a lifetime in the theater," he said. "Theodore Hoffman, the head of the Drama Department for the four years that I attended Carnegie, was a huge influence and a generous mentor."
Auberjonois, who received a Carnegie Mellon Alumni Merit Award in 1986 and an Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award in 2000, delivered Carnegie Mellon's commencement address in 2001. He credits many of his professors for their assistance with his craft.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Jules Fisher (A'60)
Jules Fisher has received 20 Tony® nominations and nine Tony Awards for his work in lighting design, a record in the category. Many of the honors have been shared with his partner and fellow CMU alumna Peggy Eisenhauer (A'83). Fisher won his first Tony in 1973, and the duo most recently shared the 2013 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play for "Lucky Guy."
A 2013 Carnegie Mellon Honorary Degree Recipient, the educator Fisher recalls having the greatest influence on his craft was Bill Nelson, his CMU lighting instructor.
"He was a terrific educator who had a very clear, disciplined approach, although he tolerated making mistakes as a learning tool," Fisher said. "He knew how to communicate with students."
Fisher said that Carnegie Mellon is the best school for undergraduates who want to study theater and make a place for themselves in the real world. The university, which is the oldest drama degree-granting program in the United States, is the first higher education partner of the Tony Awards.
When he isn't busy lighting stages on Broadway, Fisher also served as lighting director for film, ballet, opera, television and concert tours. He has lit more than 300 Broadway and off-Broadway shows during the course of his 50-year career. His contributions have set the standard for theatrical lighting and he often creates new technology to achieve specific artistic effects.
Photo credit: Bruce Glikas/broadway.com
Behind The Scenes: Gary Smith (A'56)
For executive producer Gary Smith (A'56), timing is everything. He makes the performers, the crew, the lighting, the sound and the graphics all come together — sometimes, at the last moment.
Smith is a 2002 recipient of CMU's Alumni Distinguished Achievement award.
One of the most well-known producers in the entertainment industry, Smith was executive producer of eight Tony Awards telecasts.
Carnegie Mellon Magazine followed Smith behind the scenes as he prepared for the 57th Annual Tony Awards in 2003.
As a partner in the television production company Smith-Hemion, Gary Smith created many of the most distinguished specials and events. The team has won an unprecedented 24 Emmy Awards and has been responsible for putting the "special" in television special.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Andrew Kober (A'06)
Andrew Kober (A'06) attended Carnegie Mellon University's pre-college musical theater program on the advice of his Shaker Heights, Ohio, high school guidance counselor, Ron Morgan. When the School of Drama offered Kober admission at the end of summer, he was delighted.
In 2009, Kober appeared in "Hair," which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. He currently is in "Les Misérables," which is nominated for the same category.
Kober called the choice of Carnegie Mellon as the Tony Awards first higher education partner "excellent."
"When you look at the partners that the Tony Awards have in any capacity, it's the companies or institutions that are the best at what that they do," Kober said. "With the Tony Awards wanting an education alliance, there's no one else who would have been a more appropriate choice. Carnegie Mellon has proven over the last 100 years that it's the program that an aspiring actor or actress wants to go through."
He said the educator who helped him the most practically has been Don Wadsworth, a CMU drama professor. Wadsworth taught a "Business of The Business" course.
Beyond the acting training he received, Kober said Carnegie Mellon gave him a solid education in the business of The Business.
"He was so incredibly helpful," Kober said. "Learning to be an actor was one thing, but learning how to sustain yourself, and all the parts of being an actor beside the artistry … Don was instrumental in learning how to negotiate this business."
SPOTLIGHT ON: Martin Platt (A'71)
Martin Platt (A'71) won the 2013 Tony Award — among other honors — as producer of "Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike" on Broadway.
Platt's first introduction to theatre was through puppets. His grade school speech therapist, Madeleine Sevenans, used them to help students, and through those sessions he performed a series of plays that focused on sounds that were difficult. The therapy worked, and by eighth grade he was performing in school productions and starring as Captain Corcoran in "H.M.S. Pinafore."
As a student at Beverley Hills High School, theatre became an important part of his life. John Ingle, the head of the school's drama department, created a program where one-act plays were performed every Thursday in the school auditorium during lunch. Platt shared that stage and others with classmates such as Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks.
Platt said he acted or directed in over 30 high school productions because of Ingle, who after teaching became a longtime series regular on "General Hospital."
"The imagination that he put in to create that opportunity was valuable," Platt said of the weekly performances. "A lot of us who went through the program went into the business, thanks to that man."
Co-director of Perry Street Theatricals, Platt has produced many shows on and off Broadway and in London's West End. Upcoming productions include "Dames At Sea" on Broadway and "My Life is a Musical."
As a director, Platt founded the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and has directed more than 100 plays and operas there and for theatres across the United States and Europe.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Peggy Eisenhauer (A'83)
Peggy Eisenhauer (A'83) is the recipient of three Tony awards and eight nominations along with her lighting design partner of 29 years, Jules Fisher (A'60). She designs concurrently for Broadway, film and the music industry. They most recently received the 2013 Tony Award for Best Lighting Design of a Play for "Lucky Guy."
"My career has been influenced by some of the giants of theatre and film," she said. "Beginning on Broadway before my graduation from Carnegie Mellon, I have had the chance to work with two generations of artists, coming in so young. "
Among those artists were Bob Fosse, Tommy Tune, Stephen Sondheim, Rob Marshall (A'82), Sam Mendes, and George C. Wolfe. "My daily inspiration is derived from at least one of them. "
But no one has influenced her creative identity more than Fisher.
"Jules led me onto the playing field and shared his vision of theatre as well as his relationships with these greats," she said. "I met Jules at Carnegie when I was 18, and began working with him as his assistant at 23, becoming design partners in 1992. Our fused theatrical lighting on Broadway has made the transition to film, which has helped shape the look of the contemporary movie musical."
Their theatrical lighting design for fellow alumnus Marshall's film "Chicago," in collaboration with cinematographer Dion Beebe, was recognized with a 2003 Academy Award nomination for Cinematography.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Mel Shapiro (A'61, '61)
After high school, he joined the Army. While stationed in Japan, he directed for the English-speaking Tokyo Amateur Dramatic Club.
"I had a roommate in the Army who knew I was very interested in the theatre," Shapiro said. "He had gone to Carnegie's business school. He suggested I go to Carnegie on the GI bill when I was discharged."
A non-traditional student with previous college credits, Shapiro received both bachelor's and master's degrees from the university in 1961.
"By the time I got to Carnegie I was so full of myself I thought I knew everything," Shapiro said. "I have tremendous admiration for the way they put up with me. When I went into teaching, I tried to see myself in students and be very patient with them."
One of the teachers he credits for his career is the late Lawrence Carra. The two became friends after Shapiro graduated.
A practicing director and writer for many years, his teaching career started as a founding member of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Shapiro returned to Carnegie Mellon as head of the School of Drama and also was head of graduate acting and music theater programs at various times for the Theater Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Shapiro won the 1972 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical for "Two Gentlemen of Verona." He is also the recipient of the Obie, New York Drama Critics and Drama Desk awards. He is the author of the textbooks "The Director's Companion" and "An Actor Performs."
CMU Connections: The Story of 'Pippin'
The Tony Award-winning musical "Pippin" is steeped in Carnegie Mellon connections.
Stephen Schwartz (A'68) conceived the musical while a student. "Pippin, Pippin" was performed by Scotch 'n' Soda during Spring Carnival in 1967. The musical was further developed and went on to become a Broadway hit.
The 1973 Broadway performance was directed by Bob Fosse and starred Ben Vereen as the Leading Player. Vereen won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, one of the show's six Tony Awards. Another award went to Jules Fisher (A'60) for lighting design, it was his first Tony Award. In the audience of one of the shows was Peggy Eisenhauer (A'83). Eisenhauer studied lighting at CMU and is now Jules Fisher's partner.
The 2013 revival of the musical also won four Tony Awards. Patina Miller (A'06) won for Best Actress in a musical. It was the first time that actors of different genders have won Tony Awards for the same role.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Christian Borle
When Christian Borle (A'95) accepted his Tony Award in 2012, he thanked all of his teachers in Pittsburgh.
And while they included many from Carnegie Mellon, primary and secondary educators were on his mind as well.
"There were so many teachers who left a strong feeling," the Pittsburgh native said in a recent phone interview. "Almost to a teacher there was some experience I had where I saw them as people. I was very lucky."
Borle said Timothy Dahlem was the man who most influenced his love of musical theatre.
"We would listen to original cast recordings in music class and he created these little one page quizzes that we'd do while we listened," Borle said. "First time I ever heard 'Sweeney Todd.' Changed my life."
Another teacher was Mary Beth Gray, director of theatre arts at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh.
"[Gray] was really instrumental in encouraging me to pursue this as a career and helping me with my audition material for Carnegie Mellon," he said.
Some educators remain a part of his life. He recently sat down with Dan Brill, one of his former music teachers, who was visiting New York. "We just sat in the sun in Bryant Park and caught up on family news and choral singing and Stephen Sondheim."
Borle won a Tony for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play for his role in "Peter and the Starcatcher." He has played Max Detweiler in NBC's "The Sound of Music Live!" and was on that network's series "Smash" along with fellow CMU alumna Megan Hilty (A'04). This summer he and Hilty's voices can be heard in Disney Jr.'s first original movie, "Lucky Duck."
Among them are:
John Arthur Kennedy (A'36, Hon.'66)
Known for honesty and naturalness on stage, John Arthur Kennedy appeared in the original casts of several Arthur Miller plays including "All My Sons," "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman," for which he won the Tony Award for playing Biff in 1949. In 1966, he was awarded the university's first Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts.
Sada Thompson (A'49)
A remarkable artist, Sada Thompson was best known for playing a no-nonsense mom in the ABC drama "Family." As an acclaimed stage actress, she won a Tony in 1972 for playing four roles in the Broadway comedy "Twigs" by George Furth, as a mother and her three daughters.
Lester Rawlins (A'50)
A stage, screen and television actor, Lester Rawlins won a 1978 Tony Award for his work in "Da," which also is the Tony-Award winning play with the shortest title. Rawlins was featured on radio programs and also was the voice of Benson & Hedges cigarettes.
Herb Gardner (A'56)
Playwright Herb Gardner was a man of many talents. A commercial artist, cartoonist and screenwriter, among his plays were "Conversations with my Father," "The Goodbye People," "Thieves" and "I'm Not Rappaport," for which he shared the 1986 Tony Award with James Walsh, Lewis Allen and Martin Heinfling.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Judith Light (A'70)
Judith Light (A'70) was awarded back-to-back Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her roles in "The Assembled Parties" in 2013 and "Other Desert Cities" in 2012.
Light has appeared on stage, television and film. She said she knew early on she wanted to be an actress.
"All through growing up, I had these teachers who were very open to supporting me in wanting to be an actress," Light said. "I knew when I was really young. They were there for me in so many different ways."
The most influential teacher was Ruth Strahan, the head of admissions and of the drama club for St. Mary's Hall in Burlington, N.J. "She was a really incredible support for me. I would go to her house and have rehearsals. It was a special relationship and a supportive one."
Strahan was the one who suggested to Light to attend CMU's pre-college summer program.
After high school graduation, Light returned to Carnegie Mellon for the acting program.
"There were so many faculty who were distinctive," Light said. "Carnegie was the top school for training." Among the teachers she mentions as memorable were Earl Gister, Edith Skinner, Robert Parks and Robert Benedetti.
Light's television career began with her two-time Best Actress Emmy award-winning turn as Karen Wolek on "One Life to Live." She then went on to play Angela Bower on the ABC hit comedy series "Who's the Boss?"
SPOTLIGHT ON: Tommar Wilson (A'99)
With encouragement, a thoughtful teacher can turn a passion into a profession.
Kansas native Tommar Wilson (A'99) was a decent student but said he only applied himself in artistic classes.
"In the mid-90s the Internet wasn't at my disposal the way it is now, so I wasn't even sure how I could turn my passion for the arts into a career through higher education, not that I was even thinking about those things," Wilson said.
Steve Eubank, a music teacher at Topeka High School, helped him find his path.
"He sat me down and asked me the questions that led me to make a plan for my future including college choices and majors and the beginnings of career options," Wilson recalled. "He wanted to be sure that I was taken care of and he did everything he could, including putting me in contact with voice teachers and universities, to make sure I succeeded. There is no doubt in my mind that his guidance was key to the path I chose. I am so thankful that he saw something in me that made him take those extra steps to help guide me."
Wilson was a member of the Tribe in the 1960s rock musical "Hair," which earned the Tony for best revival of a musical in 2009 and a member of the ensemble of "The Book of Mormon," which won the 2011 Tony Award for best musical.
Wilson is still a part of "The Book of Mormon" cast. He previously has appeared on Broadway in "Lestat," "Never Gonna Dance," "Hairspray," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Music Man."
SPOTLIGHT ON: Eugene Lee (A'62)
A wood-carved skyline of Manhattan on Jimmy Fallon's "Tonight Show" is one of the latest set designs by Eugene Lee (A'62).
But the designer has made a legacy out of bringing to life fantastical designs from novels and stories. On Broadway his accomplishments include creating a slave ship, Dickensian scaffolding and a 40-foot mechanical dragon clock.
Nominated for five Tony Awards, Lee has won in 1974 for "Candide," in 1979 for "Sweeney Todd" and in 2004 for "Wicked."
He and fellow CMU alumna Ann Roth (A'53) were honored earlier this year with Distinguished Achievement Awards from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT).
In an interview for USITT Lee described how he learned about the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, from a PBS interview about set design.
"I got in my VW and drove to Pittsburgh, walked in the door to Carnegie Tech and announced myself," he was quoted as saying in the Dec. 2013 issue of Sightlines, a monthly newsletter for USITT members.
Along with attending Carnegie Mellon, Lee spent time at the Art Institute of Chicago and Yale.
Lee, who teaches at Brown University and is the resident designer for Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I., also designed the sets for "Saturday Night Live." He's currently working on a new set for the show's 40th anniversary.
Photo: Eugene Lee (A'62) and Ann Roth (A'53) at the 2014 USITT Annual Conference in a session called "Distinguished Achievers in Conversation." Image credit: USITT
SPOTLIGHT ON: Ann Roth (A'53)
Henry Boettcher was the head of the Drama Department at the time. He directed "Ring Round the Moon" for which Roth designed the sets. Roth called him a man of extraordinary taste with a great eye.
"He guided me like I hadn't been before," she said, adding the entire creative department was very good. The faculty included Lloyd Weninger, Bes Kimberly (A'28), George Kimberly and Al Lehman (A'49,'50).
After college she met Irene Sharaff, a costume designer of exceptional talent. Sharaff became Roth's mentor and helped her start a career that has spanned 60 years and continues to thrive.
Roth is credited in some 200 films and theatre productions. She received an honorary degree from Carnegie Mellon in 2000 and also has been recognized by the university for alumni achievement. She won a Tony Award in 2013 for "The Nance" and won an Academy Award in 1996 for period costumes in "The English Patient."
"The Designs of Ann Roth," which includes more than 100 renderings and photos of her work was released earlier this year by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology and is available online.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Billy Porter (A'91)
From his Pittsburgh roots to Broadway's hit "Kinky Boots," Tony Award winner Billy Porter (A'91) has been, in a word, unstoppable.
The Carnegie Mellon University alumnus returned to his native Pittsburgh last October, where he held a Q&A with drama students and received a proclamation from then City Councilman Bill Peduto. During the Q&A he mentioned his high school teachers Lenore Nemetz and Peggy Hughes at the Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School forbid him from moving to New York when he was 17.
"They said to me, you can't act. You need to get some training before you get out there in the real world," Porter told the audience. He added his own advice.
"Train. Study. Respect the craft, there's not a lot of respect for what we do in America. People just think it's a thing that's natural," he said. "But if you want longevity, you need to get in a class and figure out what you're doing."
Porter's Broadway credits include "Miss Saigon," "Five Guys Named Moe," "Grease (all original cast)," "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and "Dreamgirls" (20th Anniversary Broadway Concert and LA Ovation Award). His off-Broadway credits include "Angels in America" (Signature Theatre) with fellow CMU alumni Zachary Quinto (A'99) and Christian Borle (A'95).
He is starring as Lola in the Tony Award-winning "Kinky Boots," for which he won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.
SPOTLIGHT ON: Patina Miller (A'06)
"It was there that I studied and really realized that I could make my dream a reality," she said in an interview in 2011. "I'm so thankful to all my teachers who helped me to become the performer I am today. I'm so proud of my school and feel so blessed to have gotten such a wonderful education and made lifelong friends."
Miller originated the role of Deloris Van Cartier in the 2009 West End and 2011 Broadway productions of "Sister Act." She was nominated for a Tony for her role. Additionally, she has performed off-Broadway in "Ragtime," "Lost in the Stars," "Hair" and "Romantic Poetry."
This year, Miller joins the cast of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1" as Commander Paylor, expected to hit theatres in November. She also has been cast in the new CBS drama "Madam Secretary."