Wagner College, in Staten Island was brought to my attention by Todd Thaler during a drop by (an old NYC habit) where he handed me a pile of mailers he'd received for "showcase season." I hadn't heard of the school but I emailed them because I feel like any school that's showcasing their students cares about their future success, which is my mandate as well. So I emailed John Jamiel the Head of the Acting dept. and he emailed me right back with a hard date! Like… no one does that. I then built the rest of my trip around his date.
I went to meet John at the Staten Island ferry in Lower Manhattan knowing nothing about him except that a girl from my talk the day before at Rutgers told me
that John had "saved her life" while at Wagner by guiding her to the
MFA program at Rutgers. She was as happy as people get with her trajectory and she owed it to this Mr. Jamiel. With his colleague Fred Tessler, an Acting and Musical Theatre teacher, we boarded the ferry and used the trip across the bay to talk. What was immediately apparent was that both of these men are people of the theatre. The kind of people you meet during your journey and with just a few sentences you know that they really couldn't ever have been anything else in life. They were just built for creating theatre and people to go in it. A great start to the day.
The college is quite attractive and has a dynamite view of the water and the city. Our class took place in a loft space and the students couldn't have been more gracious. As happens with these talks there was a slow melting and a slow recognition that I am one of the good guys who is there to remind them that they, as artists, have a place and to be an example of what can happen if you stay in the game and keep trying your best to tell your truth.
Following the talk there were good questions. good thoughts, and good solid fears exposed and resolved. These students though had one great thing in common: an undaunted faith that musical theatre and Broadway are a worthy life goal and that pleasing the theatre gods was the reason to get better, not the paycheck. These young artists are on a great course. I love when I meet souls like John and Fred who can't help but transmit their steadfast belief in the power of the theatre just by sharing their space.
I sometimes wish I had gone to a college but then I would have missed out on being taught by Mr. Meisner. Oy, the ongoing battles of life…the grass is always greener, eh? There are many schools to go to but with teachers like John and Fred the students at Wagner need not wonder if they are getting the best they can, because if there is more out there for you, John is just as interested in getting it to you as you are.
A lifesaver… when you need it most.
Thank you gentlemen and thank you Wagner actors. Even the rain couldn't douse my enthusiasm as I left.