On a cool spring evening in April, the stately Irvington Town Hall Theater, a classical professional theater located a few miles from Mercy College’s Dobbs Ferry Campus, was humming with activity. Members of the Mercy Theatre Club had been coming and going most of the afternoon, rehearsing lines, adjusting the tech and preparing for the club’s second annual showcase of student performances. Suddenly it was curtain time, and the lights went down over a hushed audience of students, faculty and members of the community.
The Theatre Club Showcase, now in its second year under the guidance of Marc Palmieri, a communications studies instructor and club advisor, offers students an extraordinary opportunity to practice theater craft in an authentic setting. Some 20 students performed a series of ten-minute plays or scenes from longer plays by award-winning playwrights like John Patrick Shanley and Christopher Durang, plus musical numbers from “Les Miserables”,” Funny Girl” and “Godspell.”
When he first came to Mercy in 2017, Palmieri, who is himself a playwright, actor and director, reached out to the neighboring community theater to explore opportunities for Mercy students interested in communication and theater arts. “Previously the club rehearsed in a classroom and only performed for fellow students. I wanted them to have a broader, more authentic experience,” he said. “At Irvington, I saw so many opportunities for our students—not just for improving their stage and technical skills, but also for finding internships, service opportunities and part-time jobs.” Two Mercy students have already been hired as part-time box office and public relations assistants, and others routinely help out backstage and as ushers. In return, “Mercy gets to use this beautiful old community theater for our rehearsals and the live performance. It’s an incredibly rich experience for everyone,” Palmieri said.
Theatre Club members come from many different majors and with diverse goals. “We have students majoring in nursing, vet tech and journalism, athletes and honor students, commuters and students who are holding down jobs,” Palmieri noted. “All of them are tremendously dedicated. Theater provides the kind of unique experience that’s so important in a liberal arts school, like forming bonds and creating memories.”
While the primary purpose of the showcase is the student experience, there is always the exciting possibility of attracting the attention of someone who can help a student’s future career in the performing arts. Among the audience members at the April 15 showcase were several playwrights and a Manhattan artistic director, and last year a student performer was invited to audition for a regional theater production of “Motown”—and got the part of Diana Ross. But for Palmieri, it’s all about the students. “The showcase came about because club members were asking to grow and spread their wings. It’s a great honor to be their faculty advisor,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”