ANNOUNCING: The Randy Lord and Steve Fessler Graduate Assistantship in Theatre.
Read the latest news to find out what TDPS alumni have been up to.
TDPS Alumni Newsletter
  Monday, September 19, 2016
Dear Alumni,

There is no better feeling in the world than seeing each person who has graduated from UMD in Dance, Theatre, Speech, History, Theory, or Performance Studies take the skills and education they have embraced, mix it with a unique path in life and a rich personality, and pay gifts forward in unexpected, creative, and impactful lives of generosity, talent, and leadership.  

I have had the enormous pleasure of getting to know many alumni from different eras of the University in the last (almost) 4 years of being the Director of the School. Some I've met in our Alumni gatherings in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago. Some, such as John Ford and Sandy Poster, have long been involved in leadership at UMD, and last year John assumed the position of Chair in the new Board of Visitors for the School.  

Randy Lord and his husband Steve Fessler have been two such alumni whom I have had the immense pleasure to get to know over the last three years.  We have spoken in depth about how the skills they learned as consummate professional performers translated into their second careers: Randy as a courtroom lawyer and law partner; and Steve as the production manager of major spectacles at Disney in Orlando and a choral leader. I am proud to announce their generous bequest to the School in this newsletter, described in full detail below. The gift will change lives of graduate students in the future and I know it will influence the generosity of other alumni to give back to a School that treasures both current students and alumni from the past.


Leigh Wilson Smiley, Director
In this newsletter:
  • ANNOUNCEMENT: The Randy Lord and Steve Fessler Graduate Assistantship in Theatre
  • TDPS Alumni events
  • TDPS Season calendar
  • Alumni spotlights
  • Alumni production notes
  • Honors & awards

Thank you to everyone who contributed news and updates. We love hearing what you're up to and how you've gone on to use your degree in various innovative ways. Please keep us posted on the creative, collaborative, and entrepreneurial work you've been doing since graduating from UMD TDPS!

Email  and  share with us on social media .

Steve Fessler and Randy Lord photo
Steve Fessler and Randy Lord (BA Theatre '77)
The Gift of Goosebumps: T he Randy Lord and Steve Fessler
Graduate Assistantship in Theatre

University of Maryland alumnus  Randy Lord (BA Theatre ’77)  and his husband,  Steve Fessler , love the performing arts. As former professional performing artists whose lives evolved into careers that required the skills they learned in college, they have continued to immerse their lives in the performing arts. After a lifetime of encouraging young adults to pursue their passions instead of searching for the most lucrative job, Randy and Steve hope to facilitate future performing artists' ability to "follow their goosebumps," instead of "chasing the money." 

Armed with first-hand knowledge of the financial challenges of pursuing a degree in the performing arts, Randy and Steve have committed an endowed gift to support a graduate assistantship for the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS). This generous estate gift will support future artist- scholars in pursuing their education in the arts without having to live a life of debt and financial constriction.

Director of TDPS, Leigh Wilson Smiley, states,

“Randy and Steve have given a gift that will touch so many people. Artists balance the human condition. They are the storytellers and the creative provocateurs who remind society that we are together in this journey of life. Randy’s and Steve’s gift is an outstanding symbol of the value of education in the performing arts and of their commitment to the future artists and audiences who will together share their stories.”

Randy and Steve are particularly interested in supporting graduate students due to their strong passion for developing an excellent and solid career in the performing arts.

Randy Lord fondly remembers his time as a Theatre major at the University of Maryland. Although the Theatre program was small at that time (and housed in Tawes Hall, pre-dating the construction of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center), he and his classmates were offered many opportunities to perform and develop their theater skills on- and off-campus. He recalls, in particular, the advice of Professor Ionia Zelenka, who emphasized the importance of gaining both on-stage and backstage experience. 

Randy remembers performing in musical comedy shows, often as the lead actor, as in The Wizard of Id, under the direction of Professor Rudy Pugliese. At that time, shows were performed on campus and were toured throughout the state of Maryland. In addition to his UMD studies, Randy made ends meet by performing in theaters in the Washington, D.C. area to pay for college. The combination of such academic and professional experiences gave him a deep understanding of the expectations and requirements of success in the profession.

After Randy graduated from the University of Maryland, he moved to New York City to work as a professional stage actor. There he met his partner and future husband Steve Fessler, also a professional singer and actor. Though they were able to work together only one time, both of them enjoyed rewarding careers that lasted nearly a decade and allowed them to perform in a multitude of venues in the United States and overseas. Their work included concerts, plays, Broadway musicals, movies, and network television shows.

Randy and Steve eventually decided to go back to school, and both attended the University of Florida (UF) to further develop their careers. Randy shifted his focus to Law when he entered the UF College of Law, and Steve completed graduate studies in Conducting and Music Education at the UF School of Music. After graduate school, they settled in Florida together and spent their post-graduate careers there, including a number of years at the Walt Disney World Co. in Orlando as in-house litigation counsel (Randy) and entertainment/production stage manager (Steve).

Randy spent the latter years of his career working at one of the nation’s largest labor and employment law firms. He explains that the foundation of basic acting technique that he gained at the University of Maryland served him throughout his career, as both a performer and an attorney. In the courtroom, he was able to use his theater skills to think on his feet, make compelling arguments, and quickly solve problems through improvisation. As an attorney, Randy practiced what he describes as the “science of human nature” to read people—through what they say, as well as through their body language. He used his acting skills as a lawyer to understand what motivates people to behave in a certain way. His ability to know what people want to hear was key to his success: he was first in his class at UF College of Law and never lost a jury trial!

Now in retirement, Randy and Steve feel strongly that the performing arts are important because of how they move and touch people. “There is no other job that I know that gives you goosebumps,” says Steve. “To us, it really is everything. It really touches our whole life.” Even though Randy spent more of his life as a lawyer than as an actor, he says that he still does and always will feel like an actor at heart.

The couple has also given a similar gift to create a graduate assistantship to Steve’s alma mater, the University of South Florida’s (USF) School of Music.

Randy and Steve encourage future philanthropists to consider making a gift to performing arts programs because of how rewarding it is to know that they will make a difference long after they are gone. They consider the students at their alma maters—at the UMD School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and at the USF School of Music—to be their family. The assistantships will allow these students to excel as productive writers, performers, and designers.

When asked how they feel about giving this scholarship to TDPS, Randy and Steve responded that they always like to be able to say, “We’re glad we did,” and not, “We wish we had.” Establishing this graduate assistantship in Theatre is something they certainly are glad they did.

By Kate Spanos

Article link:

The Wizard of Id photo
  Randy Lord (’77) and Marti Empey (’76) in the “Corpse de Ballet” scene in  The Wizard of Id , 1976
For more information about giving to TDPS, please contact
David Robinson-Slemp at
TDPS Alumni Events
Next week: Alumni Event at UMD - September 30th

On Friday, September 30th at 6:30pm, the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies is hosting an Alumni Reception to celebrate opening night of The Call, directed by Eleanor Holdridge, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. The reception will take place in the TDPS Conference Room 2804 (TDPS hallway in The Clarice building) before the show at 6:30pm, and light refreshments will be served. After the reception, all attendees are invited to join us in seeing the opening of  The Call at 7:30pm.

We are offering 100 free (first come, first serve) tickets to alumni for September 30th ONLY. Use the promo code 17CALL, good for up to two tickets. To claim your tickets, call (301) 405-2787 (ARTS) or visit . (You must create an account to use the promo code online.)
  Last week: Alumni Event in NYC - September 9th
NYC Alumni event photo #1
Thanks to everyone who came out for the NYC Alumni Event at The Library at the Public Theater on Friday, September 9th! The event was planned around the DANCENOW Festival at Joe's Pub, where TDPS Dance faculty Adriane Fang and Christopher K. Morgan performed on September 9th, preceded by Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig on September 7th. 

It was great to see some familiar faces and to hear about all the exciting things that our alumni are doing!
NYC Alumni event photo #2
Adriene Braithwaite (BA Theatre '09), Tendo Nsubuga (BA Theatre, '15), Jason Phillips (BA Theatre '11),  Professor Scot Reese,
Johnny Wahl (BA Theatre '12)
NYC Alumni event photo #3
Professor Scot Reese and Kat Pace
(BA Theatre '12)
TDPS Season 2016-2017

The Call
By Tanya Barfield
Directed by Eleanor Holdridge

September 30 - October 8

When Annie and Peter decide to adopt, they set their sights on a child from Africa. But just how much of Africa are they willing to bring into their home? Long-buried secrets surface, surprising new tensions with old friends arise, and their marriage is put to the test — all in the face of one startling choice. With keen acumen, this portrait of cultural divide casts global issues into the heart of an American home. 

“A thoughtful and engrossing new play.”

— The New York Times

     TDPS Main Season 2016-2017 at
     The Call
    Directed by Eleanor Holdridge
    September 30 - October 8, 2016          

     Waking Darkness. Waiting Light.     
    By Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves
    October 7 - 9 , 2016
     The Wild Party     
    Directed by Scot Reese & Alvin Mayes
    November 4 - 11 , 2016
     Render Edit by Sarah Beth Oppenheim
     Bridging the Gap by Chris Law
    December 9 - 11 , 2016

  Directed by Amber McGinnis Jackson
  February 10 - 18 , 2017

  Directed by Mitchell Hébert
  February 24 - March 3 , 2017

  Directed by Yury Urnov
  April 28 - May 6 , 2017

  Directed by Christopher K. Morgan
  May 5 - 7 , 2017

Alumni Spotlights
Lisa Dalton (BA Theatre '75)
Lisa Dalton is the President of the National Michael Chekhov Association, which created and sustains the longest established Michael Chekhov Teacher Certification globally, with upcoming openings for the winter session over New Years at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Dalton has two book releases this fall:  Falling For The Stars: A Stunt Gal’s Tattle Tales (an inside look at her stunt life on camera) and  Murder of Talent: How Pop Culture Is Killing ‘IT’ (a social commentary about the tragic state of role models, vacuous celebrity, the nightmares of bad coaching, and bullying in society and the industry).

She also has a solo show “ A. Chekhov’s The Darling” that she offers with master classes as a guest artist at schools.
Joel Snyder, Ph.D.
(MA Speech & Dramatic Arts '78)
Joel Snyder, Ph.D. was a featured guest speaker on Audio Description at the 2016 World Blind Union General Assembly in Orlando, FL in August 2016. The event was attended by thousands of delegates from around the world.

Audio description is a narrative technique pioneered by Dr. Snyder in the early 1980s: the visual is made verbal, translating the visual images of the arts into words to provide access for people who are blind or have low vision.

Kenneth Lewis (BA Theatre '81)
Kenneth Lewis was featured in Terp Magazine for  his work as chief of the division of performing arts and production manager at Wolf Trap National Park. He has worked at Wolf Trap since 1999, after gaining experience in Mississippi, New York, and North Carolina. Over his career, he has met and worked with Garrison Keillor, Kenny Rogers, Carol Channing, Aretha Franklin, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and many others.  Lewis says,

“I’m happiest in the theater. I’ve seen the most remarkable things over the years.”
Nora Ambrosio (BA Dance '84)

Nora Ambrosio begins her term as the Chairperson for the Commission on Accreditation for the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD). She is beginning her 29th year as a professor at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Dance. She is also the author of two books: Learning about Dance (7th edition) and The Excellent Instructor and the Teaching of Dance Technique (2nd edition), both published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. She continues to work as an active choreographer, and she develops work for students and professional dancers.   

Eric Stewart (BA Theatre '87)

Eric Stewart started the non-profit organization in 2013, in order to help connect widows in the DC area and  beyond. He currently hosts the Eric Stewart Show on the radio every Sunday morning, and he hosts discussions about issues related to residential home ownership. Read more at

Cary Gillett (BA Theatre '98)
Cary Gillett recently published a book with co-author Jay Sheehan, entitled The Production Manager's Toolkit (Routledge Focal Press, 2017). She has also been facilitating the creation of a new MFA in Stage Management at the The National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts in Shanghai, and she recently enrolled in the MA in Theatre & Performance Studies program, while still on staff as Production Manager for TDPS.  
Peter Avery
(MFA Theatre Management '99)
Peter Avery is the Director of Theater for the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), Office of the Arts and Special Projects. He oversees theater education in the approximately 1,600 schools across the five boroughs of New York City. His responsibilities include curriculum development, ongoing professional development of DOE theater teachers, coordination with cultural organizations and higher education, collaboration and oversight in funding initiatives for theater education, school support to principals for theater programming, promoting theater study and performance opportunities for students, and supporting the mission and goals of the Arts Office.
Lindsey Kasabian (BA Theatre '03)
Lindsey Kasabian was promoted to VP of Casting at 20th Century Fox and reports to Executive VP of Talent and Casting, Sharon Klein.  Kasabian has risen through the ranks since joining 20th Century Fox TV  nearly 10 years ago, beginning as an assistant and moving up from Coordinator to Manager to Director to Vice President.  She currently oversees the Fox 21 TV Studios and Imagine Television anthology series  Genius  for National Geographic Channel.
Peter Wood, Ph.D. (MA Theatre '04)

Peter Wood recently received his Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Pittsburgh in the spring of 2016. He was also elected to serve as the American Theatre & Drama Society’s Head of Electronic Initiatives/Listserv Manager and will serve in that role from 2016-2020. Read more at

Jason Schlafstein (BA Theatre '08)
Jason Schlafstein, co-founder and Producing Artistic Director of Flying V Theatre, will open  BE AWESOME: A THEATRICAL MIXTAPE OF THE 90s on September 24th at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD.

BE AWESOME is conceived and directed by Schlafstein.  This theatrical mix-tape is an exploration of memory, nostalgia, and transition through a night of live action music videos set to the soundtrack of that totally Awesome decade – the 90’s.
TDPS alumni join The Welders
Deb Sivigny (MFA Design '04) and  Brett Abelman (BA Theatre '06) recently joined The Welders, a nationally recognized and award-winning playwrights' collective.  Check out The Welders' upcoming  Girl in the Red Corner opening November 3rd at the  Atlas Performing Arts Center . The play addresses women’s relationships to fighting and violence, as well as questions of economic and social mobility.

This summer, Abelman also created Play Cupid and the New Game Theatre concept for the 2016 Capital Fringe Festival. Sivigny continues to work as a costume and scenic designer and is an Assistant Professor at the Theatre and Performance Studies department at Georgetown University.
Want to put your story in the spotlight?  Please email
Alumni Production Notes
Dior Ashley Brown (BA Theatre '06) released a new video, " Dior Ashley Brown Remixes "Shot Caller Free Style." She was inspired by the Nannie Helen Burroughs mural in Northeast DC to pay homage to her aunt, Mary Mcleod Bethune, and other leaders in upper Northeast DC.

Check out Dior Ashley Brown's website
Do you want us to share your recent and upcoming work?
Please email
Honors & Awards
James Peters (BA Theatre '94)
Jimmy Peters won the Industry Dance Award for Best Musical Theater/Novelty/Character Performance in 2016 for his work on A Musical with Temecula Dance Company. He is the Artistic Director of Temecula and has performed and choreographed for numerous national tours, dance concerts, and industrials.
Roniel Tessler (BA Theatre '09)

Roniel "Husky" Tessler was selected in the inaugural ATX/Black List TV Script CompetitionHe currently lives in New York City and spends his time going to the theatre, creating monthly music playlists, tutoring Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, learning violin, and unabashedly sporting white Vans. Follow him on Twitter.

  Have you recently received an exciting award or accolade?
Please email
  Do you have news to share with the TDPS community?
Email and share with us on social media!

The School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies
advances and transforms the research and practice of the performing arts
through a commitment to excellence and innovative education .


Kate Spanos, Coordinator of Marketing & Communications