The theater is Theron (tur-ON) Alexander’s passion, and Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts was his first choice as the place to study – not as a performer, but as a stage manager.
When he joins his classmates at Commencement in May, Alexander will already have fulfilled a dream – working as an assistant stage manager in a professional production.
Stage managers are the unseen, uncelebrated centers of a play’s action. Only as a stage manager did Alexander believe he could see the entire production come to life – the reason he was drawn to stage management from the very beginning.
“As a stage manager, you get to see parts of the production that others don’t always get to see,” he says. “Actors are not a part of production meetings with the director and designers, and designers are not always in the rehearsal room with the actors as they develop and craft their characters. “
As a rising high-school freshman in East Orange, New Jersey, Alexander wanted to attend Cicely L. Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts. But to gain admission, he had to audition in a theatrical arts discipline – dance, acting, art or music. That’s when Alexander decided to learn the piano because it was a skill he could master with the help of the Internet. Although he succeeded by teaching himself to play Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, once he got there, Alexander fell in love with the theater.
A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Alexander, whose parents were divorced, came to the United States when he was 9 with his grandparents. His extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins, who arrived in the U.S. before him, have always supported his dream, mentoring him over the years and acting as his cheering section during performances.
When it was time to go to college, it was his extended family that encouraged him along with his parents, who have both remarried, and his two younger half-brothers. “They both mentor and guide me through life even though we have not seen each other in 14 years,” Alexander said. ”Being away from them has been one of the hardest obstacles I have had to overcome in my life, but it is also one of my greatest motivations.”
Once Alexander got to Rutgers, he did all he could to learn his craft. He worked the light board, and in the costume, scene and prop shops. He moved props in the dark between scenes. He worked on shows, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He interned with professional companies over the summer, and shadowed the stage manager of the Broadway show Wicked, which was a peak experience.
After graduating in December, Alexander was hired by the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick as an assistant stage manager for the play, Bad Jews. Before the show closed, the playhouse offered him a similar position in its production of Curvy Widow, which is now running. That, he said, was a stroke of luck because he knows all too well that theater life is punctuated by periods of unemployment. But, he believes, if he were easily discouraged, he would not have come this far.
Alexander points to his acceptance to Rutgers as proof that he doesn’t give up. When his aunts, uncles and grandparents, who had agreed to pay for his first semester’s expenses, couldn’t keep their promise because costs turned out to be more than they could afford, Alexander wasn’t discouraged. He found a mentor who helped him develop another plan. Carol Thompson, producing director of the Mason Gross School’s theater program and head of its stage management program, worked with Alexander to trim his schedule to 11 credits and drop his meal plan. She helped him make the decision to commute from his grandmother’s house, rather than living on campus, assisted Alexander in getting a scholarship from the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation.
It was the same financial scramble every semester. And despite a little hand-wringing to make sure the financing would be there, Alexander was never surprised that the pieces fell into place before he needed to start another semester.
Neither was Thompson nor Barbara Marchant, assistant professor of theater and head of acting, who helped Alexander with his hunt for academic financing.
“Theron’s sprits always stayed positive,” says Thompson, who is now retired. “I think he honestly and sincerely believes that it’s going to work out for him, which is one reason it works out for him. He’s just a really positive guy. He also has a tremendous work ethic.”
It’s a characteristic that Alexander says will be part of him as he moves forward in his career.
“I’m a determined person,” Alexander says. “I know that many people will say no. But somewhere in the world there’s somebody who is going to say yes.”
Media contact: Ken Branson, firstname.lastname@example.org; 848-932-0580; cell, 908-797-2590