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Musical Theatre grads look to the future

Chris McCauley
  • April 29, 2021

This academic year has been unlike any other. Students and faculty have navigated unprecedented complexity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, over the course of the past 14 months, they have exemplified resiliency and creativity.

Justine Grace NelsonLaurel FloenDiego Villanueva

Justine Grace Nelson, Laurel Floen, and Diego Villanueva

This academic year has been unlike any other. Students and faculty have navigated unprecedented complexity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, over the course of the past 14 months, they have exemplified resiliency and creativity.

In the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Theatre, three graduating seniors are preparing for their next steps, while taking some time to reflect on their experiences over the past year.

"Obviously, this was not the senior year any of us had planned,” said Justine Grace Nelson, a senior who will earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre this spring. “We have taken advantage of technology and created professional online presences showcasing our work and learned so much about the business side of the industry this year.”

By leveraging technology and an adaptable spirit, the faculty in the Department of Theatre have ensured students still receive a world-class educational experience even when they are remote and/or wearing masks and socially distanced.

“I have been so inspired by these strong and resilient students and artists,” said Valerie Accetta, Head of Musical Theatre at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “This is not at all the senior year they envisioned when they started at UAB, but even in the midst of a global pandemic, they have continued to do committed work and claim their unique artistic voices.”

One of Accetta’s inspiring students is Laurel Floen. As she approaches graduation, Floen recently reflected on her experience in the musical theatre program and uncovered an eye-opening discovery. “When we turn the spotlight off ourselves and use it to shine light outwards through our work, that’s when we hit gold,” said Floen.

Floen also feels a deep and unwavering bond with her fellow musical theatre seniors, including Nelson and Diego Villanueva.

For Villanueva, the pandemic did not stop him from envisioning a future that is dynamic and bright. “Once I graduate, I will be headed to Rehoboth, Delaware joining Clear Space Theatre in their summer season,” said Villanueva. Afterwards, he will participate in a year-long apprenticeship with the Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers, Florida, then he will be off to New York City.

Nelson is also pursuing her dreams in the Sunshine State. “I am currently in Florida already working on my first professional post-grad production as Peppermint Patty in ThinkTank’s production of Snoopy," said Nelson.

In August, Floen plans to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to start an internship with Good to Go Theater. Philadelphia also presents Floen with an added benefit – proximity to New York City. “I might even take the two-hour train ride to New York City to visit friends and audition more once everything opens again,” said Floen.

All three students note their appreciation for the faculty in the Department of Theatre for providing immense support and mentorship during this unpredictable year. For Accetta, creating such a nurturing environment was a pleasure. “Laurel, Justine, and Diego are simply beautiful humans, and I feel so lucky to have shared in their journey,” Accetta said.