Ithaca College welcomed celebrity alumnus Aaron Tveit ’05 to campus for several events Sept. 17–18. The actor and singer is known for Broadway leads in “Catch Me If You Can” and “Next to Normal,” in addition to numerous movie and television appearances. Most recently, he has starred in USA Network’s “Graceland,” and was cast as Danny Zuko in Fox’s “Grease: Live,” which will air in January 2016.
At the college, Tveit began his studies as a vocal performance major, then switched to musical theater performance for his second year. After taking a semester off to perform in “Rent” in Los Angeles, he went back to school for one semester, then left permanently to work.
In a question-and-answer session Sept. 17 that was attended by over a hundred students, Tveit fielded questions from current students about his life and career. He spoke about how important it was to stay genuine in a field that often values the superficial.
“It sounds so crazy and backwards, but just be a person, and people will want to work with you,” he said. “You can only be yourself, and I think that’s something every early 20-year-old realizes as they start to approach 30.”
He also reminded students of the importance of working hard and being prepared for auditions.
Tveit hosted an audition workshop for musical theater students Sept. 18 in the Hoerner Theatre. Only senior musical theater students were allowed to participate, but anyone could observe. Though students came and went throughout the event, the front 10 rows were consistently full of observers and performers.
Senior Johnny Shea was one of the students who was able to perform a mock audition for Tveit. Shea said he’s looked up to Tveit for a long time, and the actor’s success on Broadway and in Hollywood partially motivated Shea to attend the college. Shea said performing in front of a famous actor was a surreal experience that also served valuable learning purposes.
“It was a little intimidating, obviously, but then he really emphasized how important it was to treat it as a workshop rather than a performance,” Shea said. “I just released the need to try and impress, and instead tried to just learn and have fun … It definitely helps that he’s someone so successful because even though I’ve heard a lot of what he said from other people, when it’s coming from someone like him you really believe it.”
Shea said the authenticity Tveit spoke of at the question-and-answer session truly shined during the audition workshop.
“Sometimes it’s easy with celebrities to think of them on a pedestal, and I think that’s what I was doing at first,” he said. “But then, he was like a normal guy.”
Shea and senior Mike Sullivan, who also had the opportunity to audition in front of Tveit, attested to the fact that having such a successful alumnus of their program is extremely motivating.
“That’s half of the reason I wanted to come to Ithaca,” Sullivan said. “It’s because of the great alumni and [Tveit] being probably the most famous one. I mean, it’s great knowing that someone from our school is doing so well in what I hope to be doing … If there wasn’t such a strong alumni from Ithaca, I probably wouldn’t have attended.”
Students said some of the most valuable advice that Tveit gave came during his Q&A session, in which he spoke extensively about having a strong work ethic.
“When you get to New York, you have to get your ass in class and stay in class,” Tveit said. “Even if you’re not getting auditions for film and television, you have to still work because one day you will get that audition, and you have to be ready.”
When asked what he had taken from his time at the college, Tveit said he still remembers his education fondly, considering it to be a bedrock for his successful acting career.
“It’s such a foundation for everything. I leaned on everything that the teachers here told us. I still think of all of those things today,” he said. “This place is such a special place. The love and support you get from this special group of people stays with you every day.”
Aaron Tveit’s visit was organized by Mary Corsaro, associate professor of musical theater.