Theater as the Integrated Performing Arts by Shannon McGovern

Have you heard about the School of the Arts and Communication’s new Integrated Performing Arts minor? Find out everything you need to know from Shannon McGovern in her latest blog post below! For more information about the minor, please visit

Shannon McGovern is a junior Music student, with minors in Integrated Performing Arts and Management. She is a member of All College Theatre, Alpha Psi Omega, the TCNJ Chorale, and The Mixed Signals Improv troupe. She is looking forward to baking soufflés and cookies with her younger siblings over Spring Break.

At the end of last semester, I changed my major and added on 2 minors. As a Junior at TCNJ, this was one of the scariest decisions I have ever made. I switched from the Bachelor of Music in Music Education degree to a Bachelor of Arts in Music with minors in Management and Integrated Performing Arts. Though it was a terrifying decision to make, I am so excited to be studying things that I’m really, truly interested in — the main subject of which is theater.

When I first found out there wasn’t a specific route for studying theater at TCNJ, I was a little disappointed. However, after becoming a part of the Integrated Performing Arts minor (henceforth known as IPA), I realize this interdisciplinary minor is more valuable than a theater minor would ever be.

The IPA minor resulted when the Theatre and Drama Interdisciplinary minor was updated and renamed in Spring 2012. The goal of the IPA program “is to offer students an expanded experience in performance techniques using the various disciplines in the School and in the College.” There are requirements for Theory/History/Literature, Applied Music, Visual Arts/Interactive Multimedia, and Applied Theatre, Dance, and Production. Within the IPA minor, I have taken voice lessons, studied a little bit of computer programming, learned about art history, made a fool of myself in my hip-hop dance class, and have had more fun than I ever thought possible. I have a new appreciation for all of these realms of art and performance, and have realized that I can do most of these things to a passable degree.

The amazing part, is that all of these “different” arts inform and grow off of each other. When I’m learning a new song for my voice studio, I find symbols in the text that are commonly discussed in art history. During my dance class, I find myself applying my knowledge of music history to that of the development of ballet. Everything is interrelated in the arts, and you can’t truly master one without the knowledge of the others.

When you think about it, theater is the ultimate product of all that knowledge — it combines all aspects of art into one cohesive experience. In that case, doesn’t it make sense that I study the visual arts, music, acting, literature, and dance if my final goal is to continue creating theater? I know that the knowledge I am discovering in the classroom is improving my skills as a performer/collaborator/audience member in the theater. I feel very at home studying the Integrated Performing Arts, and I bet that if you love art in any form, you will as well. So if you’re trying to figure out what to do for those elective classes, why not talk to your advisor and think about taking up the minor? I promise it’ll be a lot of fun.

If you’re interested in any of the TCNJ student-run theater organizations, theater, switching your major, or the IPA minor or have any questions, feel free to email me at Students may also contact any of the coordinators for the program: Terry Byrne (Associate Professor of Communication Studies,, James Day (Assistant Dean of The School of the Arts & Communication, or Robert McMahan (Professor of Music, for academic advisement regarding the minor.

For more information about the IPA minor, please visit


Improv(ing) Your Life by Shannon McGovern, Junior Music Education Major

We’d like to welcome new student blogger Shannon McGovern, a junior Music Education major with a Vocal Concentration. In her first blog post below, Shannon explains the LARCH rule and how it’s been “impov(ing)” her improvisation skills, and how you can use it to improve your daily life, too!

Shannon McGovern, Junior Music Education Major, Vocal Concentration

Shannon McGovern, Junior Music Education Major, Vocal Concentration

Hello everyone, and welcome to my first blog post for the School of the Arts & Communication blog! Glad you could make it. My name is Shannon McGovern, and I am a junior Music Education major with a Vocal concentration. I am currently involved with the TCNJ Chorale, All College Theatre, The Mixed Signals Improv troupe, and Alpha Psi Omega. In my spare time I enjoy yoga, riding my bike, photography, and peanut butter.

I feel obligated to excel in many areas, which seems to be a commonality amongst most people. But in trying to “have it all” I usually end up hurting myself the most. Why is it that I am willing to sacrifice my own happiness and well-being for things that I am less than passionate about? I’ve been asking myself this question more and more, and the only answer I come to is that I shouldn’t be. So this semester, I’ve been trying to change the way I approach day-to-day life so that I can be successful without derailing my sanity.

I am a member of the Mixed Signals Improv Comedy Troupe on campus. We practice twice a week and have shows once every month (you should definitely check out our November 2nd show!). My Dad is always very interested in how we “just know what to do,” and the truth is, we practice playing games a lot. It’s never the same scene, but you use “rules” in every game to help guide you to create a strong scene. One of the rules is called LARCH and it stands for “Location, Action, Relationship, Character, and History.”

While these terms are applied a little differently in improv, I find the terms can also be applied for success in everyday life as well.

Location : Place yourself in an environment where you can succeed.  I am incapable of doing my homework around people I am friends with. I have tried many times, and have handed in incomplete or poorly done work because of it. So now, I go to the library by myself or work in my room with the door shut. And that’s okay. Finding/creating a place where you can excel is important.

Action : Work for yourself. When deciding what new projects I want to take on, I now reevaluate whether or not it is for something I like/care about/am interested in/will help me to grow. If the answer to those questions is no, I won’t do it. A low value (Value = Perceived Benefits / Cost) may not be worth it to my overall well-being. When you start looking out for your own interests, you become your own best advocate.

Relationship : Find people. Preferably ones who will support you, and laugh with you, and will share their experiences with you. TCNJ is full of exceptional humans who are high achievers in all different areas — don’t neglect them just because you’re involved with different activities. Friends can come from anywhere, so never forget to keep looking.

Character : Discover what you care about. Once you determine what is important to you as an individual, it is much easier to do everything else. Without a strong character in improv, it is much harder to make choices in your scene. The same goes for life. If you have strong ideas or passions, knowing what you need to do next is already laid out.

History : Learn from your past mistakes. The most cliché of all, but the most true. Knowledge comes from mistakes, and success can come from knowledge (and some luck). College is a great place to make mistakes — we are in a safe environment where everyone around us wants us to succeed. People will be there to dust you off and set you on the right path. Don’t be afraid to mess-up, so long as you’re willing to try and fix it.

The ideas behind LARCH are helping to keep me focused and well-aligned this semester, and I’m very grateful for it. The concepts are basic, but the constant repetition and reminders are keeping me sane, steady, and mostly stress-free.

If you often feel overworked/overwhelmed, I’d suggest trying to apply LARCH to your own life. But if you only jive with one of the LARCH ideas, run with-it and ignore the others. One of the greatest “rules” in improv is that the “rules” are meant to be broken, so don’t be afraid to change things up when you need to. What else is keeping you balanced?

If you have any questions about Improv Comedy, The Mixed Signals, or being busy, feel free to email me at

Blogging the Brown Bag Series: Round One by Katharine Callahan, Freshman Communication Studies Major

Please welcome one of our new student bloggers for the TCNJ School of the Arts & Communication blog, Katharine Callahan! She’s been busy attending the Brown Bag Series lectures and presentations. Read what Katharine has to say about the first four Fall 2013 Brown Bags!

My name is Katharine Callahan, I am a freshman this year at TCNJ, and am majoring in Communication Studies. My track is public and mass communications, with a minor in International Studies and Marketing. I work in Ewing and Trenton during the week between classes, and come spring semester hopefully I won’t have to work at so I can join some of the clubs on campus!

The presenters this fall semester for TCNJ’s Brown Bag Series are not just TCNJ Alumni who landed a job early after graduating, semi-professionals who got a lucky break in their endeavors, or unenthusiastic individuals repeating monotone lines they have used a dozen different times in presentations just like this. No, the Brown Bags thus far have only showed hard working individuals, regardless of if they are TCNJ alumni or not, who have worked and struggled to achieve the success they have today, and continue to work and struggle because of their enthusiasm for the arts.

Cheese Sandwich Days

Christy Ney, Asst. Stage Manager, “Wicked”

Christy Ney, TCNJ Alumni and Assistant Stage Manager of the Broadway Musical Wicked, presented the first Brown Bag, “A Life in the Wings,” and introduced the concept of “Cheese Sandwich Days,” days when you can’t afford to pay for your rent, your bills, or for your groceries, so you resort to eating bread and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Christy was a communication studies major at TCNJ with a minor in theater (which is no longer offered at TCNJ), she opted to study the television and film production track during her time here, and was an active part of TCNJ’s Theater club and the TSC (Trenton State College) Update, which you might know now as Lions TV. Besides keeping up with school and extracurriculars her senior year, Christy also had an externship (essentially job shadowing at a company or corporation) in NYC working for Disney Theatrical on their Broadway production of The Lion King, which led to her receiving a job on the production of the play only ten days after graduation.

Christy worked with The Lion King for four years before she decided to leave and began working with Wicked; a dream job that she landed because of both her experience and connections in the field. Christy stressed that networking is not only essential to her job as Asst. Stage Manager, where she is the center point of communication during the show during every performance, but also to the field of communications. She has started her own company called “Broadway Basics” to teach upcoming individuals the fundamentals of working and networking on Broadway. “Learn as many names as you can,” Christy says, “because you never know when knowing a name will come in handy.”

Dean John Laughton, Joan Myers Brown, Risa Kaplowitz, and Karen Calloway-Williams

Dean John Laughton, Ms. Joan Myers Brown, Ms. Risa Gary Kaplowitz, and Ms. Karen Calloway Williams

One name worth knowing in the arts field is Joan Meyers Brown, founder and Executive Artistic Director of PHILANDANCO, the world-renowned Philadelphia based African American dance company. Ms. Brown, Karen Calloway Williams, who was the first African American tap dancer to appear in Riverdance, Risa Gary Kaplowitz, a predominant figure in the ballet world, and our very own Dean of the School of the Arts and Communication, Dr. John Laughton, were all a part of TCNJ’s second Brown Bag event, “By Way of the Funk.” The premise of their conversation was of the bias many African Americans face in the world of dance, especially ballet. Ms. Brown told of how when she was growing up, during segregation in the 1960s, she was the only African American girl in her ballet class, and how difficult it was to become a professional in her field because of her race. This is why, in 1970, she founded the Philadelphia Dance Company known as PHILANDANCO, a dance company that tries to equalize the representation African Americans have in the dance community. Karen Williams explained the prejudices she faced, and still continues to face, in her successful career as a tap dancer. Risa Kaplowitz, who herself is not African American, explained the lack of African American dancers she sees in professional ballet, noting that Misty Copeland is one of very, very few African Americans to “make it” in ballet. The conclusion of their lecture examined segregation in the past to bias in dance now, with Dean Laughton referencing a conversation he once had with Rosa Parks, and the audience applauding Ms. Brown’s winning of the National Medal of the Arts from the President in 2012.

Filmmaker Luis Salas, Dr. Susan Ryan, and Professor Lorna Johnson-Frizell

Filmmaker Luis Salas, Dr. Susan Ryan, and Professor Lorna Johnson-Frizell

Luis Salas, a 2002 alumni of TCNJ, spoke of his latest work, a  “mockumentary” entitled Dead Man Working, about the dead rising as a cheap workforce that results in a loss of jobs for the living. Salas says that the inspiration for his work came from the zombie pop culture craze in 2008 along with the year’s economic downfall in the United States. Prior to Dead Man Working, Salas had worked on documentaries such as 2006’s Far From the Island, which focused on Cuban Immigrants to the United States. Salas says that he got his start in film by doing a lot of unpaid work, and at one point helped to film in the adult film industry, where Salas says many filmmakers begin their work but try to hide it because they do not want to be known for that kind of work. However, Salas leaves us with the understanding that where you begin your work does not define your future work, and states that getting your foot in the door is the most important factor in beginning a career in film.

Dr. Benjamin Gross gave the fourth Brown Bag lecture, and went in to detail about David Sarnoff, the founder of NBC and main proponent of RCA Laboratories’ success as the “center of America’s consumer electronic industry.” Sarnoff only attended school until eighth grade, when he then moved to the United States and worked full-time to help support his family. RCA Labs, located in Princeton, was created in 1919, and it is because of RCA labs that we today have such inventions as the color television, liquid crystal displays, and semiconductor devices. However, none of this would have been possible without David Sarnoff, who believed in investing immensely in the lab’s research development department. Dr. Gross ended his lecture with a quote from Sarnoff that describes the pursuit of knowledge many TCNJ students embody, “There is no security in standing still. Those who rest on the rock of stabilization sooner or later find that that rock becomes their tombstone. There is no security for the future in the mere knowledge of today. There is hope and opportunity in what we can learn tomorrow.”

TCNJ Sarnoff Collection, Roscoe West Hall, 2nd Floor

TCNJ Sarnoff Collection, Roscoe West Hall, 2nd Floor

Big Moves for the TCNJ Wind Ensemble by Andrew Unger

Senior Music major and TCNJ Wind Ensemble member Andrew Unger is back with his first blog post of the Fall 2013 semester. Check out the major performances that TCNJ student musicians have coming up for this academic year!

Andrew Unger

Andrew Unger, Senior Music Major

Someone attending a performance for the first time may not realize it, but the TCNJ Wind Ensemble is a diverse bunch. It’s like a musical flowerbed. Some, like music education majors and other music majors are well-represented, while singular students from various non-music departments provide valuable accents to the whole.

This year, senior music majors make up the majority; as many as 20 of us could be graduating this May. I’m one of them, and I think I can speak for us all when I say that we have done great things together as a class. These things include performances all over the tri-state area, premieres of pieces by notable composers, recording sessions, collaborations with professional performing groups, and many other exciting engagements and opportunities. We’ve come a long way.

Late this summer, we received even more exciting news. The TCNJ Wind Ensemble was accepted to perform in the March 2014 College Band Directors National Association (CBDNA) Eastern Division Conference in Boston! Along with musicians from other high-level music schools like the New England Conservatory, we will be performing for conductors, bandleaders, educators, and high-profile musicians and musical personalities from all over the country. This will give us a chance to distinguish ourselves and our amazing faculty in ways that we have not been able to in years.

The French horn studio also received a piece of sensational news this summer. We, along with our incomparable teacher, Kathy Mehrtens, were invited to play as a horn ensemble at the Northeast Horn Workshop in March 2014. We will be traveling to Rowan University to show the horn world what we can do, and for that we’re as proud as we are grateful.

By this time next year our red dot on the map of America’s music schools will shine even brighter as more and more people learn about the awesome things we’ve done, and the trail we plan to blaze in the future. I have been confident in my class and my school since I first set foot in the music building, and these events will provide further validation of the tremendous value this school has for New Jersey’s musical community.

For more information on the CBDNA Eastern Division Conference and the Eastern Horn Workshop, you can check out these sites, respectively:

End of Year Wrap Up by Andrew Unger

Music major Andrew Unger reflects back on the Spring 2013 semester’s music performances and concerts in his end of the year wrap up. Thank you for following the TCNJ School of the Arts & Communication blog! Congratulations to all graduating seniors and we hope you all have a great and safe summer break! More student blog posts to come this Fall 2013!

What an exhausting, valuable, and fun academic year it’s been. I’m writing this blog post on the morning after performing with the TCNJ Wind Ensemble under Dr. David Vickerman in Shadows, a concert which marks the culmination of a year of very diverse and engaging concerts showcased by the Music Department. With only one concert left – Just Because! by the TCNJ Choirs – the entire student body can look back on a year of which it can be quite proud.

The TCNJ orchestra, choirs, and bands have all worked tirelessly to enrich the campus community with music in whatever way they can. To be a part of this process has been extremely fulfilling, and I’m already looking forward to two more seasons of incredible concerts.

During the tumult of finals week and the conclusion of classes, it’s just as important to look back on these wonderful experiences as it is to study for said finals. As a student of the fine arts, end-of-semester performances are a channel for months of hard work to be converted into something extremely positive, and for that I am grateful. Thank you to the students and faculty of the music department for an awesome year, and I’m anticipating another great one very soon. After all, September is not so far away.

A farewell and reflection from Allison Gibbons, graduating Music major

Allison Gibbons, senior Music major, gives TCNJ her final farewell before graduation. See what Allison’s future plans are, as well as her meaningful advice as she reflects back on her experiences as an undergraduate student. It has certainly been a pleasure to feature Allison as a student blogger!!

Wow, what an incredible whirlwind of a semester it has been! Since writing my February blog post I have taught elementary and middle school music, auditioned at four graduate schools, earned my Kappa Delta Pi honor cord, interviewed for a teaching job, sung at Lincoln Center, performed in Lyric Theatre’s opera scenes program, sung in my final concert with the chorale, attended numerous recitals and ensemble performances, and turned twenty-two. As you may recall, I have become accustomed to living with a busy schedule (in fact, I would have it no other way), but this semester turned my life upside down. I am feeling exhausted, burnt out, ready to graduate, and ready for summer.

I came into this semester thinking that I would be attending graduate school next year pursuing a master’s degree in voice performance. I prepared as best I could for my auditions (see my February blog post), but it just wasn’t enough. Student teaching affected the way I was using my voice and the amount of practice time I had, and I got sick three times between the last week of January and the first week of March. None of my auditions went particularly badly, but none were the best singing I’ve done this year. The week of April first was a disheartening one as I was rejected from each and every school that I had auditioned for.

It happens to most people at some point, I suppose: you think you know exactly what your plan is and how your life will play out, but you get taken by surprise. What do you do? What is your next move? What is your Plan B?

No matter how hard it is to do, we need to cope with whatever bizarre circumstances life tosses our way. It can be stressful and upsetting, but it’s very important to be able to deal with these circumstances (and the emotions that may come with them) in a healthy way. Fortunately, I have a wonderful support system of friends, family, and even a few professors who helped me to make it through what would have been an otherwise extremely difficult time. I happen to be a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and I am excited to take the next step in my journey; it just happens to be a different step than the one I had originally anticipated.

I am currently applying to quite a few teaching jobs, and I am hoping that I will find a position for the new school year this coming fall; In the meantime, I am looking forward to teaching at the performing and visual arts day camp at my high school this summer, which I attended not too many years ago. I know that wherever my life takes me after graduation, I plan to do what I have always done: work hard, do my best, and do whatever I do with passion, enthusiasm, and vigor.

My four years at TCNJ have taught me so much and have helped shape me into the person I am today, and I am so grateful for the experiences I have had and the relationships that have developed because four years ago I chose The College of New Jersey. I am proud of my achievements and how far I’ve come as a student, teacher, musician, and person. Farewell, TCNJ, and to everyone who helped make my undergraduate experience what it was: thank you!

Andrew Unger lets you in on great deals on professional music performance tickets!

Please welcome back our new student blogger Andrew Unger, who is about to let you in on some of the best deals for professional music performances right here in the TCNJ area! Read more about how you can even watch the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra perform on March 1st for just $10!

Andrew UngerAndrew Unger, Junior Music Major

Next Stop, Market East!

Location, location, location.

One of the many things I value about my school is its close proximity to artistically lively metropolitan areas. Music is all around us, and we have the privilege of having world-renowned orchestras, chamber groups, and soloists performing right across the pond -in New York, Philly, and even our own New Jersey- on a regular basis. Just thinking about the incredible opportunities I’ve had in the past few years sends shivers down my spine.

In the Spring of 2012, I took my little sister to the Kimmel Center to see my idol, Simon Rattle, conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in a rendition of Brahms’ 3rd Symphony, Webern’s 6 Pieces for Orchestra, and Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. Just last semester, I saw the principal horn of the New York Philharmonic, Phil Myers, perform chamber music alongside TCNJ’s own Dr. Tomoko Kanamaru at Symphony Space in NYC. I also shook his hand and had a lovely one-sided conversation (I was too nervous to say a word) with him backstage following the concert. Soon after, I saw one of the inaugural concerts of the new music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, in a stupefying Verdi Requiem. This past January, I drove for five minutes to Trenton’s War Memorial to see an electrifying New Jersey Symphony performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, conducted by Jacques Lacombe. In the spring, I plan on visiting Princeton’s McCarter Theater to hear international piano soloist Mitsuko Uchida.

All of this and more is right under our noses! If you have a student ID, you can get rush tickets for as low as 8 dollars to see the Philly Orchestra. Why not?

Speaking of great deals, contact Joe Pagani at <> for information about 10 dollar tickets to see the New Jersey Symphony perform, among other things, Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on March 1st. If enough students participate, we will be provided with free bus transportation by the NJSO. Mark your calendar!

BLOGGER BONUS! We also asked our bloggers the following question. Check out Andrew’s response below!

What was the best or most exciting part of your winter break?

The most exciting part of my winter break was recording a rock song with a group of friends. Other than that, I enjoyed relaxing and spending time with my family.