The Colgate Scene
May 2005

Stage setter
Matt Brogan helped lay the foundation for robust student arts community

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

It started with Oliver.

Matt Brogan's second-grade teacher, who helped run a community theater in the Syracuse area, held auditions in class one day. Brogan was picked, and then hooked.

"Right from the start, I had a knack for it," said the Colgate senior. "I did another show the year after, and then like any kid in theater, I would do two or three shows a year."

He worked with Syracuse Stage and Theatre '90 in Syracuse and performed in numerous plays through the town of Manlius recreation department and Fayetteville-Manlius High School. But after arriving at Colgate, where both his dad, G. Martin '73, and sister Jane '02 attended, Brogan said he considered pulling away from theater a bit, partly because he had done it for so long and partly because he felt he wouldn't be viewed as a "serious" student if he wasn't taking lots of science courses or conducting research. He sensed there wasn't a unified community of arts students on campus.

Today, that has completely chang-ed. And if you talk to people around campus, Brogan and fellow seniors Rebecca Spiro, Nick Thielen, and Lori Mele played a big role in that evolution.

Newfound campus arts community
Through a range of initiatives that Brogan helped to develop as community coordinator at Creative Arts House, a college theme house on Broad Street, a greater sense of cohesion among student arts groups has taken hold on campus.

"I think there has been a surge of feeling among arts students that they have something special to offer and that they hold an important place in the campus culture," said Noël Bisson, assistant dean of the college and liaison to the arts. "Matt played a central role in that change," she said. What helps make it all work is that while not all of the students are theater, art, or music majors -- they study political science, or economics, or physics -- all share an interest in the arts and have taken advantage of the myriad opportunities that Colgate provides.

"I think there's been a big shift. Now a lot of kids do identify themselves as being in the arts community on campus or identify themselves as artists," said Brogan, who is majoring in art and art history with a minor in physics. "It's OK to say that theater is what I'm good at, this is what I like to do."

Living in Creative Arts House for three years has made it easier for Brogan to implement some of the initiatives. He started a series of short plays, dubbed One Night Stands, at the house and helped organize Halloween Band Fest, which drew more than 400 students last October.

Brogan is also a co-founder of the Colgate Arts! Initiative, which puts on an annual festival each spring. As part of the first festival, he directed and appeared in Songs for a New World, a contemporary musical that ran at the Palace Theater.

And he has continued to act in major campus productions. Last December, Brogan appeared in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, which filled the Palace to capacity. This spring, he and Spiro directed and starred in The Last Five Years, another contemporary musical.

Going on behind the scenes has been a lot of work toward an organized structure that will keep events such as the Arts! Festival and One Night Stands alive in the coming years.

The rebirth of Masque & Triangle
"Matt has worked really hard to get the student arts organizations together, to increase their collective presence on campus," said Corey Landstrom, head of the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement.

One piece of that work is Brogan's efforts to revitalize Masque & Triangle, a student theater group that thrived on campus beginning in the early 1900s but petered out in the late 1960s. Brogan is excited about the prospect of the group building on its past traditions and creating new ones that will serve students in the years ahead. He has talked about Masque & Triangle with some of the hundreds of alumni he has met as a member of the Colgate Thirteen, the a cappella singing group he has been with since his first year.

Doug Wilson '57 and other alumni involved in Masque & Triangle have told Brogan about their experiences with the group. Some were surprised that it had disbanded but thrilled to hear that it was coming back.

"Masque and Triangle is a cool tradition that we're trying to tap back into," said Brogan. The group, which is again recognized by the Student Government Association, is looking to create a membership system based on participation in theater productions. It also would serve as an organizing body to create theatrical seasons that make sense for all of the student groups on campus.

Brogan said that student theater groups receive a lot of support from the university. Sarah Bay-Cheng, assistant professor of English and theater, for example, was helpful in organizing the One Night Stands and other student productions. Brogan worked as a set designer on Machinal, the University Theater production directed by Bay-Cheng last fall. He also got to work on one production with Jacques Levy, the former director of the theater program, who died in October.

The two different approaches the professors took to directing were terrific learning experiences, Brogan said. He has also worked with English professor Marjorie Kellogg, who is a scenic designer for numerous Broadway productions. Kellogg helped Brogan secure an internship in New York City with David Gallo, who has done scenic design for the Blue Man Group productions and Broadway shows Gem of the Ocean and Thoroughly Modern Millie, last summer.

Acting and architecture
Brogan will head back to the Big Apple shortly after graduation. He intends to spend a year or two looking for acting roles, primarily in musicals, which he likes best. Having been involved in acting since he was a child and having worked with talent agencies, Brogan knows the challenges that lie ahead. He'll answer "cattle calls" for musicals, show up for auditions, and try to impress the right people. He also plans to look for work in smaller venues, national touring productions, and regional theater, inviting people to see him perform, hoping that those connections lead to bigger things.

At the same time, he plans to find an internship with an architectural firm in New York City and prepare applications for graduate school to pursue his interest in architecture, spurred when he spent a summer in the Harvard Graduate School of Design's Career Discovery program. (Jeremiah Eck '67 served as its director from 1984 to 1999 and continues to offer seminars there.)

Brogan is interested in urban planning, and with Syracuse officials considering development proposals by Destiny USA that would reshape the look of his hometown for years to come, he sees Syracuse as a potential stage for him to play a role.

Through it all, he will also be keeping an eye on the Arts! Initiative and other student arts programs that he hopes become fixtures at Colgate. Bisson, though, said she doesn't expect the final curtain to be falling on the initiatives any time soon.

"Matt and the other seniors have worked hard to cultivate younger students to step into leadership roles," said Bisson. "I think the future of student arts is in good hands."

Top of page
Table of contents
<< Previous: Leader on ice... Next: A mission proposition >>