KINGSTON, R.I. – April 23, 2015 – Stephen Peterson was all set to study Italian when he first came to the University of Rhode Island, but then he stepped into Alan Hawkridge’s acting class.
Three weeks later, charmed by an inspiring instructor and the magic of acting, Peterson said so long to Italian studies and hello to the Theatre Department, his home for the last four years.
The 21-year-old Torrington, Conn., resident will graduate in May with a bachelor of fine arts in theater, with a focus on acting and directing. His plan is to join his girlfriend in Louisville, Ky., a hot spot for theater in the Midwest, to pursue acting opportunities.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “URI has prepared me for just about anything involving the theater.”
That’s an understatement. Thanks to URI, he can act, direct, design a set, hang lights, manage a box office, sing, dance and even engage in a bit of stage combat – mano a mano. And he can do it all with confidence and skill.
“He’s a go-getter,” says Paula McGlasson, chair of the Theatre Department. “Stephen is a very promising young artist with many talents in several facets of theater. Whatever he undertakes, he gives 100 percent of himself to the task. His intelligence, passion and persistence will take him far.”
Growing up in Torrington, in the bucolic northwest corner of Connecticut, Peterson acted on his high school stage a few times, but his heart was in Italian, which he started studying in middle school.
That all changed with Hawkridge’s introductory acting class. “Something about the class clicked with me, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.” Not only was acting fun, but also rewarding.
“You get to live someone else’s life,” he says. “You get to see the world through someone else’s lens. Through acting I’ve been able to learn so much about people and humanity.”
He has acted in numerous productions at URI, including “Chicago,” “Marvin’s Room,” “Be Aggressive,” “Much Ado about Nothing,” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” By far, his favorite was “Seminar,” a comedy about four aspiring young novelists taking a writing class. Peterson played the lead role of Martin.
“It was the most complete character arc I’ve ever experienced,” he says. “And I was on stage almost the entire play. I couldn’t go backstage for 10 minutes and be Stephen Peterson. That was thrilling.”
He is also a keen director. At URI, he directed “Bricklayer’s Poet,” a three-character play about a man and woman who meet in a Manhattan bar one night and share their stories of heartache.
“With directing, you have full control, from reading the script and casting to helping design the set and deciding what kind of message you want to get across to the audience,” he says. “It’s so creative.”
Thanks to the help of Bryna Wortman, the head of acting and directing at URI, Peterson has flourished in off-campus productions as well, including at Epic Theatre Company in Cranston, the 2nd Story Theatre Company in Warren and the Contemporary Theatre Co. in Wakefield. With URI’s help, he landed an internship last summer at the Chester Theatre Company in the Berkshires, assisting actors with day-to-day needs.
He has also excelled academically. He’s taken classes in the Honors Program and is a teaching assistant for an introduction to theater class. He is the newly appointed technical director for student productions and a member and founding brother of Phi Kappa Psi.
“The Theatre Department at URI is unrivaled,” he says. “The faculty is outstanding. They are all working professionals who have their students’ best interests at heart.”
His plan is to act for a decade, then direct. Along the way, he’d like to get his master of fine arts degree in acting. One day, he’d like to be the artistic director of a major theater company. He says he’ll select plays that explore social justice.
“The idea that we can make change happen through art is amazing,” he says. “There’s nothing better than going to a play. Nothing.”
Stephen Peterson, of Torrington, Conn., who is graduating from the University of Rhode Island in May with a bachelor of fine arts in theater.
Stephen Peterson, in white T-shirt, as Thomas from “The Busy World is Hushed” at Epic Theatre Company, in Cranston.
Stephen Peterson, in black vest, in a production of “Neon” at URI.
Photos courtesy of Stephen Peterson.