University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 4/1996
Success Stories

     These days, you can't turn on your television, go to the
movies or see a Broadway play without encountering the successful
and busy alumni of the University's Professional Theatre Training
Program (PTTP).With shows opening and closing, agents calling
with new deals and soap opera characters dying off (but probably
coming back to life a few months later), it's hard to say exactly
where these particular graduates may be when you're reading this
article. But at the end of June, here's where some of them were
and what some of them had to say.
     Dennis Ryan    
     Ryan, Delaware '92M, is a down-to-Earth guy, who really
hasn't let a role in a Broadway hit go to his head. Even when he
talks about chatting in the dressing rooms of stars like Carol
Burnett, he speaks of the experience as a privilege instead of
something to impress the folks at home.
     It's probably just that unflappable personality that helped
him endure the grueling, eight-week audition process that landed
him the role of Paul in Moon Over Buffalo. The show, starring
Burnett and Philip Bosco, ran on Broadway for almost a year,
closing June 30.
     Modest about his considerable talent, Ryan says it was just
a matter of "falling into a window of opportunity that opened for
     Originally cast as the understudy for two men's parts, just
days before the final cast was to assemble for a first meeting,
Ryan received a call saying the actor cast as Paul was
unavailable for rehearsals. Ryan was asked if he would join the
cast to rehearse the part, with the understanding that the other
actor would play the role when it got to Broadway. Ryan accepted
those terms, agreeing to stay on as an understudy when the other
actor returned.
     Rather than being jealous of the other actor or anxious
about his future, Ryan said the uncertainty of the part made him
work harder.
     "I tried to remind myself that this was just another play. I
tried hard to stay away from that place where I would see this as
my big break."
     That philosophy paid off. By the time the show got to
Broadway, the part of Paul was his.
     Today, Ryan maintains his grateful attitude and
modesty-something he attributes to a practical fiance and three
older sisters, "who would take me down in a minute if my ego got
out of hand."
     Ron Bashford
     Bashford, Delaware '92M, and several other PTTP grads from
both UD and its former home at the University of Wisconsin,
Madison, have started their own theatre company in New York, The
Hartshorn Theatre Company.
     "Some of use got together and were talking about the nature
of our profession, how difficult it is to maintain a sense of
community and the economic pressures on actors who are just
starting out. We found we were all looking for a situation that
might sustain us over a long period of time," he says.
     What they came up with is an organization dedicated to
looking at the power of theatre through the language of great
plays, an organization that would sustain relationships among
actors and audiences alike.
     Kelly Dunn     
     When Dunn, Delaware '92M, was trying to decide what to do
with her life, she went looking for goosebumps-those tingly
feelings that make life worthwhile. She found them in what she
calls "collective imagining"-that all-caught-up-in-the-same-
moment phenomenon that a theatre audience experiences during a
great performance.
     To keep those goosebumps in her life and to share them with
others, the answer to a life's career seemed simple. Dunn decided
to start a Shakespearean festival.
     The Baltimore Shakespeare Festival operated successfully for
several seasons, had a touring program for area schools and a
summer educational outreach program for high school students
interested in theatre, but loss of a major benefactor is making
it necessary to re-think the plan.
     Already a successful television actress when she came to
PTTP, Dunn says the festival gave her a chance to settle down and
spend time with her husband and daughter.
     "When you're on television and you're not in a scene, you do
a lot of sitting around in trailers. I had to ask myself if
that's how I wanted to remember my life," she says. "Sharing
goosebumps seemed like a better way."
     Steve Harris     
     If you remember the bald terrorist trying to gun down
Nicholas Cage minutes before Sean Connery saves the day near the
end of the summer hit, The Rock, then you've seen Harris,
Delaware '92M, on the big screen.
     On the small screen, you may have seen him plugging
Cheerios, Budweiser, A-1 Steak Sauce and Campbell's Chunky Soup
in commercials. He's also appeared in episodes of Homicide, New
York Undercover, the HBO movie, Alcatraz, and the mini series,
The Civil War. He also appeared with Wesley Snipes in the feature
film, Sugar Hill.
     Lee Ernst     
     Ernst, Delaware '92M, is an international performer,
appearing in The Silence, a bi-cultural production performed with
Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and in Japan. He also traveled to
Russia for a cultural exchange with the Moscow Art Theatre, where
he performed in a production of Chekhov's The Seagull.
     Other PTTP grads who are gainfully employed in aspects of
theatre are
     *Ty Jones, Delaware '95M, who can be seen in a Pepcid A-C
commercial and who appeared in the television serial, All My
     *Carol Healey, Delaware '92M, who performed at the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival in a production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia;
     *Doug Zschiegner, Delaware '92M, the artistic director of
the Mill Mountain Theatre Company in Roanoke, Va.; and
     *Brian Kurlander, '95M, who played Romeo at the Alabama
Shakespeare Festival and performed at the Denver Center in You
Never Can Tell.
     Back in New York, Tracy Burns, Delaware '92M, stage managed
Moon Over Buffalo at the Martin Beck Theatre; Paul Boehmer,
Delaware '92M, appeared at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in An
Ideal Husband; and Melissa Chalsma, Delaware '92M, was seen in
Harold Pinter's Moonlight at the Roundabout Theatre.
     This fall, a new class enters the PTTP for three years of
intensive study.
                                           -Beth Thomas