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Brianna Lynn Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, is the star of a classic Walt Disney World holiday extravaganza — proving that dreams really do come true.

"You have one life, one chance to LOVE your life, so go full-heartedly toward what will make you most happy," says Bauch-Gregorio, ’17. Photo: Just LA Photography.

It’s a balmy 68-degree December day in Orlando, Fl., and Brianna Lynn Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, is feeling decidedly festive. Decked out in a winter-white coat with matching hat, gloves, and booties, she marches on to the brightly lit stage. “Let’s get this party started!” says Bauch-Gregorio, who is starring as Haley Comet in A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

A native of Newtown, Conn., Bauch-Gregorio was hired by Disney to host the beloved 18-minute holiday show, which runs until Dec. 31. She’ll perform up to five nights a week (five shows a night) — with an additional six daily shows during the peak holiday week of Dec. 23-31.

It’s a dream assignment for Bauch-Gregorio, who first imagined performing at Disney when she was a child visiting the resort.

Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, takes the stage alongside a few Disney favorites. Photo: Mousesteps

“I have the privilege of creating magic for these guests,” says Bauch-Gregorio, an Equity actor who performs under the name Brianna Bauch. “I remember how much it impacted me. I’m sure that there are kids in the audience watching our show and thinking, ‘I’m going to do that one day!’ just the way that I did,” she says.

Bauch-Gregorio came to Southern with plans to double major in theatre and special education. Performing was central to her Southern experience. She joined the cast and crew of 13 shows at the university. She notes that it’s challenging to pick a favorite college performance. But when pressed, says that playing Persephone in Polaroid Stories in her junior year was particularly influential. “This role challenged and pushed me as an actor. It broke down the barriers of what I thought I could do in a performance. It really proved to me that I have so much more inside of me to give and to show the world,” she says.

That same year, she realized she was pursuing education as a backup plan. “I love teaching but I know my real passion is performing, and I just couldn’t see myself in a classroom every day,” says Bauch-Gregorio. She dropped the second major and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in theatre.

Since then she’s never looked back. “When I am on stage, I truly feel like it’s the safest place in the world,” she says. “I am where I’m supposed to be, doing what I was designed to do.”

In the midst of a busy performance schedule, Bauch-Gregorio paused to share her thoughts on theater, Southern and Disney.

It’s a dramatic moment for Bauch-Gregorio, ’17, and the production’s background dancers. Photo: Alvin Chang

That Disney magic: “This experience has been truly incredible, even more amazing than I had anticipated,” says Bauch-Gregorio of performing for guests from around the world. “I get to create happiness for these families. . . . And of course, seeing the kids’ faces when Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wazowski, and Stitch come out on stage is just priceless.”

An early calling: “I knew from a very young age that performing would be my life. There’s this indescribable feeling that I get when I’m on stage. It’s true joy,” she says.

The power of theater: “The arts are so important,” says Bauch-Gregorio. “There is so much educational value, healing, and beauty in this art form. I am truly lucky to get to be a part of that.”

A Southern (Continuing) Love Story: Brianna is married to her high school sweetheart and fellow Owl, Michael A. Gregorio, ’17, a business administration major. The two tied the knot on May 11, 2019 and have been a couple for 8 ½ years. Michael is a program manager for Collins Aerospace, working out of the Danbury, Conn., office on multimillion dollar projects and programs.

Advice to Southern students: “When you love something enough, you need to fight for it. You have one life, one chance to LOVE your life, so go full-heartedly toward what will make you most happy. Know your worth. Know what you have to offer the world. Keep fighting for your future.”

Working at the “Happiest Place on Earth”: “I’m living my dream of being a professional actress, and I am beyond grateful. Walt Disney World has been an incredible place to work,” she says.

The show, which runs about 18 minutes, is performed throughout the day and evening. Photo: Cliff Wang

When another college dissuaded Jacob Santos, '19, from following his dreams and majoring in theatre, he transferred to Southern and never looked back.

There are 14 Newman's Own Fellows, including (back row, third from left) Jacob Santos, '19. The foundation recently hosted the Fellows at a retreat.

Jacob Santos, ’19, is one of only 14 Newman’s Own Foundation Fellows for 2019-20 — and one of only three recipients to graduate from a public college or university. The Newman’s Own Foundation, which was founded by the late actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, launched the 12-month fellowship to develop the next generation of leaders in the nonprofit sector.

Santos is serving as the managing director fellow with Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut, a post he describes as his dream job.

Transferring to Southern: Santos started college at another university, majoring in pre-pharmacy, which he quickly realized was not a good fit. He’d acted in high school and remained drawn to the stage. So he decided to talk to his former adviser at that previous college about changing his major.

“That ended up being a very unfortunate conversation,” says Santos. “They discouraged me from trying to become a theatre major, and the wordage they used made it seem like it was an elite club that took themselves seriously. Due to this, I wouldn’t be a good match. This was upsetting . . . How could they know I wasn’t good enough to be part of a department that valued high-quality work and talent? Looking back, it’s even more disappointing because people of color often have many barriers and lack of access to theatre,” says Santos.

Becoming an Owl: “With that experience I knew I had to go to an institution that would give me a chance and value me,” says Santos, adding that he was drawn to the reputation of Southern’s theatre program. “New Haven was a perfect location for the arts. It is close to many other local theaters and a short train ride away from New York City,” he says.

A Southern mentor: Santos lauds Associate Professor of Theatre Kaia Monroe-Rarick, describing her as his professor, director, adviser, and supervisor. “I credit her with giving me almost every opportunity I’ve had in theatre. . . . She cast me in my first show, helped me get a job in the theatre office [at Southern], and gave me my first chance to go to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in our region,” he says.


A new career goal: Santos dreamed of a career in theater management — and charted his course by pursuing two degrees (business administration and theatre). “I was lucky to have advisers and professors who cared enough to pave that road with me. People like Professor Kaia or Rebecca Goodheart [artistic producer of the Elm Shakespeare Company, Southern’s theatre in residence] who gave me my first theatre management internship,” he says.

An amazing senior experience: Completing an arts administration internship through the ASPIRE leadership program at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival * The internship focuses on engaging people of color, women, and members of other groups that are consistently underrepresented in the field. “[Associate] Professor Michael Skinner knew of my interest in theater management and told me this was something I had to do,” says Santos.

Biggest source of pride: “My work in creating the Crescent Players of Color Coalition was one of the most rewarding, out of class experiences I had at Southern. It was an exercise in advocacy for oneself and for one’s community,” he says.

Supporting inclusivity: “Issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion weren’t unique to Southern’s theatre department,” says Santos. “It is an industry-wide issue with many theatres and institutions-at-large being faced with the question of ‘how are you going to evolve in a world that is become increasingly diverse?’ What was unique to Southern, however, was how they dealt with our questions. Speaking with other young leaders of color, many have faced backlash or apathy when they brought these issues forward to their universities. Our department, on the other hand, was completely game to hold as many conversations as needed to figure out specific actions we could do to change and grow,” says Santos.

Every cloud has a silver lining: “I was able to do all of this — create a degree path that I wanted, be part of theatre, and engage in exciting opportunities — because of Southern. It makes that frustrating experience at my past university a bright one, because it led me to where I am now. I’m a proud Afro-Latino man with two degrees from SCSU, and I’m working professionally in theatre. I couldn’t be more thankful or happier.” says Santos.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

The university has entered into an exciting partnership with The Elm Shakespeare Company (ESC) that promises to bring new energy to the Theatre Department and the entire university community.

The Elm Shakespeare Company, recognized as the premiere Shakespeare company in Connecticut and one of the very best in New England, has been offering free professional outdoor Shakespeare performances in New Haven for 20 years. Southern and Elm Shakespeare recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that brings Elm Shakespeare onto campus and integrates it into Theatre Department activities and facilities.

Under the MOU, ESC is officially “in residence” at Southern Connecticut State University. For two decades, ESC has rehearsed its actors and built the sets for its productions at Lyman Center; the MOU formalizes this relationship. As part of the agreement, ESC will reserve three non-union acting or technical positions for Southern students in its summer season; provide a member of its artistic staff to teach a Shakespeare workshop (THR 228) every semester; and offer additional free workshops to SCSU theater students. In addition, when available, a member of the ESC artistic staff will direct agreed-upon Theatre Department productions, and the company will provide formal fieldwork opportunities for qualified Southern students interested in theater education. The university, for its part, will provide office, classroom, and rehearsal space for ESC; allow access to the costume shop and scene shop; and offer the opportunity for qualified ESC staff to teach, direct or design in Theatre Department courses or productions. Both organizations will acknowledge the partnership in their advertising literature and publications.

Steven Breese, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, says of the new partnership, “We are delighted that Elm Shakespeare will be taking up residency at Southern. Our artistic and educational missions are deeply interconnected and, like any good partnership, we strengthen one another by joining our forces.

“While SCSU has, for many years, had a strong relationship with Elm, having the company and its artistic staff ensconced on our campus and interacting with students and faculty every day will be a ‘shot’ of creative adrenaline — something that all artists need and welcome.”

Rebecca Goodheart, Elm Shakespeare’s new Producing Artistic Director, says, “We at Elm Shakespeare are so excited to solidify our long-time working relationship and become the theater company in residence at Southern Connecticut State University. This partnership is the best kind of collaboration. Together we will create more classical performance at the highest standards, and more opportunities for students than ever before. Together, we will ensure that everyone in this great community and beyond has access to world-class arts and education. Together, we will be the example of what is possible in New Haven.”

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Breese acknowledges the efforts of Goodheart and Kaia Monroe, Theatre Department Chair, for the work they have done to bring this partnership to fruition, adding, “It represents a giant step forward for our theater program, while offering a secure home for one the region’s most respected professional Shakespeare companies.”

An official signing of the MOU will take place on March 2, at 4:30 p.m. in the Lyman Center lobby. The signing will coincide with Elm Shakespeare’s announcement of its 2016 season. For more information about Elm Shakespeare, visit its website.