Alumni Experiences


Gillian Mackay-Smith ’04 is an actor in the Boston area. She has performed regionally with the Lyric Stage Company, Bad Habit Productions, Fresh Ink Theatre Company, and Apollinaire Theater Company, among others, and devised work with New Exhibition Room and Project: Project.  She appeared in the web series Conversations From The Afterlife and the feature film The Beverages, for which she received the award for Best Supporting Actress at the 2009 British Film Festival Los Angeles.  She was nominated for an Independent Reviewers of New England Award for her performance in Apollinaire Theater Company’s production of Greenland and an ArtsImpulse award for her work in Fresh Ink Theatre Company’s The Housekeeper.  She reads with Rhombus Playwrights Group and has sat on the boards of Fresh Ink and Gurnet Theatre Project.  While at Northeastern, she was the 2003 recipient of the Eugene Blackman Scholarship for Excellence in Theatre.

“I am extremely grateful for my undergraduate education at Northeastern.  I was given so many opportunities to learn and explore my work as an actor in a practical environment while simultaneously being challenged intellectually in an academic space.    Exposure to design, dramaturgy and stage management in addition to my acting studies provided me with a greater ability to collaborate professionally and a greater respect and reverence for the art form.  When I enter a rehearsal space, I am prepared and ready to work.  I learned a sense of humility, gained a groundedness and drive; I learned that I am always learning.  My career as an actor would not have been possible without my educational foundation at Northeastern.”

Born in Kenya, Saheem Ali ’03 has enjoyed a successful directing career in New York City. 2016 projects include A Lesson From Aloes (Juilliard), The Seagull (NYU Tisch), Hair (Pace University), and The Booty Call (Inner Voices). Last year he was Associate Director of The Tempest starring Sam Waterston and Jesse Tyler Ferguson at the Public Theatre/Shakespeare in Central Park. Saheem has worked on and off Broadway with George Wolfe (The Normal Heart) and Michael Greif (Angels in America). Other directing credits include the Public Theater, O’Neill Musical Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Lincoln Center, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and Signature Theatre. He received a Presidential Scholarship in Theatre at Northeastern University.

“My under­grad­u­ate edu­ca­tion at NU’s The­ater Depart­ment was instru­men­tal in launch­ing me into the pro­fes­sional world in New York. The com­bi­na­tion of the­o­ret­i­cal in-class learn­ing, prac­ti­cal rehearsal and per­for­mance, and expe­ri­en­tial co-op oppor­tu­ni­ties equipped me with the tools that I needed to enter the pro­fes­sional arena. When I began the pro­gram, I was unde­cided about which spe­cific role I would fit into. All I knew was that I wanted to be in the the­ater. The struc­ture of the pro­gram, where you are exposed to the dif­fer­ent aspects of theater-making, was invalu­able. The abil­ity to try the dif­fer­ent fields — act­ing, design, dra­maturgy — was essen­tial in help­ing me iden­tify that my pas­sion lay in direct­ing. It pre­pared me for the appli­ca­tion and even­tual admis­sion into the grad­u­ate direct­ing pro­gram at Colum­bia. I look back at my time in the The­ater Depart­ment as the essen­tial foun­da­tion to my career as a director.”

Ahmad Maksoud ’09 performed in many plays during his time at Northeastern, including Tales of the Lost FormicansGuys and DollsMeasure for Measure, and Working and more.  After graduation he went on to study at the American Repertory Theater’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training in their joint program with the Moscow Art Theatre School.  In all his training, he worked on creating roles through intense rehearsal processes.  However, he is now working as an understudy for a Broadway show, The Band’s Visit.  He’s having to think on his feet in a whole new way.  Ahmad remembers his time at Northeastern, and tells us how it continues to help him today:

Throughout my career, I’m not sure there’s been a truer test of my training and education as an actor than understudying. As I write today, I am working as an off-stage standby for the Broadway production of The Band’s Visit, covering seven principal roles. Sometimes I perform when other cast members are sick. Other times I take their spot when they’ve got personal obligations. Most of the time, I’m haunting the theatre halls and dressing rooms, watching the show on a small TV monitor, and finding other backstage folk to bother. All of the time, though, I’ve got to be ready to jump in for any of those seven roles at a moment’s notice. The low-rumbling anticipation, punctuated by the occasional moments of pure adrenaline, offset the day-to-day banality of showing up and waiting. But all of that demands a level of preparedness, with a stark absence of the rehearsal time you expect for seven parts, that I’ve never experienced before.





Ahmad at NU: WORKING


When I was an undergrad at Northeastern, I remember Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, who taught Voice and Movement at the time, never relenting whenever we would fall back into our I don’t knows and I should’ves. “I don’t know doesn’t serve you as an actor.” “Actors don’t live in the land of should,” he would say. Those words have never hit me harder than they do right now. I was brought into The Band’s Visit shortly before previews began, which means after the bulk of the rehearsal process ended. Even if I had joined earlier, my other understudy compatriots assured me that I still wouldn’t have received any active rehearsal time, as they hadn’t. Which is to no one’s explicit blame, by the way; the principal cast needed as much practice as they could get, what with rehearsal time being a luxury in the professional world. When our understudy rehearsals finally began, the show had already opened, a couple weeks prior. My first performance, due to an illness, was performed with, I’d estimate, a total of four or five hours of preparation in advance. I hadn’t rehearsed with any technical elements either, which, considering the set has a revolving stage, and the fact that that role has to make an entrance, in the dark, on roller skates, was not the most comforting reality. That performance would also mark my Broadway debut.

Ahmad with Tony Shalhoub


So Antonio’s sage words reverberated with me then. There was no time to not know, or to resist a decision and possibly regret it later. I was making my Broadway debut with hardly any notice (I was also only told two hours beforehand.), armed largely with just with my textbook of notes and autonomous learning. I had to make firm decisions, and I had to trust them, and I had no time to look back. And it all happened.

Another show, another role for Ahmad


Now that the show’s been running for a few months, we’ve got a bit more rehearsal under our belts. I’ve performed in a different role as well (also due to illness and with little notice/preparation), and now, we’re finally beginning to receive scheduled performance dates, as contractual vacation time starts kicking in. We’re given these dates several weeks to months in advance, allowing us to focus our energy on these roles in our rehearsal time and private learning. And even still, we did not craft these roles from the ground up in a traditional rehearsal space. We’re caught somewhere between honoring what the actor who originated the role has created, and bringing our honest selves, with our own bodies and self-generated intentions, into our performance. With those circumstances already muddying the waters, there’s absolutely no room for doubt.  In grad school, one of the most important lessons I learned was that in the present moment of acting, we have no idea what our performance is like. We cannot, in any real capacity, evaluate our own look and sound. All we have is what we can observe around us – our scene partners, the environment of the set/stage/theatre. And yet, we spend so much of our energy considering how our performance is going, which is the genesis of our I don’t knows and should’ves. If we spent more of our effort focusing on whether our tactics were actually working, a set of possible decisions would reveal themselves to us as we go.  A positive side effect of not performing the same role every day is that I’m hyper aware of how my on-stage decisions are affecting the space and other people, keeping me active and engaged in the present. So at least that’s pretty cool.

Ahmad in THE BAND’S VISIT company with the Clintons


The last thing I’ll say is that journey that led me to this wonderful opportunity did not come conventionally by any means. There was no standard audition/callback/hiring process. The whole experience was truly an accumulation of relationship building and odd happenstance. Those relationships, and the risk-taking that followed when opportunities arose, could have easily been missed had I shied away from taking chances and moving forward. I don’t knowand I should’ve are often a product of our own attempt to predict or assume a certain outcome before it happens, but then the moment passes and we’re left wondering what went wrong. What I’ve learned is that listening, curiosity, and a certain degree of boldness are far more effective than calculation, or wariness, and certainly self-aggrandizement. Antonio’s persistence to keep us active and engaged taught me, more than almost any other lesson, to listen and respond, off stage and on, without ego or embarrassment. Understudying lets me practice that every day.

Ahmad could be performing at any performance, any time.  For tickets, head to The Band’s Visit website.

The Band’s Visit has now won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical! Congratulations Ahmad!

Joey Frangieh ’12 is a director, designer, producer, and the founding artistic director of Boston Theater Company. He was the youngest person to ever direct at the historic Shubert Theatre, when he directed the world premiere of Finish Line, a documentary play about the 2013 Boston Marathon that he devised himself. He has worked on Broadway as the assistant projection designer for On Your Feet: The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and Allegiance a new musical chronicling the Japanese Internment. 

“Getting a theatre degree from Northeastern was an invaluable experience. The eclectic coursework gave me a well-rounded theatre education and the opportunity to taste many different aspects of theatre. My classes were all taught by top notch professors who help prepare me for the real world. The theatre department helped me grow as an artist in ways I could have never imagined. Many of the experiences and lessons I learned at Northeastern have time and time again proven to be incredibly valuable in my professional work. I went into college unsure of how I fit into the world of theater and I left ready to tackle my career ambitions head on.”

Boston born Michael Underhill ’10 is an IRNE nominated actor and creative leader in Boston’s thriving fringe theatre scene. Committed to the creation of original and devised work, he has been artistic associate with Imaginary Beasts since 2009 and has served on the artistic board of Happy Medium Theatre Company since 2011. “With these roles comes an extra layer of responsibility in administration and production,” he explains. “In return for that commitment, I have a voice in the room where artistic decisions are made.” Michael has received critical acclaim for performances with SpeakEasy Stage Company, Stoneham Theatre, Theatre on Fire, Whistler in the Dark, Heart & Dagger, and ShakespeareNow! He has also worked with the film companies Thompson Films, Greenview Entertainment, Malarkey Films and Joel Marsh Films.

“When I entered North­east­ern, my con­fi­dence as an actor was, shall we say, slim to none. In act­ing classes, I was chal­lenged and pushed to places I thought I could never go — mentally, physically or emo­tion­ally. I received so much indi­vid­ual atten­tion, encour­age­ment and analy­sis because the student-professor ratio is small. In analy­sis class, I learned how to read a script, by crawl­ing over every word of text, for­wards and back­wards, in a quiet room with no dis­tur­bances. In tech classes, I picked up the prac­ti­cal skills required to phys­i­cally put on a play, even though I attended as a per­for­mance concentration. I became pres­i­dent of Silver Masque, and I left my senior year ready to con­quer the world. I have not had more than a month off in between projects since grad­u­a­tion.”

Kevin Deane Parker ’15 received a 2016 Arts Impulse nomination as Best Stage Manager for Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them at Company One. While studying industrial engineering at Northeastern, he found his home in the theatre department. Multi-faceted and interested in all things backstage, Kevin has worked with Huntington Theatre Company, SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston Children’s Theatre, Bad Habit Productions, Actors Shakespeare Project, Theater Offensive, Ogunquit Playhouse, A.R.T. Institute, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Wooden Kiwi Productions, Argos Productions, and Boston Theater Company. Immediately upon graduation, he served as Technical Director for the Gloucester Stage Company. Favorite projects include stage managing BHP’s Gross Indecency (IRNE Award – Best Fringe Production) and technical direction for Company One’s The Flick (Norton Awards for Outstanding Design and Production).

“The theatre department at Northeastern provided a laboratory for me to not only learn theatre-specific skills, but to apply engineering to a creative setting. My particular interest is translating the principles of industrial engineering (reducing cost, increasing efficiency) to the complex world of theatrical production. The theatre faculty always supported my efforts. Theatre co-ops allowed me to take on projects where I applied these experiments in professional theatre. I was able to develop a cross-departmental relationship at Northeastern that wouldn’t have been possible with other theatre programs or universities.”