First cohort of Performing Arts Scholars prepares for last act at RIT

Travis LaCoss

Alex Hellman plays the bass guitar in Putz, a metal band comprised of four RIT students. Hellman, who graduates this week with a degree in environmental science, was one of the first Performing Arts Scholars when he enrolled in RIT in 2019. He is thankful RIT has encouraged him to continue his passion.

Many of the Rochester Institute of Technology students who received the first Performing Arts Scholarships four years ago are preparing to take the stage one last time as they graduate this week.

The Performing Arts Scholarships give students the opportunity to participate in theater, music, and dance while pursuing their majors. This program has made RIT a leading university in performing arts for non-majors.

The first batch of scholarships were awarded to 128 students in 2019. Each year, the program has grown, and this fall, the number of total performing arts scholars on campus is expected to exceed 2,000.

“The new School of Performing Arts is happy to provide a path for students to continue their performing arts passions at RIT while pursuing rigorous RIT degrees,” said Erica Haskell, director of RIT’s School of Performing Arts. “Our goal is to offer students opportunities to collaborate across the performing arts disciplines during their academic career here and beyond. Some of our Performing Arts Scholars go on to engage in fields at the intersection of the performing arts and technology, while others balance their lives by performing after they graduate.”

Alex Hellman, who is receiving his bachelor’s degree in environmental science, plans to play music on the weekends as he pursues a career other than music.

Hellman, from Dix Hills, Long Island, says he fell in love with music the day he was born, likely a trait inherited from his father, who would go to the popular New York City nightclub CBGB every day.

When it came time to look for a college, RIT was at the top of his list because it seemed to offer more hands-on experience for students.

During his application process, he learned about the scholarships, which not only enabled him to continue playing the bass guitar but encouraged him to do so. So he submitted a video application and received his scholarship.

And it didn’t take long for him to meet others who also shared his passion.

“During orientation, I saw a guy walking down the Quarter Mile wearing a shirt from the band Tool. I said I liked that band too, and we talked about forming our own.”

That student helped Hellman and two other RIT students form a metal band, Putz. During his years at RIT, Hellman also joined several on-campus bands and participated in numerous festivals and events. Meanwhile, Putz began accepting off-campus bookings in venues, including the Bug Jar and The Montage Hall in Rochester.

Of those first 128 scholars from 2019, 49 are expected to graduate this week. A few graduated early last year, and many are enrolled in five-year programs or have co-op requirements and plan to graduate next year.

Brianna Roth, who received an inaugural RIT Performing Arts Scholarship in musical theater, was a member of the choir and stage productions at her high school in North Canton, Ohio. She had taken sign language courses in high school and wanted to join the ASL-English interpretation program at RIT’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf.

“I think I had a knack for interpreting, because when you act, you use your body language and facial expressions. I think that’s one reason I fell in love with ASL,” she said.

Roth has accepted a job with an interpreting agency in Nashville, Tenn., where she hopes to interpret in the community there, as well as on and around Nashville’s many musical stages.

“I think it would be really fun to interpret for someone like Dolly Parton, Luke Combs, or Lauren Daigle, a Christian music artist, or any country singer in general,” she said. “I do like country music.”

Roth joined Encore, a soprano-alto a cappella group, during her first semester at RIT.

“I stuck with Encore for the entirety of my college career and was the music director for two years,” she said. “I’m not sure how I would have navigated through college and the pandemic without the amazing people in my group. They have been my rock and it’s been so much fun.”

Roth also took private singing lessons at RIT, and in her spare time, she enjoyed going to a karaoke bar (named Nashville’s) near RIT with some of her Encore friends.

She hopes her new home will provide a continuation of her being on stage with performing artists, and she’ll look into the community theater scene there for herself.

Hellman also will keep the performing arts in his life after graduation. For now, Putz will continue to play, accepting weekend gigs from Rochester to outside New York City.

He’s exploring several career options after graduation, including going for a master’s degree in viticulture, the cultivation of grapevines, an interest he discovered during a study abroad semester in Croatia.

“My plan is to go into the field RIT prepared me for,” he said. “Music is kind of something I will also be pursuing at the same time as a passion, but I don’t have any expectations there in the same way that I do around my degree. My actual professional aspirations come first.”

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