Class of 2011 Profiles

The Senior Year Experience

I wouldn't be surprised if in ten years, Justin Schwartz '11 was creating Broadway shows like Mamma Mia or Wicked. Currently, he has a major in theatre with concentrations in acting and directing. After Justin graduates from Muhlenberg College in May of 2011, he will enter graduate school at New York University. Justin is in the 22nd class of this two-year graduate program, which is based on musical theater writing and developing new works. NYU's alumni include Muhlenberg's own Josh Salzman '02, who wrote the off-Broadway play I Love You Because, as well as talented faculty such as Margo Lion, the producer of Hairspray.

While Justin was at Muhlenberg, he first began directing in the fall semester of his freshman year with Ruddigore as the production's assistant director. In the fall of 2010 he performed in The Pajama Game. Most recently, in the spring of 2011, he directed a blackbox musical, As Thousands Cheer. "What I keep telling people to describe it is if Saturday Night Live existed in the thirties, it might be something like this." The whole show is based around the idea of a living newspaper and how media affects our lives.

So what brought Justin to discovering his passion for the writing lyrics? When I asked him, he replied that it all really began when he studied abroad in Italy his junior year. Before that he had only "messed around with some lyrics," as he described. He had a friend named Dylan, nicknamed Dilly. "I made a joke about it, they laughed. So I made a song about it, and they laughed even more. I tried it on and off in Italy in these cabaret performances, where you can potentially do whatever you want." In one of these performances, he wrote and performed a song about his home in, Florida, and the audience loved it. When he returned to campus, Justin participated in a workshop which further strengthened his skills enough to build a portfolio, which he would need in order to apply to NYU. He submitted everything from a full length play, to his perception on traditional African American praise songs. Justin's eclectic portfolio shows that he's a flexible writer.

"From freshman year until now, how have you grown as a person and a student?" I asked. "Since being here, I've started to open my eyes a lot to different aspects of life being at a liberal arts college. After high school, you think you kind of know everything, but you really don't. And when you enter a college environment, it explodes almost because now you have the chance to do what you want to do." In high school, every student is required to take the usual subjects; science, math, language arts, foreign language, and history. In a liberal arts college, the wide range of courses truly allow for a broad range of knowledge. Muhlenberg offers so many course possibilities, it's almost impossible to pick a favorite.

"I believe that anything you do kind of influences different aspects of the field." Every class, workshop, extracurricular activity and hobby becomes an experience and adds to knowledge in the field. Every class he took, anything and everything he did built upon his skills as a writer. Of course dramatic writing and play writing workshops were crucial. They taught him what to cut and how to determine what was essential to the story. "Definitely, Charles Anderson's African dance class for sure..." Justin also said that this class (along with many others that he took at Muhlenberg), forced him to think beyond the course material. He explained that the African dance class made him think, "What am I trying to embody? ... Am I praising, say, the earth? Am I praising, say, the gods in some form, your elders?"

Justin first took an interest in NYU his sophomore year. The graduate music and theatre writing program also teaches collaboration, which allows all aspects of a performance to easily work together. "The whole idea of the program is collaboration. So say, if you're writing the music and I'm writing the lyrics we can still go in the sandbox and play and have no issues. That's the whole idea behind the program," Justin explained. He will learn how to write anything from musical scripts to iTunes's "Top 10 Songs." Mainly as a lyricist, he'll be working with a different composer each week. Collaboration not only applies to theatre, but also all of life's endeavors. In the Summer of 2010, Justin went to Africa to help his Dad out with the World Cup, which is an international soccer competition that takes place once every four years. For five and a half weeks, he worked in hospitality to create a sort of "luxury safari" for clients all over the world. All the work is a perfect example of collaboration, which what exactly what he's going to learn more of at NYU.

The application for NYU was nothing like applying for college, Justin described. If you thought applying to colleges and universities was time consuming, think about this: The initial application was thirteen pages long, and after that it's however long he wished to make it. Justin even attended an applicants' weekend where he had to come in and work with other students to create an original scene and song lasting roughly five minutes. His created a skit called, Think Like a Duck, which turned out to be like a combination of Holden Caulfield (from The Catcher in the Rye) with Andy Stitzer (from The 40 Year Old Virgin). Graduate schools want to know you're genuinely interested in their school, so a two page application wouldn't be nearly enough. They want to know that you have the drive and passion to earn a degree from their school. Justin discovered his passion for theatre writing after he had taken playwriting in both high school and college and then in the summer of 2007, he wrote a short play, which was an adaptation of "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" by Ernest Hemingway. It premiered in McLean, Virginia and then at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Graduation is a momentous occasion, accompanied with relief that school is over, but also a feeling of uneasiness. Students are leaving the place they called home for the past four years of their life. "The joke on campus is that it's like the 'Muhlen-Bubble'" Justin explained. For him, transitioning is going to be a big deal. He's moving from our petite, cozy Allentown campus, to the high-speed, bustling city life of New York City. Justin describes that he's going to have to get used to the new housing and living situations along with a whole new idea of being responsible for himself. Now that he will be in charge of feeding himself, he will have to discover new grocery stores and markets in NYC. He laughed at the thought of leaving Wegman's behind. "It's also a matter of finding your little niche in the city, to find a local hangout for you and your friends." But, transitioning isn't just about moving into different surroundings, it's also getting used to networking and selling yourself. In the field of theatre writing, networking is a big deal; it's all about the people you know. Justin has learned that when given the chance, he has to put himself out in the open saying, "This is who I am. This is Justin Schwartz. I can do X, Y, Z ... and if an opportunity comes knocking, I'll take it."

Senior profile written by Sarah Degginger