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Herberger College Theatre Alums Saturate the Small Screen


Molly Schaffer

Photo courtesy: Herberger College of the Arts


Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

March 30, 2007

TEMPE, Ariz. – What do Molly Schaffer, Yvans Jourdain and Alberto Bonilla have in common? Fughetaboudit. They all are graduates of the ASU Herberger College School of Theatre and Film and each appeared recently on current popular television shows. Their names may not be deemed “household” yet, but their faces are growingly recognizable.

Take Alberto Bonilla, who received his B.F.A. in acting from ASU in 1997. His television résumé contains notable performances, most recently in season six of The Sopranos. Bonilla played Alonso in the “Luxury Lounge” episode and went head to head with actor John Ventimiglia (Artie Bucco) in a scene in the show’s popular eatery, Vesuvio.

In addition to building a robust acting career in television and film, Bonilla also is a playwright, runs an independent film company and is the assistant director of admissions at The School for Film and Television in New York City. There, he helps acting students hone their craft and find work after graduation. Amid all of his accomplishments, his roots in the West and as an Arizona native have helped him grow into the professional he is now.

“ASU provided a safe environment for me to take risks and explore my limits as an actor, which prepared me for the challenges I faced in the professional world,” Bonilla says.

Bonilla’s sentiments are shared by Yvans Jourdain, who received his M.F.A. in acting in 1998 from the ASU Herberger College Department of Theatre. Jourdain feels that his knack for character development and learning the movement, voice and speech components of acting were constructed under the watchful eyes of considerate teachers at ASU. During auditions, he remains confident about who he is and what he brings to the table.

“At the end of the day they are casting me, who they think is the character," Jourdain says. In early February 2007, Jourdain appeared on Grey’s Anatomy. Since then, he has shot episodes of Shark and My Name Is Earl. He also has a recurring role onThe Riches, which airs on the cable channel, FX.

Another alumnus of the Herberger College School of Theatre and Film who “hit” the small screen in a mafia drama is Molly Schaffer, who received an M.F.A. in acting in 1998. She appears in five of 13 episodes of The Black Donnellys, which centers on four young brothers and their plunge into a life of crime. Her list of television credits includes appearances on ER, Gideon's Crossing and The West Wing.

Alumni from the School of Theatre and Film family such as Schaffer, Jourdain and Bonilla may share future episodic television credits with professionals who work on the other side of the camera. Michael Switzer arrived at the Herberger College in fall 2006 to become a professor in the burgeoning film and media production program. Switzer is a Los Angeles-based director who has directed more than 100 hours of long-form television movies during his career.

“The benefits of a working television professional teaching film flow both ways. For me, there's the pleasure of shepherding a film from inception through final edit, a process that never fails to thrill,” says Switzer. “Current students are able to troubleshoot their issues with someone who's actually been there – for instance, working within a budget isn't just a concept in a textbook for them."

Switzer’s decision to teach at the School of Theatre and Film initially was sparked by a conference he attended at ASU on the ethics of entertainment media. Ethical filmmaking is a major focus of the film and media production program at Herberger College – something that is rare among peer institutions.

“Teaching ethical filmmaking is like the difference between a passport photo and a portrait; it’s the same subject but shown from two very different perspectives that don’t necessarily communicate the same message or feeling,” says F. Miguel Valenti, Lincoln Professor of Ethics and the Arts, and assistant director of film in the School of Theatre and Film.

The standards that ASU film and media production professors teach in the classroom and exemplify as industry professionals come full circle. Alumni who currently work in the television industry have their college roots in common, while also providing inspiration to current and future students on the road to fulfilling their goals in acting and film. There’s nothing like keeping it in the family.

The Herberger College School of Theatre and Film provides a comprehensive range of courses in performance and directing; design and production; new work development; theatre and performance studies; film; and theatre for youth. Its Theatre for Youth program is nationally ranked in the top three and the creative writing/playwriting program is ranked 15th among public institutions by “U.S.News & World Report.” Learn more about the School of Theatre and Film at: theatre.asu.edu.