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My Summer Bar Studies, Internship . . . and “Bye Bye Birdie” Practice

Four Rutgers School of Law–Newark students and two Class of 2009 graduates will be on the stage and in the orchestra pit on September 16 for the New Jersey Law Journal’s staging of Bye Bye Birdie at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The all-lawyer production and accompanying visual arts exhibit comprise “A Celebration of Lawyers in the Arts IV,” with proceeds going to the non-profit New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. More than 75 lawyers and law students, eager to support NJVLA’s pro bono work and drawn to the opportunity to return to their first passion, will participate in the production.

“I had always wanted to play Albert Peterson,” says Richard Pearson ’10, “ever since Jason Alexander performed the role in the 1995 made-for-TV movie.” Though a long-time singer and actor, Pearson was shocked when he won the principal role of Albert, agent and songwriter to the Elvis-like character, Conrad Birdie. Since moving from Houston and transferring to Rutgers, he has had little luck at local auditions. Plus a summer internship with Wilson & Associates, P.L.L.C. in Little Rock, Arkansas, would mean missing the show’s first three rehearsals. His luck began to change when New Jersey Law Journal publisher Robert Steinbaum gave the car-less Pearson a ride to the audition (“I recognized talent,” Steinbaum explains). Then NJVLA, familiar with the hectic schedule of lawyers and law students, accepted his promise to work doubly hard once the internship was over.

Bye Bye Birdie cast 
Shown at a recent rehearsal are (from left) Daniel Brintz, Nicole Barna, and Richard Pearson.
Pearson began singing as a child in the choir, with his particularly high (or “treble”) voice was given solo parts, turned to acting in high school, and in college went back to the chorus before being cast in an opera, ballet, a production of Hamlet and, in his senior year at Rhodes College, the regional premiere of Big Love, a modern and irreverent adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Maidens. For Pearson the road to law school began when, unemployed and appearing in a production of Candide in Little Rock, he was encouraged by a cast mate who was a lawyer to interview at her firm.

Both Daniel Brintz ’09 and Jeffrey Stephens ’09 performed professionally for several years as members of Actors’ Equity Association. They are also veteran New Jersey Law Journal performers, having appeared in its NJVLA benefit staging of The Pajama Game in 2007. Rehearsing for this year’s show represented a nice break from their relentless studying for the bar exam. And stress reduction wasn’t the only benefit. “The other lawyers involved in the production were more than willing to share their experiences and advice,” says Brintz, cast as Harvey Johnson in Bye Bye Birdie. “I was very grateful for their words of encouragement and support throughout the bar exam process.”

Brintz’s earliest performances were in youth theatre groups in Bergen County and at Emerson (NJ) High School. After graduating from Northwestern University, he was cast in professional musical theatre and children’s theatre productions throughout the Chicago area. He then spent six months as a performer on Disney Cruise Lines, leaving the Caribbean to pursue auditions in New York and earn a living through legal temp jobs. Brintz is looking forward to beginning his legal career as clerk with Appellate Division Judge Alexander P. Waugh, Jr. As for singing and acting? He hopes to keep both as a hobby.

Stephens was a professional actor in Southern California and New York before deciding to attend law school. Among his credits are the Music Theatre of Southern California, Fullerton Civic Light Opera, Riverside Opera, Welk Resort theatre, and Moonwork Theater. After moving to New York from San Diego, he worked for two years on Safe Horizon’s September 11th disaster assistance programs before attending Hunter College. Stephens, who will play Conrad Birdie’s rival Hugo Peabody, hopes to make time for an occasional performance during his legal career.

Representing the law school in the orchestra will be David Gold ’10 and Justin Schwam ’11. Gold, who interned in the summer of 2008 with NJVLA, has been playing double bass classically for more than 15 years. A student of William Blossom of the New York Philharmonic, he has been a principal member of many symphonic groups including the Rockland Youth Philharmonic, the New York Youth Symphony, the Rockland All-County, Area All-State, and New York All-State Orchestras, the Brown University Symphony Orchestra, and the New Amsterdam Symphony Orchestra. In 2003, he and his father founded the New York Metropolitan Symphony, “Music with a Cause,” whose performances support a variety of charitable causes.

Gold came to Rutgers after receiving his M.A. in performing arts administration from New York University. His employment experiences include the New York Philharmonic, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, and Cole, Schotz, Meisel, Forman & Leonard. Last year he was president of the Student Bar Association. Not surprisingly, Gold’s professional goal is to combine his interest in the law and the arts.

Before starting law school, Schwam was a public school music teacher in New Jersey, teaching primarily beginning band and orchestra for 5th grade students. A Delaware native, he received a B.S. in music education from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, performing in virtually every musical ensemble, from marching band and symphony orchestra, to wind ensemble and jazz bands. Over the past 10 years, he has played the trumpet and bass in pit orchestras, sacred services, and community bands. Among his most memorable gigs was performing with a local jazz band at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room.

This summer Schwam was a judicial intern for Superior Court Judge Fred H. Kumpf at the Somerset County Courthouse. Much of his preparation for Bye Bye Birdie was at home practicing, “a welcome addition to my summer,” he adds. “As far as the future, music has and always shall be a very important part of my life,” he says. Schwam’s wife is a music teacher and he continues to give private lessons.

Classically trained in ballet and modern dance, Nicole Barna ’11 welcomed the chance to have dance be a part of her life again. She had quit five years ago, deciding to attend Wake Forest University rather than pursue a professional dance career or attend a conservatory. “My love of dance never left me,” she says, “but simply walking back into a studio proved to be a psychologically daunting task. Could I still dance? Did I REALLY want to put on a leotard and pink tights again?”

The former Alvin Ailey scholarship student decided to ignore those doubts and dig out her old dancewear. “It has truly not disappointed,” says Barna, “as my fellow dancers are talented and good-natured, our choreographer is amazing and patient with all of us, and it has also been a fantastic summer workout!” Barna has juggled rehearsals with two summer jobs – an internship with Appellate Division Judge Rudy Coleman and a research assistantship with Rutgers Assistant Professor Adil Haque. She found the rehearsals a welcome break from the researching and writing. Back in the studio, Barna also realized how her dance training has prepared her for anything, including a law career. “It has taught me to be tough and never to take things personally,” she explains, “to accept and grow from criticism, and when to take the lead and when to hold back.”

For these six performers, the Bye Bye Birdie experience has shown them that, no matter how busy their professional lives become, there will be opportunities to integrate their love of performing with their career – especially for a cause like the New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.