This year’s Tony nominees come from all over, but at least three of them came through the same Westchester place: Purchase College’s School of the Arts.
In fact, Purchase is the alma mater of three of the four nominees for best lighting design of a play: Brian MacDevitt (“Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman”), Kenneth Posner (“Other Desert Cities”) and Jeff Croiter (“Peter and the Starcatcher”).
(The category’s fourth nominee is Peter Kaczorowski for “The Road to Mecca.”)
That may not be much of a coincidence, as Purchase is recognized as a conservatory program that turns out fine actors — Edie Falco, Stanley Tucci — and Tony-winning designers: MacDevitt has won five times; Posner once.
But in one of those you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up coincidences, nominees Posner (far right) and Croiter (near right) share more than just a college. They have known each other since before Croiter was in grammar school.
“I’ve known Jeff since I was 10,” says Posner, 46, who graduated from Eastchester High School in 1984, five years ahead of the Croiter, 40.
Their families were members of the Eastchester Town Hall Players, back when every town hall seemed to have players.
“Jeff’s mom performed in the shows and my mom did costumes,” Posner recalls. “Come to think of it, his dad, Rick, ran the light board for the very first show I designed. I was probably a sophomore in high school.”
That show, he thinks, was “Guys and Dolls,” but that’s a lot of shows ago.
Croiter and Posner both say their nominations tonight are due in no small part to the influence of Purchase’s Billy Mintzer, the man who founded the school’s design/tech program, where MacDevitt (tonight’s third Purchase connection, who now teaches at the University of Maryland) became their teacher and mentor.
“I think Billy secretly just wanted to be a director,” Posner says. “He taught us how to think like a director first, to do the dramaturgy, and then apply the lighting to that work. Lighting always serves the story, the text, the music.”
“That’s something I take with me every place I go,” he says. “That’s where it starts for me. Lighting is another storytelling tool. It’s not about hanging a bunch of lights. It’s about the dramaturgy of the play, about being able to speak about lighting and the words on the page with the director.”
Croiter remembers first learning the craft with the Town Hall Players, lighting productions of “Annie” and “My Fair Lady” and “more than one ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.’ ”
Both designers also lit shows at Eastchester High School, where Croiter was president of the school’s drama club.
Posner, who says a Tony nomination “never gets old,” won’t write a speech for tonight.
“I’ve been fortunate to win before, but I just sort of let it come out from the heart. I try to prepare, but I get very very very nervous.”
Croiter — who is one of several producers on the popular web series “Submissions Only,” created by his wife, actress Kate Wetherhead — is up for his first Tony, and decided not to write his acceptance speech too far in advance.
“I decided not to spend too much time on it,” he says with a chuckle. “That way, if I don’t win, I don’t want to have wasted an entire week.”