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RIC junior Joe DeLeo

By his own admission, Joe DeLeo was so painfully shy he had to repeat pre-kindergarten because he refused to speak a single word in class the entire year.

Perhaps he was just getting warmed up for his life work, because the musical theatre major has been singing, dancing and acting in almost every elementary school, high school and college production since.

Deciding to make a career out of performing wasn’t easy, he said. “I tried to convince myself that I could work in other professions, but I didn’t have a passion for anything else. I eat, sleep and breathe theatre. It took me a while to accept that this is who I am – a performer – and this is who I am going to be.”

In fact, DeLeo’s idea of the perfect semester occurred during his sophomore year, when he enrolled in five dance classes (ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance and a RIC Dance Company class), not to mention three theatre classes and a voice class, followed by RIC Dance Company rehearsals in the evening.

“My day went from eight in the morning until 10 at night,” he said. “In between classes I’d go to my job and then come back for more classes and rehearsals. I gave my meal card to my friends so they could buy me lunch. I didn’t have time to go to the dining center. That was the most exciting semester for me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

DeLeo prides himself on having one of the “hardest-working majors” at the college. RIC offers the only musical theatre program in Southeastern New England, a program that requires that all students take music classes alongside music majors and perform at the level of music majors, to take dance classes alongside dance majors and perform at the level of dance majors, and, of course, there are the theatre classes.

DeLeo performs in RIC MainStage Theatre’s production of “Godspell.”

DeLeo performed in his first professional production last summer with the Ocean State Theater Company. “By taking what I learned here and performing with professionals, I discovered how well I had been trained at RIC,” he said.

His training has paid off in other ways, as well. This year he was recognized at the Region I Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), making it to the semi-finals in the KCACTF Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship competition and to the finals in the KCACTF competition for the Richard Maltby Jr. Award for Musical Theatre Excellence.

After about 10 years in professional musical theatre, DeLeo said he would like to earn an M.F.A. in theatre and teach at the college level.

“I would love to be Bill Wilson, director of RIC’s musical theatre program,” he said. “Bill and Angelica [Gel] Vessella, director of dance, inspire us to be better and to do great things. They instill in us a passion for what we do. If I can instill that in someone else, I think it would be the greatest gift you could give someone.”

He added, “I think this is an exciting time to be at RIC in the performing arts. I don’t think there’s been a better time. Bill and Gel just keep getting better and better.”

For three consecutive years (2012-2014), RIC musical theatre students, under the leadership of Wilson, have won the Richard Maltby, Jr. Award for Musical Theatre Excellence at the KCACTF.

At this year’s festival, three RIC students came away with awards while RIC Mainstage Theatre’s production of “Godspell,” a featured performance, won Merit Awards for Outstanding Musical Ensemble and Outstanding Choreography/Movement.

DeLeo is already looking ahead to his next performance. He said, “You’re only as good as your last performance. So when people ask me, ‘What’s your favorite show?’ I always say, ‘The next show.’”​