Alumna, Employee, Performer Elizabeth Rzasa Embraces All Things Mercer


In her years at Mercer County Community College, Elizabeth Rzasa has been a student, an employee, and, in a role she quite literally relishes like no other, a performer at Kelsey Theatre.

According to Music Program Coordinator Jim Kelly, for whom she currently works as an administrative assistant, Rzasa is devoted to Mercer. "She really treasures her time here. Liz brings spirit, personality, even a personal vision to her job," Kelly says.

A graduate of Montgomery High School, Rzasa chose to start college at Mercer because of the Music program's outstanding reputation. In 2001 and 2002, she studied piano and music theory under Professor Kelly, in addition to taking a number of Liberal Arts courses. When Rzasa transferred to Montclair State, all of her credits went with her. Majoring in voice with a minor in linguistics, she earned her bachelor's degree from Montclair in 2006.

While at Montclair, Rzasa continued to hone her talents, performing regularly with the Operetta Club and as soprano section leader for two choirs. She performed with the Delta Delta Sigma Alpha Iota chapter, a professional female music fraternity, and served as the group's president, coordinating several huge benefit concerts with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In the summer months, she appeared in productions at the Washington Crossing Open Air Theater - as Rose in "The Secret Garden," Lady Larken in "Once Upon a Mattress," and Rapunzel in "Into the Woods."

After graduation, Rzasa returned to Mercer as an employee in the Admissions Office, but didn't stay away from the Music Department for long. According to Professor Kelly, Rzasa has become indispensable in serving the department's more than 100 music majors and 20 adjunct faculty members, an increase of 75 percent since his arrival in 1994. An added plus is Rzasa's background in both music and admissions. "She is able to pre-advise our students,'" Kelly says. "We're able to serve more students because of Liz."

Last summer, Rzasa also worked as head vocal teacher for Tomato Patch, the college's summer performing and visual arts workshops for children and teens. Passing on her musical gifts and considerable professional chops to the next generation is clearly more of a passion than a job. "I love, love, love those kids!" Rzasa says with characteristic enthusiasm.

Most recently, Rzasa served as musical director for "Bugsy Malone Jr.," a children's show performed by an all-youth cast five times in three days at Kelsey Theatre at the end of January. Rzasa notes that most of the 19 youngsters who appeared in Bugsy attended Tomato Patch last summer, including several of her vocal and musical theater students." Rzasa believes that Bugsy was an excellent, real-world follow-up to the camp program. "The experience of being in a show gives the kids a chance to practice what we preach to them during Tomato Patch," she said.

And practice it they did - once a week starting in September, and then three to four times a week in January. "There were a few missed cues and the kids had to improvise. They were comfortable enough doing that and that's what it's all about," Rzasa said. "They had a blast. You could see it in their faces."

Rzasa continues to make her own mark on the Kelsey Theatre stage, with starring roles as Anna in "The King and I" (2008) and Miss Dorothy Brown in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" (2008), both presented by Playful Theatre Productions, and Don Quixote's niece, Antonia, in "Man of La Mancha" (2009), presented by Maurer Productions OnStage. She was nominated for a Perry Award in the Lead Actress category by the New Jersey Association of Community Theaters for her role in "Honk," presented at Kelsey by Playful Theatre Productions in 2006.

Liz as Miss Dorothy Brown in "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
Liz as Anna with Fred Gropper in "The King and I"
Liz as Ida in her award-winning role in "Honk"
Liz as Antonia with the Padre Jim Petro in
"Man of La Mancha"
Tomato Patchers perform in "Bugsy Malone Jr." in January. Rzasa was the show's musical director.

Rzasa says she truly enjoys performing at Kelsey. "It's probably one of the best places to perform in this area," she says. "Everyone is dedicated to producing the most professional and quality-filled performances around...and best of all, they do it because they love it and want to share this love with the local community."

Rzasa's journey both on stage and off is far from over. She is planning to pursue her master's degree in Arts Administration from Drexel University in the fall.

She is also looking forward to Tomato Patch 2010. The hit television show, Glee, which chronicles the trials and tribulations of members of a fictional high school glee club, has been much on her mind. Rzasa hopes to capture some of that excitement by teaching arrangements from the show. One that's definitely on her list is the joyous finale to Glee's first episode, "Don't Stop Believin'." It's a message, says Rzasa, that all arts professionals should embrace.

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