This interview was originally broadcast on November 20, 2013.
David Pecoraro, a professor of theater at Vanguard University, first got involved with theater because his mother was trying to make him more social.
“I was a really shy, introverted kid,” David said. “I was very happy playing by myself and reading my books, and my mother thought it would be better if I opened up a bit and interacted with other people. So she forced me into this drama class when I was in junior high, and right away I knew that I enjoyed it. I knew that I had found a career for life as soon as I got on the stage.”
David, a first-generation college graduate, started at Fullerton College interested only in acting; when he got there, he took two classes that introduced him to the production, design, and management aspects of theater. He quickly realized that he was in the right field but needed to change his focus. He switched his major to theater design and technology and graduated from California State University at Fullerton in 1977 before moving to Philadelphia to start an MFA in the same discipline at Temple University. Thirteen banks turned David down for a student loan because he wanted to pursue theater design; the week before classes started, his grandparents cashed in their World War II bonds to fund part of his degree.
After graduating from the grueling MFA program with only two of his original twelve classmates, David got a job as an adjunct professor and full-time production manager at Saddleback College, a community college in California. He has been teaching ever since. In 2011, he co-founded Student Caring, an organization that aims to help students make the most of their time at college.
On his role as a professor: Graduation day comes with a certain expectation: this will be a happy day. And it is not a happy day for everyone if they’re filled with a lot of doubt and uncertainty and college debt that they have no way of knowing how they’re going to pay back. So my advice to them is to begin immediately to prepare for that transition, and my role in that is to give them tools and train them so [graduation] is a happy day.
Advice to his students on graduation day: My advice to them actually begins when they walk in the door, and that is for them to start to define their goals and natural abilities and discover them while they’re in their undergraduate years. And then to begin that transition into the workforce during your undergraduate years so it’s not an overnight type of experience.
Living in a theater’s prop room during college: Because the musicals were rehearsing in the room next door, I could never go to sleep at night until they were done, so I literally went to sleep at night for a year hearing people singing every music that you can imagine.