Broadway performer and Missouri State University assistant professor Lisa Brescia encourages student actors to be brave and stay on their path.
Her resume includes Broadway shows such as “Wicked,” “Jesus Christ Super Star” and “Mamma Mia!” She also has an impressive list of regional and touring theater credits such as “Into the Woods” and “Hamlet.” Brescia’s performance schedule didn’t stop her from completing her master’s degree, and now she finds herself relishing in her new found love of teaching, while still finding time to perform.
“While [you]’re [in school] just eat it up, get everything you can out of it, and be brave, you know, be brave, take risks,” Brescia advised acting students.
She recalls when she first arrived in New York City at the age of 19 and began her professional training.
“When I was in school, in conservatory, I never missed a day of class,” Brescia said. “I never went out and drank. I was there to train, even though it took me many years once I got out of training to feel confident enough to go for it. I just wanted to get everything I could out of it, and that meant applying myself.”
Brescia received an associate’s degree from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1992.
Brescia remembers having a slow start, but not a stagnant one.
“I did some things in my 20s that were kind of interesting, like singing with the Mamma’s and the Papa’s, the band from the ‘60s. I toured nationally with them as a Mama,” Brescia said.
She booked her first Broadway show in 1999, and that really got the ball rolling on her career. In 2005, though, she was ready to hit the books again and was able to attend Empire State College, an online institution that is a part of The State University of New York.
“I did three Broadway shows and three regional productions over the course of that three and a half years,” Brescia said.
Performing in Chicago playing Elphaba, in “Wicked,” Brescia live streamed her graduation and had to shut if off early to perform at the matinee.
In the summer of 2010, Brescia got an opportunity to participate in a six week long intensive course called The Shakespeare Lab. The focus was on classical acting and Shakespeare, which Brescia had never done before. As soon as it ended she wanted more, but first had to play the lead role of Donna in “Mama Mia!” that fall. Brescia soon found herself in her first semester of graduate school at Goddard College doing most of the work off campus between performances, readings and workshops. While on vacation from “Mama Mia!” she attended the necessary eight days on campus in Vermont, and she hoped to find her graduate school home. The experience was worthwhile, but she decided she wanted, what she described as, “a more technical education.”
“So from 2013 to 2014, at 43 years old, I was in Washington D.C. at the Academy for Classical Acting, which is a partnership between the Shakespeare Theatre of D.C. and George Washington University,” Brescia said, this time taking a year off the stage.
Immediately after receiving her MFA, she went back into the acting world, but not to Broadway. Brescia says the regional roles she booked during that time were some of her favorites in her career. In 2016, she was offered a job as a guest director and guest faculty member at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. While directing and teaching for the first time, she applied for tenure positions just in case she liked it, and by the end had two job offers.
She fell in love with the students, faculty and midwest college town environment of Missouri State, and she grabbed at the chance to teach there.
“Everything about it seemed like this would be the right place for me, but I still kind of considered it an experiment. … I am still experimenting,” Brescia said with a laugh.
Despite being a busy assistant professor, she still manages to find time to perform, and she feels she is an even better performer now because of it.
“I have to walk the walk and practice what I preach and what I teach, it actually frees me and makes me more fearless in a way,” Brescia said. “To not be like, ‘Oh I hope I get this [be]cause I really need this job.’ I have a job [now], if I get it that’s great.”
A new confidence has come with time, a Wisconsin girl who never thought she was good enough to be a teacher with experience to share, and she often reflects on a saying a friend told her.
“She always talks about staying in your own lane. Like if you’re at a swim meet and you’re in your lane, and you’re swimming, you’re swimming,” Brescia said. “If you pay too much attention to the swimmers on either side of you and down the length of the pool, you’re going to lose sight. You’re going to lose your stride. But if you just keep your eye on the prize for yourself and just get sort of inspired by the swimmers on either side of you, it can be a better way to go.”