First-year musical theatre student Ethan Poisson wakes up in his dorm knowing he has a busy day ahead. He attends his classes – his favorite being his musical theatre classes – which prepare him for a long rehearsal in the evening for the upcoming production of “The Spongebob Musical.”
But after a full day of studying and honing his craft, he has one more place to perform, and it’s not a stage. It’s on a screen – a phone screen that is – where he creates comedic short-form videos on TikTok for his growing audience of 1.5 million followers.
But for Poisson, the stage is where he belongs. He’s known that ever since his first theatre show in sixth grade.
“Ever since that first performance, I knew this was what I want to do for the rest of my life – I just want to be on stage.”
The Atlanta native auditioned for many schools, but he says UNC Greensboro’s musical theatre program felt like home.
“Other schools I auditioned for would only reach out if they wanted to see me again. But Dominick Amendum and Erin Speer in UNCG’s musical theatre program would reach out and check in to see how my senior year was going. They made the admission process so nice and welcoming.”
Poisson was nervous about coming to campus coming from out of state, but he had already built connections in the musical theatre department before his first semester began. Although his circle was limited to his musical theatre colleagues when he first arrived, other Spartans surely knew of him.
“On my first day, I got recognized from TikTok in the dining hall. It was weird – I had been recognized in college before, but it was surprising to be recognized on my college campus, my new home.”
Now more Spartans know who Poisson is beyond his social media, and he says he has truly found his community on campus.
“I was of course scared coming into this new environment and new chapter of my life, especially coming from out of state, but the people I’ve met and the community I’ve found here at UNCG are truly special.”
While his first year at the G has been a whirlwind, he recalls his fondest memory as the freshman showcase, where musical theatre and acting freshmen got to perform a scene or song for the department.
“That was my first performance at UNCG and my first real performance since the pandemic, so it was special.”
Now, just a matter of months later, he’s in a supporting role as Mr. Krabs in “Spongebob: The Musical” – quite an impressive achievement for a freshman.
“When I saw the cast list, I was so happy. We’ve had rehearsals pretty much every single day since February, and it’s much faster-paced than I’ve ever experienced, but it’s so much fun, and it’s pushing us to be prepared for what it’s going to be like in the industry.”
That’s just one of the ways the musical theatre program readies Spartans for the industry. Poisson says one of his favorite things about the program is how supportive the faculty members are and how they want to see you succeed – from helping you find summer job opportunities to helping you with auditions to checking in on your mental health.
“They all truly really care about us and want to see us succeed. Part of what drew me to UNCG was how small the class sizes are. At some schools, class sizes are 60+ and you’re just a number. But here, the faculty really take the time to get to know you not only as a performer, but as a person.”
How has his time in college affected his TikTok stardom?
“College has helped me be freer on social media with my posting schedule and content. I’m not as worried about what others think.”
And that’s his advice to Spartans wanting to express themselves – online, through the arts, or however that may be.
“Expressing yourself the way that you want to is important. Don’t worry about what other people might think. There are so many people at UNCG who are going to support you. Just do what you love.”
See Poisson in “Spongebob: The Musical” April 8-9 at 7:30 p.m., April 10 at 2 p.m., and April 20-23 at 7:30 p.m. in the Taylor Theatre. Tickets are available online at www.uncgtheatre.com, by phone at 336.334.4392, or in-person at the UNCG Theatre Box Office located at 406 Tate Street., Greensboro, NC 27412.
Story by Alexandra McQueen, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications