MFA Student Killed by Sandy Remembered
Brooklyn College’s tight-knit theater community is reeling from the loss of a beloved colleague.
More than 20 students and faculty members joined 300 mourners at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope on Friday, Nov. 2nd for the funeral of Jacob Vogelman, a 24-year-old MFA student who was killed by a falling tree during Hurricane Sandy. Vogelman died with his childhood friend, Jesse Streich-Kest, while helping her walk her dog, Max, in Ditmas Park.
The second-year student had been studying theater design with an emphasis on lighting design at Brooklyn College and had been working on the lights for the play “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” which opens on Dec. 6th at The New Workshop Theater.
Gretchen Van Lente, an MFA student who is directing the play, spoke of the last time she saw Vogelman.
“The lighting design for my show was going to be very difficult, but he spoke at the rehearsal about how he was very excited for the challenge. He joked and laughed,” she said. “There was a fire drill in the building and I remember he took his salad with him and ate it as he walked down the stairs. We are all still in shock.”
Vogelman stood out as the youngest of his class and the only native Brooklynite, but his enthusiasm and giving nature quickly won over his classmates.
“He was always offering a ride, he was always ready to give,” said Brian Kafel, his classmate and a fellow design student. “He was just the kindest, most lovable, generous person you’ve ever met.”
His friends described him as an enthusiastic class participant, imaginative and bit of a tech nerd who cataloged his notes on his iPad. Vogelman also had tendency to think big; he would often throw himself into his projects, or share his ambitious plans for the future with his classmates.
“He would talk about building a theater in New Hampshire,” said Kafel.
Kafel said that Vogelman’s set models were memorable because, while most were thrown together cheaply, Vogelman’s were “built like a tank,” and were strung with sophisticated LED lights. While most design students went through several models each semester, Vogelman was able to reuse his over the course of the year.
Vogelman’s professors described him as a natural builder, who was fascinated with all aspects of lighting and design, and was just beginning to find his way. (Though theater design students often specialize, they take classes in all three areas of theater design: costume, set and lights.)
“I think a lot of his strengths and interests were identified in a way for a long-lasting career path.Theater design was a natural progression for someone interested in lighting,” said Kip Marsh, the chairperson of the Theater Department who taught Vogelman set design.
“He dreamed big, for sure,” added Marsh. “He didn’t think in terms of anything very small.”
Vogelman was also a history buff, according to Teresa Snider-Stein, who taught Vogelman costume design. His interest in history informed his costume designs from different time periods.
“He seemed to know a lot of facts about Henry VIII or history in general,” said Snider-Stein. “He did a lot of research.”
“His final project last year was very interesting,” she recalled.
For the final project, she assigned “As You Like It” by William Shakespeare and told her class that they could set the play in any time period. Vogelman set the play in the future. Snider-Stein said that the costumes were “futuristic” and “kind of Star Trekky.” The men wore black leotards with different shapes on their chests.
“He was not necessarily going to become a costume designer, but he was beginning to understand costume design,” said Snider-Stein.
While Vogelman struggled during his first year in the program, he made a lot of progress in his second year. He particularly excelled in Rick Butler’s stage craft class.
“He was very adept at recognizing the infinite possibilities for stage lighting. In our four short sessions together he showed how greatly he loved all aspects of technical theater and design,” said Butler. “He had enthusiasm to go to Broadway and beyond.”
Butler said that Vogelman, “was very excited about state-of-the-art stage lighting equipment and everything going on in the industry. He was looking forward to a series of demos about stage lighting control systems– he brought a huge enthusiasm to the class.”
After the funeral, Vogelman’s classmates discussed how they it found impossible not to adore him.
“His smile just won you over. I came in with an ego, but he just grew on me and I just wanted to know him for the rest of my life, and I think we all felt that way,” said Kafel, “and that was taken away from us.”
Van Lente echoed that sentiment, “I am definitely going to miss his smile. He was always smiling. And so kind. He always asked how you were and if there was anything he could do for you.”
Vogelman’s colleagues at the Graduate Theater Organization (GTO) are discussing possible ways to memorialize him, such as a tree planted in his memory at Whitman Theater or starting a student scholarship for theater students in his name. “Gruesome Playground Injuries” will be dedicated to his memory.
By Alex Ellefson and Rachel Silberstein
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