Portrait of ASU grad Jonice Bernard.

Graduating student fosters community and equality through musical theater

By

Lynne MacDonald

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Jonice Bernard fell in love with music theater when they were asked to be part of the chorus in their high school production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I had about 15 minutes of stage time and my biggest moment was getting to hold Toto in the finale, but that show made me want to pursue theater,” Bernard said. “I loved the community it fostered and that it gave us all a chance to spread joy.”

Bernard will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Music in performance (music theater).

“Since the first day I met them, their performances have demonstrated a unique sense of truth, honesty and strength, in addition to hard work and talent,” said Brian DeMaris, associate professor and artistic director of Music Theatre and Opera. “Jonice is a very giving and caring artist and always sees those around them and those who need help and support. They are caring and respectful when they speak up to offer suggestions and encouragement, and they are always eager and interested in learning and understanding others' needs and perspectives.”

Bernard said the highlight of their time at ASU was directing and producing the student-led Color Cabaret in 2021 and 2022.

“It was such an amazing experience to create a space for other students of color to feel safe to perform whatever they wanted,” Bernard said. “Spaces like this are very rare, so I'm glad I could help provide that for them. It was also very fulfilling to be in a leadership position and truly feel like I was being respected and valued for what I brought to the table.”

Bernard was also involved with the creation of the BIPOC student scholarship that was created as part of the Color Cabaret. The cabaret raises funds for the scholarship, which supports current and future musical theater students of color.

Some of their music theater production credits include lead performer in “Spelling Bee,” cast member Miriam in “Fly By Night,” Savannah in “Freaky Friday” and Charlotte in the new ASU musical “Leading Ladies.” They have also directed several student productions for the program.

“Jonice has excelled as a student and performer and takes a leadership role in the BIPOC community and student body as a whole,” DeMaris said. “Jonice exemplifies the finest qualities the Music Theatre and Opera area has to offer. Their continued example of leadership and excellence in music and theater lights the way for other students to follow.” 

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: One thing that surprised me is that everyone is here to learn. That sounds kind of self-explanatory, but I would get in the habit of comparing myself to others who had more experience or more lines on their resume. The moment I realized that we are all in the same place, just trying to improve, it made me less anxious about school.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I honestly chose ASU because it was affordable and close to home. I chose this program specifically because it’s different from a lot of musical theater programs around the country. It’s a Bachelor of Music, so it focuses more on the music aspect of musical theater, and that’s something I really wanted.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Gordon Hawkins has taught me so many important lessons while at ASU. He has been my voice teacher since I got here, but he has taught me so much more than just how to sing. He constantly pushes me to do the things that make me uncomfortable, because growth lies in the discomfort. He has shown so much patience while still expecting a lot from me, which has helped me increase my own internal motivation. It has truly been the best experience getting to learn about life from him. Of course, he has helped me gain control of my instrument as well. Four years was not nearly enough time.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You are only here for a few years, and you are paying way too much money to feel like you didn’t get everything you want out of this experience. If there’s an internship you want that doesn’t exist, create it. If there’s a workshop you want to do, ask how to get funding. Do what you need to get to what you need.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: There’s a spot right outside the east Music Building that we all call “the cove.” It’s where all the music theater students meet between classes. We sing too loudly, eat meals very quickly and catch up on what everyone has been doing.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: As a music theater major, we travel to New York to perform a showcase for agents, casting directors and managers. That’s right after graduation, so I plan on going to showcase and seeing what comes of it. This industry is very finicky, so I’m leaving lots of space to take whatever opportunities come my way.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I think I would donate the funds to a bunch of low-income-community-serving schools. I have a passion for teaching and working with kids, and there are so many kids who are not getting access to very basic educational tools. Not only that, but the National School Lunch program and other programs like it are very selective, and many students who need them don’t have access.