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This article by Lynn Miller was prepared for the August 25, 2004

issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Everything’s Going His Way

It’s been a long time between Bill Pessel’s appearances in Open Air productions at Washington Crossing State Park. Inbetween a walk-on as a slave in "Aida," and his current role as Curly McLain, the romantic lead in "Oklahoma!," he has been busy at, among other things, an ongoing career in the law.

Pessel, a part-time actor in community theater, is also full-time lawyer. A partner in the firm of Fulginiti and Pessel at 214 Carnegie Center, he specializes in civil litigation, but the lure of the stage lights dates back to his childhood. Born in Trenton, he grew up on Titusville Island between the canal and the river – about a mile from the theater in Washington Crossing Park. "Open Air Theater was one of my first theater experiences," he says. "I used to walk through the woods in the park and sneak through the park to watch the show. During a production of ‘Aida,’ they needed kids for a slave scene and some high school girls grabbed me, painted my face black, teased my hair, and put me in the show. I really scared my mom when I got home that night."

His mother, Doris Pessel, taught piano and voice at Westminster Choir College, but switched to teaching piano at home while raising Bill and his two brothers. Now a Lawrenceville resident, she was also a real estate broker in Pennington for 20 years. While the farmers in "Oklahoma!" were just starting life in a brand new frontier, Pessel’s family has deep roots in the this area. His grandfather, Dr. Johannes Pessel, practiced in Trenton, and his grandmother, Ruth Pessel, founded Mercer Mart, a thrift shop and consignment shop in Trenton, 50 years ago.

"I was really interested in doing acting after high school," Pessel recalls, "but I got the message from more level-headed people that it was a pipedream – so I looked around for something else to do." When he entered Cook College, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he combined his other interests – in the outdoors and the environment – and left with a degree in wildlife management. During an environmental law class, he was surprised to find how much legal analysis interested him, pictured a career as an environmental lawyer, and entered Rutgers Law School.

"Ten years ago I started thinking about acting again," says Pessel. Working at a big law firm in northern New Jersey, he realized that he needed his own office in order to have more flexibility. Seven years ago he located an acting school (Gene Frankel Theater) through an ad in Backstage magazine. "I stood outside for a half hour until I got the courage to go in," he recalls. "During a private meeting and an audition, it was recommended that I go back to the basics. The teachers were good and I enjoyed it."

His first audition came about as a result of a notice in U.S. 1 Newspaper. It was for "Godspell" at Kelsey Theater. "I went over to see what the audition process was like," he recalls. "I didn’t have a resume or an appointment. They allowed me to watch and I thought, I can do this." He made an appointment for the next day – but then was embarrassed to be there. When he called the director, Ken Ambs, to withdraw from consideration, Ambs offered him the part of John the Baptist.

Since Godspell, he has also been in "The Music Man" (barbershop quarter) and "She Loves Me" (Mr. Kodaly) at Kelsey, as well as "The King and I," and "Music Man" at Open Air Theater.

"I always sang with the radio in the car, but I didn’t know I had a voice for theater," Pessel says. He takes voice lessons at Westminster Conservatory with Marsha Roberts.

Despite his mother teaching others how to play the piano, Pessel rejected piano lessons but did play the trumpet in high school. Ten years ago, when he moved back to the area, he began playing piano again. He has taught himself how to play in an unconventional way – by reading enough to pick out which notes had to be pressed and memorizing the music. "I work my way through songs from memory," he says. "I play piano to relax."

Pessel says his vocation and avocation are a good match. "I can be an actor and combine it with a legal degree," he says. "Acting is a fun game where nobody gets hurt."

Oklahoma! Open Air Theater at Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville. August 25 to 28. Box office opens at 6 p.m. Ticket prices:$4 to $8, Wednesday to Friday; $9 to $10, Saturday. Curtain time, 8 p.m. 609-737-1826.

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Stage Auditions

Bridge Players Theater Company holds auditions for "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" on Sunday, September 16 at 2 and 7 p.m., and on Monday, September 27, at 7 p.m. Christ Episcopal Church Hall, 638 Parry Avenue, Palmyra. Call 856-303-7620 or visit www.bridgeplayerstheatre.com for information.

Dance Auditions

Roxey Ballet has auditions for "The Nutcracker" and the world premiere of "The Nutty Nutcracker" on Saturday, September 4 for November performances. Audition fee is $20 and there is a $100 participation fee for those accepted. Audition will be at the studios at 243 North Union Street, Lambertville. For information call 609-397-7616 ext. 809 or visit www.roxeyballet.com.

West Windsor Plainsboro Dance Company holds auditions for "The New Age Nutcracker" on Sunday, September 12, at the Dance Corner II, Plainsboro Plaza, 10 Schalks Crossing Road, Plainsboro. Auditions begin at 12:30 p.m. for ages 3 and up. Call for schedule. Call 609-799-9677 for information.

Dance Conservatory has auditions for its holiday show on Sunday, September 12, at 1:30 p.m. at the Conservatory, 8919 New Falls Road, Levittown, Pennsylvania. Call 215-946-0100.

Singers Wanted

Hopewell Valley Chorus seeks singers for the holiday season. New members are invited to rehearsal on Mondays, September 13, 20, and 27, at Hopewell Valley High School, at 7:15 p.m. No auditions. $35 fee. Call 609-538-0777 for information.

Jazz Auditions

Westminster Conservatory has auditions for the new ensembles, Jazz Combo and Westminster Big Band, on Wednesday, September 8, or by appointment. Call 609-921-7104 for appointment. The new jazz program also features classes in jazz history and jazz theory for students from grade 9 through adult.

Art and Prose

Bucks County Writer seeks submissions for the Winter 2005 Travel Issue in the form of an essay, a poem, or a short story. Photographs and artwork are also accepted. Deadline is Friday, October 1. Visit www.writersroom.net for information.

Plainsboro Public Library seeks artists, musicians, writers, and performers to be part of the Ninth Annual Festival of the Arts on Saturday, September 18, from 1 to 5 p.m. Finished artwork must be at the library by Saturday, September 11. For information call 609-275-2897 or visit www.lmxac.org/plainsboro.

South Brunswick Arts Commission seeks visual artists for Art Goes Public, an artist-in-residence program. Deadline is Wednesday, September 15. For information call 732-329-4000 ext. 635.


55 Plus seeks a pianist for the musical parody "Montclair Lady" based upon "My Fair Lady." Volunteer pianist is needed at six rehearsals in September and October as well as the November 18 performance. Call Murray Reich at 609-921-7499.

Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Middlesex County offers master gardener classes to train for community volunteer work. $225 fee. Classes will be held in South Brunswick on Friday mornings. Call 732-398-2598 for information.


Princeton Family YMCA offers swimming classes for all ages at facilities on Paul Robeson Place and at the Princeton Theological Seminary Pool in West Windsor. Call 609-497-9622 for information.

Mercer Community College offers credit and noncredit fine art and yoga classes at Artworks in Trenton this fall. Call 609-586-4800 for information.

VSA Arts of New Jersey offers a fine arts program for students age 8 to 21 with disabilities at the Regional Day School of the Mercer County Special Services School District. Registration required for the free program. Call 732-745-3885for information.

Arts Council of Princeton offers art and drama classes for children and teens of all ages and interests. Call 609-924-8777 or visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

South Brunswick Family YMCA offers new programs including a 12-week shrink down course; sports, dance, swim, and gymnastic programs for children; and a preschool enrichment class. Call 732-329-1150 for information.

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