How Aaron Ventresca (’24) Spends a Thursday on Campus

Name: Aaron Ventresca

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 

Class Year: 2024

Musical Groups: Playhouse Choir (student choreographer), Triangle Club (member), and Princeton University Players (director and choreographer of his own original musical, “Laid Off,” to play in April 2023)


Go to the wood! I wake up at 6am, which is when I usually wake up Monday through Friday. I train for Spartan Races, a type of obstacle course racing that’s like cross-country running meets American Ninja Warrior. It’s a lot of running in the woods. I usually start off around 6:30 or 6:45 for a run, come back, splash off, and have breakfast around 8:30. I am part of Princeton’s Tower Club, so I’ll walk over there. My standard breakfast consists of Greek yogurt with fruit and granola. I have that every day. It’s consistent. It’s always there. 

The daily grind. Around nine o’clock. I get some work done before class. I’m majoring in Economics, with certificates in Spanish, Theater, and Musical Theater. So between 9 and 11, still in Tower, I catch up on emails and do problem sets in a nice fluffy armchair or in this nice solarium that was built pretty recently.

Games people play. At 11 I have my first class of the day, ECO 310; the official name is Microeconomic Theory: A Mathematical Approach. Right now, we’re talking about games – not games like Monopoly, but games like how consumers behave based on what other people are doing. Today we’re doing a game in class where it’s an auction and the highest bid wins, but the person who bids the highest pays the second-highest bid. That class is an hour and twenty minutes long.

Fuel up. Around 12:30 I go back to Tower for lunch. My standard lunch is a chicken wrap with some kind of fruit smoothie. I eat the same thing usually every day. I kind of like the routine of it. Part of it is that I need certain nutrients throughout the day, but mostly it’s just because the consistency is really comforting to me – and it allows me to perform at my best. I’ll usually chat with some friends and take a longer lunch so we can catch up, maybe play a game of pool upstairs if I have a second. 

Point me to the sky. At 1:30, I have astrophysics, AST 205. The course is called Planets in the Universe. I’m not studying astrophysics, but I’ve always been interested in astronomy. And also I need the science credit. This class is a little bit more physics-heavy than I was anticipating, but it is what it is. Right now, we’re talking about asteroids and meteorites, specifically about the discovery of asteroids and how that’s happened over time and how they’re cataloged. We watched this really cool simulation of the discovery of asteroids over the last sixty or seventy years: the planets are orbiting, and you see all the asteroids populating, the asteroid belt “forming” as they’re being discovered. 

When you know the notes to sing. At 3:30 I have a voice lesson with Martha Elliot. She’s great. Today we’re singing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Misérables. She helps me a lot with my technique and also with how to present a song in a more formal context. Right now we’re trying to build the top into my range, so working on accessing headspace and approaching it from the top instead of pushing from the bottom when I go for higher notes. In terms of performance, we’re talking about making the text really specific, so whether that means connecting to my own life in terms of, you know, what’s this character going through and how do I relate to that or just finding ways to really connect with a text and put yourself in the character’s shoes.

I can’t; I have rehearsal. Right at 4:30, down the hall in McAlpin I have rehearsal with the Playhouse Choir with the incredible Solon Snider Sway. I’m the student choreographer. I grew up in Pittsburgh, in a very strong arts community, and I was fortunate to take classes at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, a pre-professional program for musical theater. That was really foundational for me, not only in terms of getting certain technical skills but also in just growing my love for musical theater. I would go to school and then after school, I would be there in the evenings and that was what I would do, and I loved every minute of it. A lot of my high school experience was to prepare myself for a career in performing. I might still go in that direction. Playhouse is interesting because it’s kind of a hybrid between a traditional choir like the Princeton University Glee Club and something that looks like a musical. It’s kind of like a show choir. Our current rep ranges from Stephen Sondheim’s “No One is Alone” to a medley of Studio Ghibli songs in Japanese. There’s a learning curve, for sure, but it’s interesting to sing in another language. It’s totally different from what I’m used to.

Laid Off. After rehearsal, I go back to Tower for dinner. A lot of us in Playhouse are also in Tower so we walk over together. I get a quick bite to eat and then get into musical theater writing. First and foremost, I’m a musical theater writer. I’ve written three shows to date with my collaborator, one of which is being performed in the spring with the Princeton University Players. That show is called “Laid Off,” and it follows the life of an out-of-work construction worker and an out-of-work ballet dancer and the mixing of their worlds. It’s boy meets girl – and then together they team up to take down a mob boss. The show I’m finishing now is the one I’ll be proposing for my Musical Theater certificate thesis. It’s about the gauchos [nomadic horsemen] in Argentina in the mid-nineteenth century and follows the course of Mateo, a young gaucho who doesn’t want to be a gaucho, and how he rebels against the patriarchy and against tradition to follow his dream of becoming a writer. My main inspiration was looking at Spanish literature from the boom period – so the mid-twentieth century – at these distinctly Latin narrative techniques. I am essentially taking these narrative techniques and using them in a musical way. And since dance is a huge part of my life and definitely influences the way that I write shows, I’m always being mindful of the intersection between dance and music and how they can really work together to tell a story. This show has ten principal characters plus a small ensemble, and I would love ten to fifteen people dancing in nice, traditional attire! But at the same time, I’m aware of the limitations of having a larger cast, financially and recruitment-wise. My evening consists of writing both music and lyrics for the show. I’m also orchestrating, though I’m not the greatest orchestrator in the world, but I’m working on it. 

The 300-pound barbell in the room. Sometime around 8pm, I go to Firestone Library and finish up homework for the evening. That usually takes me from 8 till 10 or 11. Then I go back to my room and start winding down for the night. I’m one of those people who needs to watch TV before I go to bed, even if it’s something totally mindless, like cooking shows or vlogs of Olympic weightlifting, just to clear my head. I would have to work a lot to do Olympic lifting, especially with that overhead mobility of holding, like, 300 pounds above your head, but it’s fun to watch. I watch for about five to ten minutes and then usually go to sleep somewhere between 11 and 12. 

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