All the World is a Stage for York College Alumnus
Todd Aikens ’86 found his passion for performing at York College of Pennsylvania and turned it into a career.
When Todd Aikens ’86 delivered his first line on opening night at York College of Pennsylvania, the small theatre felt huge as it filled with laughter. The sound bounced off the walls and ceiling and filled him with a kind of joy and excitement he’d never experienced before. He was hooked.
Since then, Aikens’s life has been filled with opening nights—chasing the high of making people laugh night after night as an actor in national touring and regional theatre companies. It all started at York College.
A different kind of DJ
Growing up, Aikens spent his Sunday mornings listening to his favorite DJ, Casey Kasem. He dreamed of being on the radio, but couldn’t play any instruments, so he went to York College to study to become the next best thing: a DJ just like Kasem.
In his sophomore year, Jim McGhee, Aikens’ speech class professor, changed the course of his life. McGhee was starting a theatre company and encouraged Aikens to try out for the first show. Aikens had never been on stage or thought about theatre, but felt comfortable soon enough. “I heard instant laughter, and I said, ‘this is for me,’” Aikens says.
Aikens never did DJ outside of the York College radio station, but he did play one on stage, doing three national tours with Grease as the disk jockey Vince Fontaine. He also toured with Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story—bringing live theatre to communities across the country. “The best thing about touring is that every night is opening night,” he says.
Make them laugh
The crazy uncle. The wisecracking friend. Aikens says his favorite roles are the ones guaranteed to make audiences crack a smile. Since York College, 99 percent of the shows he’s been in or directed have been comedies. “I don’t like drama; I like making people laugh,” he says.
By his estimate, Aikens has given over 500 different performances for all kinds of shows, from national touring theatre to dinner theatre and even a short-lived stint filling in on a cruise ship. Long days on tour buses and unpredictable schedules were all worth it for the satisfaction of hearing an audience laugh at his lines. “When all is said and done,” he says, “I bring laughter to people.”
He’s done some voice-over work and been in a few commercials, but there’s nothing like theatre—playing to crowds of 5,000 or even stadiums of 20,000 and feeling the instant gratification of their laughter and applause. “That to me is just the great rush of live theatre,” he says.
Passing it on
Aikens credits McGhee for encouraging him and helping him find his love of theatre. He gave Aikens his purpose. “There’s a lot of York College in my life that guided me to where I’m at today,” he says.
Now, with his touring days behind him, he’s focused on the next generation as a high school drama director. He hopes to be to his students what his professor was to him: inspiring, supportive, and influential. His greatest accomplishment as a director is helping a quiet student who started out only wanting to be on stage crew eventually find a desire to perform.
Though he’s no longer touring, Aikens continues to perform and find new outlets for his work. This year, he became a public address announcer and on-field MC for the Jersey Shore Blue Claws, an affiliate team of the Philadelphia Phillies. He had a blast watching baseball, doing cold-reads, and playing games with kids on the field.
Aikens never would have predicted where life has taken him, but he’s thankful for his York College experience that began his adventure. “I’m grateful, I’m honored, I’m happy,” Aikens says. “When you love what you do you never work a day in your life.”