From Broadway’s “Grease” to Studying Ethnomusicology

3 min read

Allie Schulz is a first-year transfer student from Los Angeles City College (LACC), majoring in Ethnomusicology at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. Before transferring to UCLA, Schulz spent her time performing musical theater on Broadway in New York City, touring the country and was even cast in a reality TV show in Los Angeles.

We spoke with Schulz to discuss her journey from Broadway to UCLA, her experience as a transfer student and her future plans as a teacher.

At 18, Schulz graduated from Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and auditioned for performing arts colleges there, but eventually decided to move to New York. Shortly after, she took classes at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and auditioned for various roles on Broadway. One of those roles was in the Broadway musical “Grease.”

Although she had tried out for a different character, the casting crew saw an opportunity for Schulz to play the lead character Sandy. Before landing the role, she had to audition through a reality TV show called “Grease: You’re the One That I Want!” on NBC in Los Angeles in 2007. For nine months, she danced and sang her way through the fierce competition, winning third place.

After that run, she moved back to New York to continue attending BMCC and started auditioning again. She was offered multiple roles in off-Broadway shows, and then another opportunity came from the casting crew of “Grease.” They invited her to understudy Sandy, Patty and Cha-Cha for the Broadway production. Afterwards, Schulz played Rizzo on the national tour.

While Schulz was on tour, she remembered thinking she wanted to learn more about topics outside of musical theater such as history and political history. Once her contract ended, she decided not to renew it and went to study romance languages at Hunter College in New York City. She took classes in Italian, Spanish, English and history. Taking those courses reinforced and inspired her ability to make music.

“This type of education is so valuable,” said Schulz. “This is going to inform the music I write. This is going to make me a better songwriter, storyteller and a better actress.”

From that realization, she made her move to Los Angeles to write music, play shows and release records under the artist name LAE.

While making music in Los Angeles, she enrolled in LACC as a Music major. She had her eye on UCLA, but she knew she still had to fulfill prerequisites.

“I knew LACC helps their students find the quickest way to get into the school they want to graduate from,” said Schulz. “I met with a counselor there and he said, ‘Okay, UCLA is your goal school and you want to be a music major there?’ Then, he took a piece of paper and said, ‘You need this class and this one.’ I got right to it and applied to UCLA.”

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the process, Schulz appreciated that the School of Music’s inaugural dean, Eileen Strempel, advocates for transfer students because it can be a huge undertaking to gather college transcripts, especially for someone such as Schulz who attended four colleges. She even had to request a transcript from Argentina because she studied there for a short time.

“It was overwhelming, and it took a year of telling myself ‘You can do this,’” said Schulz. “There were a lot of administrative details and getting over my own internal dialogue, which was saying, ‘You’re going to be the oldest student there’ or ‘Gosh it’s taking you so long.’ And, now that I’m at UCLA with a lot of 18, 19, 20, 21-year-olds and other people in their 30s, there’s a nice mix. It feels so perfect. I’m making friends with these people regardless of their age. I have things to offer them, and they are teaching me a lot. It’s great!”

Recently, Schulz was awarded a fellowship to teach at the UCLA Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown. After this experience, she realized that she wanted to teach and pursue her master’s degree in education, in addition to continuing to perform. Watching the students create music and seeing how happy it made them feel gave her tremendous amounts of joy. She also received a dedicated transfer student scholarship that was made possible through the generosity of the Herb Alpert Foundation

She also appreciated that even if she chooses not to get her master’s, having a degree from the School of Music at UCLA in Ethnomusicology is a formal acknowledgment of her expertise in this field of study and having this type of musical education carries enormous credibility.

Although her journey did not follow a traditional path after high school, she wants other students to know: “You don’t have to have the whole plan figured out when you decide to finish your degree. You can have a hunch, but it doesn’t have to be exact. My hunch is that I want to teach afterwards. It’s a feeling I have that this route is going to change me in an important way, and I think trusting that is enough. Then, moving forward with that certainty and hunger for knowledge.”

We applaud Schulz for forging her own path and are thrilled that she decided to make the School of Music her new home.