Ben Cullen, who graduated from Penn State in 2014, works as a baker, a knife, and a gargoyle. But sometimes he can be a hairy brute and a narcissist.
As a cast member in the national tour of DISNEY’S BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Cullen juggles multiple roles in what by the end of the run will be more than 300 performances across forty-seven states and four Canadian provinces. The classic tale of Belle, the Beast, and the lesson of love comes to Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium for a February 23 performance.
Not only must Cullen master roles as enchanted objects in the show’s ensemble, he also has to be prepared to go on stage as an understudy for the Beast or Gaston.
“I try to put my own spin on it,” he says. “At the same time, I have to stay in a certain ballpark of what they do, because if I go on and do something completely off the wall that throws off all the actors on stage. Then it could cause some issues.”
Cullen, who is also the fight captain, oversees each of the musical’s combat scenes.
Before joining the NETworks production, Cullen, who went by his full name Ben Cullen Walker as a student, earned a bachelor of fine arts in musical theatre at Penn State.
Susan Schulman, head of Penn State’s master of fine arts directing program, describes Cullen as being "very energetic and athletic with a wicked sense of humor and an infectious smile.”
He maintains his Penn State pride by sporting numerous Penn State shirts while traveling. “I always yell ‘We are!’ at anyone I see who is wearing any sort of Penn State paraphernalia,” he says.
Cullen isn’t the only Penn State alumnus on the tour. Company Manager Colin Byrne and Assistant Company Manager Dan Fisher are also graduates of the University.
Penn State memories remain near to Cullen’s heart. One of his favorite moments was during a performance of Songs for a New World.
“We were on stage doing the last number, and I saw one of my buddies in the front row and he was just weeping,” Cullen recalls. After the show, he and friends, all in tears, embraced.
Cullen’s work pays off when he sees he is providing the audience with a compelling experience. He says he treasures a memory of seeing a young girl having the time of her life in the front row of a BEAUTY AND THE BEAST performance.
“It was so great to go on stage and see so plainly how what we were doing was affecting someone,” he says. “It was a cool moment. If the cast and I are able to bring that to even just one person, then it was all worth it.”
Cullen says he was ecstatic to be accepted into Penn State’s musical theatre program, unaware of the success and happiness he would find after earning his degree.
“I’m basically getting paid to see the country and then play on stage for three hours every night,” he says. “I go to areas that I probably would have never been able to go to by myself. I love that.”
Cullen is thrilled to be returning to State College, even if it’s for only one day.
“I almost cried when I saw this on the schedule,” he says. “I’m so excited about it.”
This article was written by Anna James, a Penn State sophomore majoring in advertising and public relations and a Center for the Performing Arts marketing and communications intern, with contributions from Heather Longley, Center for the Performing Arts communications specialist.