May 8, 2019

All-around, Gabriela Mercado ’19 has made the most of her College of Arts and Humanities experience: she’s been on stage and behind-the-scenes of productions, performing at UCF Celebrates the Arts, managed publicity photoshoots and even worked at the dean’s office front desk – oh, and she just graduated magna cum laude this Spring.

Hitting the ground running towards a career in theatre production, Mercado graduated from UCF with a dual bachelor’s degrees in theatre studies and marketing (magna cum laude in both), but she’s already worked on Broadway a few times. During her time as a student, Mercado collected a variety of high-profile internships: she was selected as part of the prestigious ATPAM Diversity Initiative Company Management Internship Program; interned with Disney Theatrical Group as part of the production department; was a company management intern for The Lion King national tour and the second national tour of Hamilton during their runs at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando; and was also a grant research development intern at Dr. Phillips Center her final semester.

Mercado is passionate about all things entertainment, including performing, production, arts administration and business, but the choice to double major wasn’t her original plan: “To be honest, I was inspired to make this choice because of some ‘failures’ that I had encountered,” she comments. An actress, singer and dancer through high school, she originally applied and auditioned for performing programs at UCF and other universities, but wasn’t accepted into any of them. She chose the theatre studies track with the intention of re-auditioning the following year. During her first two semesters in theatre studies, she realized how fulfilling the coursework was. “I really enjoyed the flexibility that theatre studies offered me to still continue growing as an artist,” she nods. “I got to take performance elective classes like dance, voice and acting, but also to explore other avenues that I never had experienced before such as stage management.” She also began to explore business courses through the theatre studies’ required minor. “It really lit a fire in that analytical, logistical, research and number-loving side of my brain.” So, instead of re-auditioning for the performance program, she made the decision to stay in theatre studies and add a second major in business administration with a focus in marketing. “I felt that these were two programs that stood strong independent of each other, but also complimented each other as well,” she says. “After all, theatre is a type of business.”

It was this connection that brought Mercado to assistant professor and coordinator of the stage management program, Claudia Lynch. When she learned about Mercado’s interest in the business side of theatre, Lynch connected her to a program offered by Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and Broadway League. The ATPAM Diversity Initiative Company Management Internship Program gives students who come from underrepresented backgrounds in the industry the opportunity to intern for a week with the company managers of a touring Broadway show. “I had no idea what company management was before I participated in the program,” admits Mercado, “but I learned so much observing and assisting even in just a week.” Company management includes logistics, travel and housing, box office statements, royalties, performance visas, event planning, people management and all the things it takes to keep a show up and running. “I was in heaven getting to explore that side of theatre that I hadn’t even known existed, and that first big opportunity opened up so many doors for me,” Mercado says. “This may sound like an exaggeration, but I mean it quite literally when I say that interning for The Lion King national tour was an opportunity that changed my entire life and career trajectory.”

From there, she was hooked. At her Disney Theatrical Group internship, she got to delve deep into the commercial theatre structure. “I learned what it takes to build a show from the ground up and keep it running every night, both domestically and internationally.” At Dr. Phillips Center, working specifically in grants, she learned about the nonprofit theatre structure and a variety of related industries. For Mercado, these positions were unique, exciting and invaluable. “Each of these jobs taught me so much, but the biggest thing I gained from them collectively was learning how to tell a story and share a vision in different ways that inspire others to want to be a part of that vision.”

The opportunities kept coming. Mercado worked with the company managers on the second national tour of Hamilton while they were in Orlando at the Dr. Phillips Center and Tampa at the Straz Center. “It was such an honor and privilege to learn from and work with some of the best of the best.” She’s a huge fan of the show, and “everything it represents and stands for,” she says. “It had been a dream to work on the show in some way – I never thought that dream would come true so early on in my career!” Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda has been an inspiration for Mercado since she first saw his Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights, I saw myself, my family, my culture and my community represented on stage in a way I had never experienced before. Mercado hopes to use her career to diverse further representation on Broadway, just like Miranda.

Looking back, Mercado is happy for the way things turned out. “I think that my bachelor of arts in theatre studies really sharpened my craft as an artist and theatre practitioner, while my bachelor of science in business administration and marketing helped me to grow as a businesswoman. I understand the logistics of what it actually takes to make a living doing what I love.” She feels skilled in the lingo, concepts and practices specific to both industries, helping her navigate both worlds and synthesize new ways for them to work together. “I can keep up,” she smiles.

And now, it’s come full circle: before graduating, Mercado accepted the Production Coordinator position with Aladdin on Broadway in New York City, beginning her career in producing commercial theatre.

Her advice to new students: “Start early!” she says. “Don’t wait until you want a job to start talking to people. Use connections through friends, family and especially professors to reach out to people who work in fields that you are interested in. “The time is now!” she smiles. “And also, stay curious, stay humble, and stay kind.”

Throughout her time at UCF, she says she’s learned two things. “The first is that there is more than one way to get somewhere. When the path you think is supposed to be the one for you doesn’t work out, don’t give up. Make your own path. The second is that when one door closes, don’t look at it as a missed opportunity. Look at it as redirection to another open door. You might not end up where you thought you would, but you’ll end up right where you belong – which is even better.”


The Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies is designed to offer a thorough foundation in theatre while providing flexibility and opportunity for interdisciplinary study with a required minor. Upon graduation, UCF students can choose to pursue further education or enter the job market with a skill set unique to their goals. Learn more about theatre majors, minors and courses at

Photography by Ricardo Mercado and Sarah Tice.