Thanks to donors, theater students pursue opportunities across the nation
CLEMSON — Clemson student performing artists have a history of success. Though less than two decades old, the production studies in performing arts major has produced top-tier professionals who have excelled in every aspect of the theatrical and musical worlds.
Whether accepting offers to graduate programs or securing summer employment, Clemson students have shown they have what it takes to compete on the big stage. This was never more apparent than when students and faculty loaded up for two road trips to theater conferences in this semester.
In March, 17 students and three faculty members traveled to Mobile, Alabama, to attend the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). Here, professional theaters and graduate programs from across the country gather to hold auditions and interviews for young artists based in the Southeast. Graduating seniors have the chance to earn slots at highly selective graduate schools or compete for full-time positions at theater organizations, while underclassmen are able to seek out summer internships in their chosen fields.
Ten Clemson technical theater and design students participated, and all 10 were offered employment and/or summer internships:
- Elizabeth Haynes will be a carpenter for Porthouse Theatre in Kent, Ohio, for the summer.
- Kelsey Bailey accepted a position as assistant prop master at the Heritage Theatre Festival this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia.
- Vanessa Galeno will travel to Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York.
- Kat Watson will become a full-time stage management intern at Omaha Theater Company in Omaha, Nebraska.
- Marie Rosasco will work with Flatrock Playhouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina, as a staff scenic painter.
- Gabrielle Lourigan will be a general technician and stagehand at the Castleton Theatre Festival in Castleton, Virginia.
- Cassie Lanier, Thomas Fernandez and Wylder Cooper will be working at “Unto These Hills” in Cherokee, North Carolina.
- Trevor Floyd will be the assistant director for Greenville Light Opera Works in Greenville, South Carolina.
- Another student, Gabrielle Norris received offers, but accepted a position from Spoleto Festival USA through a contact with Technical Theatre Solutions of Charleston, South Carolina.
Clemson acting students who were advanced from last year’s auditions at the South Carolina Theatre Association’s (SCTA) Theatre Festival were able to participate in SETC auditions. These students had 90 seconds to make an impact with a monologue and a song (and just 60 seconds without a song).
Students Meredith Kidd, Sara Tolson, Drew Whitley, Alessandro McLaughlin and Preston Taylor Stone all passed their auditions and participated in this extremely challenging process. Meredith Kidd received a full-time offer from B Street Theatre in Sacramento, California. Other students who participated at SETC were Jessica Houston, who wrote an original play; Trevor Floyd, who directed in the Ten-Minute Play Festival; and Claire Richardson, who attended as a Clemson ambassador and to attend workshops and classes.
Students saddled up once again, this time for Fort Worth, Texas, traveling to the United States Institute for Theatre Technology conference (USITT). Three faculty members, Shannon Robert, Matthew Leckenbusch, and Woody Moore, served as Clemson ambassadors.
Five design/technology students attended and participated in a number of classes and workshops: Kelsey Bailey, Marie Rosasco, Gabrielle Lourigan, Elizabeth Haynes and Thomas Fernandez. Fernandez participated in the Rosebrand Action Design Competition with a number of professional designers, teachers and students. Elizabeth Haynes participated in the “Tech Olympics,” in which participants are given technical challenges to complete.
Robert said USITT sets the standards for theatrical technology, safety, architecture and design industries, and is the largest technical theater conference in the United States.
Robert, one of the faculty members who made both trips, is an associate professor of theater with a focus in scenic design. She said both SETC and USITT can be valuable career-building tools.
“SETC is a really great conference for students because it provides multiple opportunities on multiple levels,” Robert said. “The best thing about it is the opportunity to network because students get the chance to be in the same room with a lot of industry professionals.”
Students also have their instructors to lean on when it comes to making professional connections.
“If some of the faculty know people from having worked with them in the past, students get introduced to them,” Robert said. “It’s easy to remember people through associations.”
Robert said SETC is the largest conference of its type in the United States, a fact that makes freshman Elizabeth Haynes’ achievement that much more astonishing. Haynes, a production studies major from Nashville with a technical theater concentration, received a dozen summer job offers after attending the conference.
“SETC was a touch overwhelming at first,” Haynes said. “I talked to a lot of other students my age who are doing the same things I want to do for a living.”
She did not expect to receive as many job offers as she did.
“I was hoping to receive at least one so I could work somewhere over the summer, but it was a reaffirmation that I’m doing what I should be doing.”
Haynes said she has been well prepared by the quality of instruction she receives in the production studies major. She said technical director Matt Leckenbusch, who, in addition to organizing the creation of set pieces for Clemson Players productions, supervises students who work on projects for other theaters and venues around the state.
“If I didn’t have that variety of experiences in my portfolio, I never would have gotten a job,” Haynes said. “Freshmen here are allowed to pursue any aspect of technical theater they want. I learned to weld, and that’s what got me the job this summer. I would never have gotten that at another program.”
Haynes said she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after she graduates, but knows she wants to continue in the field of technical theater.
Leckenbusch, in his third year at Clemson, also sees the conferences as invaluable for students.
“SETC is where I got my first jobs in college,” he said. “In addition to employment opportunities, the presenters and lecturers at the conference also have great educational materials for our students.”
Leckenbusch also views USITT as a highly valuable primer for students on the world of technical theater. “USITT sets the standards for our industry. It helps our students to get updated on new equipment and safety.”
In contrast to SETC, which is focused mostly on employment opportunities, Robert said USITT hosts rigorous workshops that are specialized in technical theater.
“Students who got jobs through SETC and could make the trip to Fort Worth then went to USITT, where they were able to go to some really amazing workshops,” she said. “That further gives them networking opportunities, sometimes with the same people they met at SETC.”
The conference also functions as a trade show for the newest products in theater technology.
Leckenbusch and Robert both emphasize how proud they are of their students’ accomplishments, and are excited that the preparation and training they receive as production studies majors has paid off. They are also thankful to the Friends of the Brooks Center, a group of donors who give to the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts and the department of performing arts, who made the trips possible (additional funding for the USITT trip was secured through a grant from a theater industry business contact).
“We wanted to make sure everyone got to go, regardless of financial situations,” said Leckenbusch. “That was why the Friends of the Brooks Center funding was so important.”
He said that without this help the conferences would have been out of reach.
Both SETC and USITT are on the docket for next year, when another crop of students will lay the foundation for their future.
— Thomas Hudgins, Matthew Leckenbusch and Shannon Robert