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    UMKC Helps Pave the Way for Future Ph.D.s

    Amanda Dawson. Photo by Manon Halliburtin

    Students from the Master of Arts in Theatre program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City are flourishing in Ph.D. programs across the country. With the opportunity to learn from internationally respected professors like Dr. Felicia Londré as well as opportunities to gain dramaturgy experience at professional theatres like the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, universities across the country receive prospective doctoral students from UMKC’s graduate theatre program as the highly qualified scholars they are. 

    From the 2016 class Collin Vorbeck and David Ruis were both accepted into Ph.D. programs. David Ruis is attending the University of Kansas, where he is Co-Chair of KU’s Theatre Graduate Students Organization and is serving as dramaturg for several productions, including Sarah Ruhl's Late, a Cowboy Song under the mentorship of Dr. Jane Barnette at KU, as well as for Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel at the KC MeltingPot Theatre under the direction of Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley. 

    Collin Vorbeck started his first year at Texas Tech University to work towards his Ph.D., and is currently acting in a production of the musical Heathers: The Musical. He was drawn to Texas Tech because its program emphasizes the necessity of interdisciplinary work. “I've always had an end-goal of professorship on some level or another,” Collin says, “but Dr. Londré’s guidance, both in the classroom and during side coaching sessions, truly inspired me to take this next step.”

    Three other graduates of the UMKC Masters in Theatre program have recently obtained their Ph.D.s: two at the University of Missouri-Columbia and one at the University of Kansas. This past May, Dr. Andy Pierce (2007) obtained his Ph.D. from MU. He is currently the Education Coordinator at Starlight Theatre, where he has been for the past ten years in different capacities. His position allows him to be part of twelve different education programs, working with five-year-old campers all the way up to college-aged interns. Dr. Pierce says, “attending UMKC was the best choice of my professional and academic career.” 

    Dr. Amanda Dawson (Boyle) from the class of 2012 obtained her Ph.D. this past spring from the University of Kansas. Currently, she is an assistant professor of speech and theatre at Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky. Dr. Dawson says, “My time at UMKC was, without a doubt, a positive, life-changing experience. There are so many elements of the UMKC experience that have made me who I am. For starters, Dr. Londré quickly became my mentor and remains in that role to this day. She taught me a passion for theatre and dramaturgy that I could not have imagined. I met a group of theatre artists that today remain some of my closest friends.” Before attending KU, Dr. Dawson was the literary manager and resident dramaturg at the Unicorn Theatre. She says, “When I started at UMKC I had no intention of going on to the Ph.D., but because of Felicia Londré’s confidence and encouragement, I applied for Ph.D. programs. Dr. Londré helped me to apply and I was accepted into numerous programs.” 

    Dr. Vanessa Campagna (2012) went directly from the M.A. program at UMKC into the Ph.D. program at UM-C. She graduated as the Doctoral Marshal in May 2015 and is in her second year as an assistant professor of theatre at Monmouth College (Monmouth IL). She teaches Classical Theatre History, Modern Theatre History, World Dramatic Literature, and Script Analysis. She also directs one mainstage production per year, such as the upcoming Meet Me in St. Louis, as well as supervising student directing projects. She says, “My time at UMKC is the time I became a historian. It was at UMKC that I learned to love the history of theatre, and that I began to understand and appreciate that history's breadth and depth. Additionally, Dr. Londré’s sharp editorial eye helped me to become a strong writer. In short, I am absolutely indebted to the education I received in those two years!”

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    Projections in Place

    Cast of Immeasurable Heaven UMKC Theatre, 2016. Photo by Brian Paulette

    There comes a time in every painter’s life when they break open a fresh set of brushes, every sculptor a chisel, every architect a rule. Improving their tools gives artists breathing room to focus on their expression. So it is with UMKC Theatre, whose lighting department upgraded their lighting and projection systems, broadening student artists toolkits while adding a new dimension to UMKC productions. 

    Investing in 20 state of the art LED fixtures, UMKC Theatre ushers in a new age in color mixing and design theory for its students that translates into design opportunities in the industry. 

    As film shifts from traditional fixtures to LEDs, filmmakers seek out skilled designers like Steve Dubay (1999) who has made a business of renting his lighting control console to filmmakers. With a better understanding of LEDs’ complex controls than current gaffers, Dubay is tasked with the design and control of lighting effects in his projects while working directly with directors. 

    Along with new LED fixtures and access to Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s 20K projector, UMKC Theatre has a growing projection inventory with six long and three short throw projectors capable of a variety of effects. And no projection designer would be left without their companion software. On a computer dedicated to projections, the Adobe suite supplements an array of media server programs like Arkaos and Isadora for creating advanced effects, creating a near limitless manipulation of media content.

    But the pride of programming is in UMKC Theatre’s use of The Green Hippo, a powerful control module used in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The hippotizer allows for real-time changes to projection effects on virtually any system and can be run from a light board, making it an ideal module for developing skills in cross-discipline design.

    The hippotizer is used in theatres nationwide, but its high learning curve leaves technicians in the know in short supply. UMKC Theatre trains students on the module, and has trained the country’s foremost experts: Adam Dunaway (1998) and Jeffery Cady (1996). Cady returned this year to teach a class in projection technology while designing lights and projections for KC Rep, and Dunaway has become a prized projection designer in corporate circles for his use of the system.

    Designers also find themselves in high demand while at the university. The Conservatory of Music and Dance always has lighting students design their events, dance concerts, and operas   a chance for students to put their study in dance and opera lighting into practice.

    The study sticks, and some make their careers in dance or opera, while others put their skills to work for concert lighting. Now with D.K. Production Design in Chicago, Brandon Clark (BA 2013) made his professional debut designing lights for Missy Eliot on the Isle of Wright before touring Japan with Carly Rae Jepsen. Julian Pike (MFA 2003) worked for three years as the assistant light supervisor for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and went on to become the resident designer for the Chicago Opera Theatre.

    A working professional and head of the lighting department, Victor En Yu Tan frequently designs for major regional theatres across the country and off-Broadway theatres in NYC, with his students assisting. This winter, Tan and all of his first years traveled to the Pan-Asian Repertory Theatre in New York City, where he designed Dream of the Red Pavillions. Lighting students also assist professional lighting and projection designers for the KC Rep season. Most lighting students graduate with half a dozen or more professional credits from these opportunities, as well as with Kansas City theatres like the Unicorn Theatre, Coterie, and the Living Room.

    With these shows under their belts, students take their work to the Hemsley Annual Lighting Portfolio Review, as they have every year since its founding in 2004. The same students excel at the Hemsley Lighting Intern Fellowship competition, with back-to-back winners in 2000 and 2001, and seven other finalists to date.

    Producing a body of talent in so many areas, the UMKC campus not surprisingly attracts such distinguished guest designers as Donald Holder. With more than 45 of its 50 lighting alumni still working in the industry  whether in stage or concert lighting, in projections, or in education, UMKC Theatre continues to graduate professional artists well practiced beyond their years.

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    UMKC Offers Opportunity to Build Professional Working Relationships

    Cast of Mr. Burns Unicorn Theatre, 2015. Photo courtesy of Unicorn Theatre

    While many graduate programs offer their students an opportunity to work within the school, those who attend UMKC are given something more. The department has a long established series of professional co-productions from the on-going work with the Rep to the plays presented at the Unicorn and The Coterie. These relationships provide the graduate students with opportunities to earn professional experience.

    One of the most exciting relationships for UMKC Theatre is with the Unicorn Theatre. The department has a tradition of performing new plays with the Unicorn and has provided many UMKC students with an opportunity to present their work. This year, several students worked on An Octoroonby Brendon Jacobs Jenkins. This adaption of a 19th-century melodrama provides an interesting look at racial issues, as well as the occasional ridiculousness of melodrama.
    Paige Beltowski (MFA Costume 2016) worked on the previous year’s co-production with the Unicorn. She designed costumes for Mr. Burnsa post-electric play, a show which explores how a reenactment of an episode of The Simpsons can transform into something sacred. 

    “Working on a co-production with the Unicorn has allowed me to form connections with working professionals in area.” says Beltowski “It has also given me insight into the world of Equity theatre and how to work with Equity actors. UMKC has made these opportunities possible, and working with professional theatres while I am still in school has boosted my confidence in talking to other professional designers.”

    The Coterie Theatre also provides students with an opportunity to work professionally, although their crowd is significantly different. The Coterie offers children’s theatre for Kansas City and has earned national attention for their work. Last year UMKC Theatre teamed up with the Coterie to perform And Justice For Some: The Freedom Trial of Anthony Burns, which tells the story of a court case involving an escaped slaveThe co-production this year is Hana’s Suitcase: A Holocaust Mystery by Emil Sher. This play shows a Japanese Holocaust instructor and her class decipher the mystery behind a suitcase from Auschwitz. Spanning the course of 70 years, this play provides a touching global perspective on the issue, as well as a human story of tragedy and love.

    A truly thrilling co-production this year is undoubtedly UMKC’s upcoming work with the KC Rep in presenting Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare in a new translation by Christopher Chen, as commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! Program.  Playwright Chen will be in residence doing rewrites during much of the rehearsal process, with exciting challenge for young actors in MFA training.  The play will be mounted in Spencer Theatre in May 2017 and will be part of KC Rep’s Origins KC new play program.

    The co-productions with the Unicorn Theatre, The Coterie, and the KC Rep all provide students with the skills necessary to compete in professional world. Their work will lead to connections, which will eventually lead to other jobs. These young, emerging professionals who graduate from UMKC Theatre are prepared for the professional world.

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