by Thomas Hudgins, Matthew Leckenbusch & Shannon Robert

Clemson theatre students pursue opportunities across the nation

Clemson theatre students pursue opportunities across the nation

Donors help underwrite participation in career-boosting conferences.

(Pictured above: Clemson Students at USITT (from left) Marie Rosasco, Kelsey Bailey, Thomas Fernandez, Elizabeth Haynes, Gabriella Lourigan)

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 continuously 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 theatre conferences in March.

Seventeen theatre students and three faculty members traveled to Mobile, Alabama, to attend the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC). Here, professional theatres and graduate programs from across the country gather to hold auditions and interviews for young theatre 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 theatre organizations, while underclassmen are able to seek out summer internships in their chosen fields. A total of 10 technical theatre 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, S.C.
  • Another student, Gabrielle Norris received offers, but accepted a position from Spoleto Festival USA through a contact with Technical Theatre Solutions of Charleston.

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 SCTA auditions and participated in this extremely challenging process. Kidd received a full-time offer from B Street Theatre in Sacramento, California; Other students taking part in SCTA 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.

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. Haynes participated in the “Tech Olympics,” in which participants are given technical challenges to complete. According to Robert, USITT sets the standards for theatrical technology, safety, architecture, and design industries, and is the largest technical theatre conference in the United States.

Robert, one of the faculty members who made both trips, is an associate professor of theatre with a focus in scenic design. She says 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. 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 says. “It’s easy to remember people through associations.”

Clemson student Elizabeth Haynes

Robert says SETC is the largest conference of its type in the United States, a fact that makes freshman Elizabeth Haynes’ (pictured right) achievement that much more astonishing. Haynes, a production studies major from Nashville with a technical theatre concentration, received a dozen summer job offers after attending the conference. “SETC was a touch overwhelming at first,” Haynes says. “I talked to a lot of other students my age who are doing the same things I want to do for a living.” She says 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,” she says, “but it was a reaffirmation that I’m doing what I should be doing.”

Haynes says she has been well-prepared by the quality of instruction she receives in the production studies major. She says 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 theatres 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 says. “Freshmen here are allowed to pursue any aspect of technical theatre 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 says she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do after she graduates, but knows she wants to continue in the field of technical theatre.

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 theatre industry business contact). “We wanted to make sure everyone got to go, regardless of financial situations,” says Leckenbusch. “That was why the Friends of the Brooks Center funding was so important.” He says that, without this help, the conferences simply 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. It will be a good thing that they have such capable instructors on hand to guide the way.


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