Destinations: students and faculty participate in theatre conferences


Addie Pawlick, Ian Gammarino and Brittney Price demonstrate their excitement about USITT 2017 in St. Louis, MO.

Radford University Senior Danielle Hankerson with her mentor for the Stage Management Mentor Project, Cirque du Soleil Stage Manager John Gruber.




These are just a few of the words student attendees of Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) and United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) used to describe their experiences at the annual conventions of these two prestigious organizations.

“It’s something of an annual pilgrimage,” jokes Carl Lefko, chair of the Department of Theatre and Cinema when asked about the two conferences, “Except the destination changes.”

SETC holds its convention in the first week of March in various cities in the Southeast. This year, students and faculty traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, to take workshops, interview for internships and employment and, for some, to present their work.

For the third consecutive year, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship granted select Radford University theatre students money to attend these conferences. At SETC, several of those awarded support participated in the Southeastern Theatre Conference Design Competition. Entrants to this competition have the opportunity to have their work reviewed by top designers in their chosen fields. Those adjudicators then choose from those entries those who will have a public critique. This open forum allows all in attendance to hear and learn from the responses. Then the respondents pick the winners from those selected for the public critiques.

Chelsea Medua standing at the display of her costume design work for Radford University Theatre’s recent “Praying for Rain.”

Brittney Price, Shawn Carver, and Addie Pawlick were the Radford University theatre students selected for the critique.

“It was incredible to hear my design critiqued as well as hear my peers critiqued by a professional to learn how to better my work and get a better feel of where the industry is going,” said Junior Shawn Carver who presented his sound design for the recent production of “Praying for Rain.”

Addie Pawlick, a senior, won third place for her lighting design of Radford University’s fall 2016 production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

“SETC was extremely beneficial to me,” Pawlick stated. “I was able to enter my work in a design competition and have it adjudicated by a professional lighting designer. I was also able to talk with several graduate schools while at SETC.” In fact, it was a direct result of her participation in the design competition that Pawlick discovered the University of Houston. She has since visited the Texas school and has decided to continue her studies with internationally recognized, multiaward winning lighting designer Kevin Rigdon. She will begin the Masters of Fine Arts program this coming fall.

Senior Addie Pawlick showing off her Third Place Award for Undergraduate Lighting Design in Southeastern Theatre Conference’s Design Competition.

A hallmark of Radford’s Theatre program is that it routinely supports faculty travel to events like this. Of course, the faculty are there to recruit for the program and partake of some professional development themselves. However, they are also there as a resource and guide for the students attending.

“We feel it is very important part of what we do to advise these young professionals, many of whom are going on their first job interviews or presenting their work the first time outside of the university,” Lefko said. “That can be a daunting thing.”

Professors Monica Weinzapfel and Wesley Young attended Southeastern Theatre Conference along with the 12 students.

Then, the very next week following it was “Westward, Ho!” as six of the 12 moved on to St. Louis, Missouri, and the annual convention of USITT, which also takes place in a different city year to year.

There the students continued networking, taking classes getting tips from industry professionals on portfolios and the latest trends in design and technology. For the second straight year, Radford University Theatre was represented in USITT’s elite Stage Management Mentor Project. This program pairs student stage managers with top-notch stage management working in high profile jobs in the entertainment business. Radford Senior Danielle Hankerson is one of 14 candidates selected from across the nation to participate in the SMMP.

“The Stage Management Mentor Project has been one of the most impactful moments in my education,” Hankerson says. “I went into this mentorship timid and not certain that I had the talent to be in the same room as all the other stage managers, by the end of the week, I knew, without a doubt in my mind, that I belong in this world.”

Her mentor for the SMMP was John Grüber, general stage manager at Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson: One.” Hankerson says the most important lesson she took from this great stage manager is the she does not have to fit into any mold to be a good stage manager.

This time four members of the theatre faculty made the trip to support the students. They also participated in the conference in their own ways. Chair Carl Lefko, himself a former president and fellow of USITT, interviewed Fred Foster who is founder and chief executive officer of ETC, one of the country’s premier technology suppliers to the entertainment industry. The interview is part of an ongoing archival project of the Institute to capture the thoughts of masters of the craft.

Associate Professor David Wheeler spent most of the conference in training on some of ETC’s top-grade equipment, the same line of equipment the department at Radford owns. Wheeler said that the most important aspect of this experience is bringing it back to the students here where he can train them in easier, more efficient ways of programming so they can spend more time learning how their lighting choices support a production.

The destinations may change but the goal is the same—to find inspiration, learn new things and make connections.

Mar 23, 2017
Wesley Young