Acting ‘Chops’ Cut Here
UT Dallas Theater Program Prepares Grads for First Jobs in the ‘Real World’
Oct. 3, 2008
Students spend a considerable amount of resources trying to get in to the colleges of their choice. They may not spend as much time planning for what happens when they get out.
The theater program in the School of Arts & Humanities is helping students prepare for the “real world” by giving them practical experience with working industry professionals, on campus and around town.
Students engaged in professional experience need state-of-the-art, professional equipment and space in which to work. A new dimming system, robotic lighting and a new sound system with over 25,000 watts of power provide a best-in-class structure in which to hone their craft.
“In the last 10 years, we’ve put more than $350,000 into upgrading the University Theatre, making it one of the most technologically advanced spaces of its kind in the Metroplex,” said Dennis Kratz, dean of the School of Arts & Humanities. “Thanks to the demonstrated passion of the theater faculty and staff, we will have students working in the space whose skills equal or exceed the capabilities of the venue.”
Jeff Stover, director of theater, envisions a theater program that graduates students immediately into meaningful entry-level industry work.
“As part of building the UT Dallas theater program, we’re giving grads more than a diploma and a pat on the back,” said Stover. “We’re packing their portfolios with relevant experience, so they have a proven record within Dallas professional circles that will help them land their first post-college job.
“For students who want to work on the technical side of theater, having state-of-the-art equipment exposes our students to the newest technologies to make them more marketable in a professional environment.”
Last summer, film industry pro Jack Weis and Assistant Theater Director Kathy Lingo brought together local film- and music-industry veterans and students to create Soundboard: American Style, Unmistakenly Texas, a 23-minute musical variety show. The presentation featured country Western, Western swing, rhythm and blues, and Top 40 genres, sprinkled with ethnic culture. The concept dubbed by Weis as “full-family entertainment” appeals to networks and cable program directors because the content is tame enough to play anytime. Copies are currently circulating among cable networks.
Weis and Lingo were accompanied in the production process by Jon Rogers, technical director of WNYW Fox-TV’s Good Day New York. Rogers served in the same role for Soundboard.
“The exciting aspect of this project was that the entertainment presentation concept is new to Dallas, in terms of filming it here,” said Weis. “The broad-spectrum entertainment program is already big with British audiences, and it was wonderful to have the use of the University Theatre to bring the concept to life in North Texas.”
Students participated in the production as dancers, back-up singers, technical staffers and musical accompanists.
“Nothing can prepare you for industry experience, except industry experience,” said Halleh Bahramnejad, a sophomore in computer science.
“It was incredible to work with Kathy Lingo outside of class, and the Soundboard experience is a great addition to my resume. The best part of the whole experience was getting to see how everything came together to produce an awesome final production.”
“Even with my decades of work in the film industry, working with students on a college campus was a new experience for me,” said Weis. “Everyone was very professional and accommodating of the needs of a full-scale video production.”
The opportunities to work in the business while working on a degree will continue in the 2008-2009 academic year. Stover has paired with The University’s Career Center to offer internships with local playhouse Watertower Theatre at the Addison Theatre Circle and the Dallas Shakespeare Festival.
Students may also audition for the regular arts season performances of November’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Professor Thomas Riccio, the February production of Oh Yeah…New Works Festival, directed by Jeff Stover and the spring presentation of Lysistrata, directed by Lingo.
Theater is also preparing students for the future of acting. Beginning in Spring 2009, the theater program will offer a voice-over class to teach students how to use their voices for animation, commercials, video games, poetry, audio books and film dubbing. Students will work in the Arts & Technology (ATEC) sound lab and benefit from guest experts who will provide insights into skill elements, such as the nuances of emotion in voice.
“These experiences are beyond a traditional internship,” said Lingo. “Students get production experience and possibly a recommendation when the project wraps.
“This business is all about networking; it’s truly who you know and what you can show that gets you work. Our students will come out of this program with solid contacts and portfolio content.”
Jenni Stewart, an Art & Performance graduate, would wholeheartedly agree.
“The UT Dallas theater program gave me the hands-on experience that I could not have received at another university,” said Jenni Stewart (’06). “I was given the chance to work with professional directors and designers from the Dallas theater community. Because of the valuable contacts and training I received as a student at UT Dallas, I am now Program & Marketing Associate at Shakespeare Dallas.”