Each year, Missouri State arranges for acting, musical theatre and dance students to perform for and network with industry professionals in hotspots such as New York City and Los Angeles.
Hannah Green lightly hops up and down, her high heels clicking the floor to a steady beat. A few feet away, Nick Driscoll’s mouth is awkwardly poised as he quietly emits didgeridoo-like noises.
Others around the room are engaging in similar rituals, and the florescent light against a bright neon green accent wall offers no cover for the palpable tension.
Easing into a zone of energy and anxiety, one by one the 15 Missouri State musical theatre seniors walk through the door marked Studio 2. On the other side is a panel of casting professionals waiting for what could be — what hopefully will be — career-launching performances.
Gaining exposure, building relationships
These auditions launched the eighth annual musical theatre showcase, a week’s worth of professional development opportunities held in New York City for Missouri State students.
The musical theatre showcase, most recently held in March 2016, is one of three showcase events coordinated by Missouri State’s theatre and dance department to put university seniors directly in front of talent professionals who can offer advice — and maybe even a job.
In April, students travel to Los Angeles for an acting showcase, with events focused on the television and film industry. And each spring semester, the dance program sends students to performance conferences for similar experiences in their field.
Acting Program Coordinator Dr. Kurt Heinlein said the exposure is invaluable, since it could take years to get an agent or to develop relationships with casting directors.
“This gives our students the opportunity to be seen before they even get out of school. It could save them five years of pounding the pavement.”
Heinlein said the trips also allow students to become acquainted with the scenes and cities in which they may eventually work. They also take industry workshops and connect to alumni living in those cities.
Sophomores and juniors often join the upperclass students to offer support and experience the city and workshops, too.
Other Missouri State visitors to the New York showcase include students in design, technology and stage management, the Missouri State Jazz Ensemble, and art and design students who show their works in galleries.
Hearing honest critiques from industry experts
Heather Luellen, staff music director and accompanist, organizes the New York showcase. She said each program’s showcase is tailored to what works in that respective industry.
For live theater, Luellen wants to give students a preview of what happens in a real audition room.
“It’s great for the students to experience being in one of those spaces in front of a real casting director. We simulate that in classes all the time, but to really have that experience in New York is a fantastic way for them to be prepared when they actually move there.”
New York-bound students perform individually for casting professionals, who then offer honest feedback in a speed-dating-style critique.
Anything is fair game, from the students’ appearances to song selections, talent, decorum and more.
Travis Holt, a senior musical theatre student, said the panel thought his songs were too similar.
“Since then, I’ve been building my repertoire with songs that show who I am as a person. I’m finding my type as an actor and working on how I can showcase that in an audition.”
The panel also said they saw him as a young romantic lead and encouraged him to embrace his Native American heritage when looking for roles.
A handful of students were advised to add comedy to their routines. According to one comment, “It has to be moving or funny. Everything else is just boring.”
The critiques given this year were pretty tame compared to some in the past. Luellen said this portion of the showcase is sometimes the most heart-wrenching part for students.
However, this is the real industry and she said the critiques are a good opportunity for students to see beyond the glitz and glamour.
During each year’s New York trip, students also perform a cabaret show accompanied by the MSU Jazz Ensemble. Their audience for the Cabaret and Connection event is largely alumni and friends of the university.
They wrap up the week with workshops, stage tours and more.
Developing professional confidence in Los Angeles
The Los Angeles acting showcase, in its seventh year, is thriving with a traditional showcase model, Heinlein said.
Students perform two-person scenes on stage for alumni and industry professionals, such as casting directors and agents. To be considered for the showcase, students must audition and spend the year leading up to it preparing in class.
“It’s really an artistic and curricular capstone experience for these students,” Heinlein said. “By prepping for the showcase, they learn about the industry, they learn about marketing, they learn how to be in business as an actor, not just how to perform.”
Students also participate in workshops, table reads, sitcom tapings and more. They spend time with working alumni, ranging from Academy Award winners to recent graduates, who share advice about what it’s like to begin in this industry.
Acting senior Leah Hawkins performed two scenes at the showcase. The experience has shown her a career in acting is possible,
“It’s scary to take that first step, but after being out there, doing the workshops and meeting with alumni, I feel more prepared. I can trust in my acting skills and know I have the tools to be a professional performer.”
Broadening horizons for dance students
Though the dance counterpart is not called a showcase, dance students get similar experiences and benefits at the four-day American College Dance Association regional conference, said Ruth Barnes, dance program coordinator.
Students start their day at 8 a.m. and end at 11 p.m., taking classes in various styles and performing in concerts adjudicated by dance professionals from across the country.
The adjudicators meet with students for two minutes in speed-dating-style feedback sessions. The judges comment on the choreography and determine which student performances will be presented in a national gala concert.
Barnes said the conference illustrates the possible career opportunities in dance, which may not be evident in Springfield.
“Students don’t know what’s out there. This is a way of exposing them to the enormous diversity in the dance world.”
Professional dancers often lead unconventional lifestyles, Barnes said. Few are paid well for performing, so they take on day jobs. They must be versatile and have a passion for dancing. Those are lessons students glean from the conferences.
Kristen Bretzke, a junior dance major, said the conference was invigorating.
“I left each adjudication feedback session with pages full of notes, advice and ideas for how I can choreograph successful and meaningful pieces in the future. I came back to school rejuvenated, refreshed and inspired to continue my work as a collegiate dancer.”
Filmmakers and screen actors often rely on each other to make a production work. This symbiotic relationship is driving a growing collaboration between Missouri State’s department of media, journalism and film, and department of theatre and dance.
Overlap in theatre and film
Kurt Heinlein, professor of theatre and dance and acting program coordinator, said despite the departments offering a different range of degree and course options, there is a lot of opportunity for overlap in theater and film. Each area teaches skills that are needed in the film production process.
“The logical trajectory of that has been more crossover work. Some of this was already happening, but we’ve formalized it a bit to benefit the students in both departments.”
The collaboration also comes, in part, as a result of a changing dynamic in MSU’s acting program and the acting profession — less emphasis on stage acting and more in on-camera work.
“Our department heads, as well as the dean’s office, have been really supportive about these crossover initiatives,” Heinlein said. “Every time I approach someone to say, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about this,’ the answer I get is, ‘Yeah, let’s figure out how we can make it happen.’ That’s so huge, so important for the students.”
“One directing class … was designed to give students in both of our departments additional opportunities to not just work together, but to get to know each other,” Twibell said. “It’s our hope that these opportunities will help demystify the production and acting processes.”
Recently, the College of Arts and Letters has explored combining course work across departments with the idea that the collaboration will result in the creation of a film.
This innovative, combined curriculum may shape the future of both departments in years to come.
Testing skills learned in the classroom
Student projects, department-produced films and web series, and other locally filmed productions are examples of resume-building opportunities offered to students in departments across COAL. Here are a few created in the last year.
This project had strong ties to Missouri State. It’s director, Thomas Rennier, is an MSU alumnus Thomas Rennier. “The Weight” was filmed in 2015 in nearby Greenfield, Missouri. Several COAL alumni and students participated as cast and crew members. Heinlein was the film’s stunt coordinator.
“Counting to 1000”
Seniors in electronic arts are required to complete a senior thesis project. “Counting to 1000” is one such project created by Josh Pfaff, Samantha Rhode, Logan Sparlin, Joshua Moore and Andrew Westmaas. Since its spring 2016 debut, it has been accepted into several national film festivals and won numerous awards.
The media, journalism and film-produced web series “Limbo” was initiated as a way to bring students in theatre and film together for a large-scale project, said Twibell.
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They are the storytellers. The creators. The visualizers.
The students who make up Missouri State’s College of Arts and Letters take pride in standing out amongst the crowd and making their Missouri Statement a distinct one. How? Here are five ways COAL is making itself known at MSU.
Giving Voice will open your eyes to oppression
Giving Voice, a theatre troupe housed in the theatre and dance department, puts on an interactive performance that is inspired by Augusto Boal’s Theatre. Their goal is to give a voice to those who are oppressed, underrepresented and marginalized.
The troupe helps many groups tackle topics like gender, racial, political and religious discrimination. This is done through a series of presentations and workshops. The Giving Voice facilitator and actors work with participants to explore how to approach taboo situations in a safe environment.
Student Exhibition Center gives you space to exhibit your creativity
Think your art should be featured? All you have to do is fill out a proposal form and you have a chance to have your own artwork on display.
You can even hold a reception there (but it does cost an extra fee, so check out the SEC website for more details).
The SEC is located on Historic Walnut Street at the north end of the Missouri State University campus.
But wait — there’s more! The SEC isn’t the only Missouri State gallery looking to display student artwork. The Brick City Gallery features distinguished, as well as up-and-coming artists, in this urban oasis of creativity. Plus, admission is free and open to the public.
You can immerse yourself in TV industry with ‘Show-Me Chefs’
Imagine a television show run by college students. That’s exactly what “Show-Me Chefs” is!
The show is produced by the department of media, journalism and film as part of a class. Students produce and film the whole series — a reality competitive cooking show that highlights local food producers and chefs.
The show’s second season is about to premier on KOZL-TV, and they are already in pre-production for Season 3. On Oct. 22, the show will host a fundraising gala at Springfield’s 319 Event Center.
Untamed Tongues will empower you to use your voice
Untamed Tongues is a poetry collective dedicated to establishing a place on campus for poets and musicians to share their creative works with others, be active servants to the community and maintain high academic achievement.
The group was co-founded nearly a year ago by Taylor Vinson, an MSU junior in communication. To celebrate this organization’s first birthday, a poetry slam is being held at 7:30 Oct. 3 in Plaster Student Union, room 400. There will be three rounds with three different time limits: Free topic, no props. Everyone with an original poem is welcome to participate
Study Away will take you around the world
We encourage our students to travel the world. There are several COAL faculty-led study away opportunities, including a few listed here:
In summer 2016, Dr. Andy Cline, a media, journalism and film associate professor, led a group of students on a 10-day train ride to the Trans-Siberian Railway. The goal was to create a documentary film as they travelled through Moscow, Vladivostok and Lake Baikal.
In another summer adventure, Dr. Cameron LaBarr, choral studies director, and the MSU Chorale took an 18-day tour of South Africa. Highlights included performing at the American Embassy, hiking in the mountains and attending a safari ride.
Center for Dispute Resolution took a 10-day study away trip to Ireland in June 2015. The program explored the country’s historical and cultural roots of conflict and the subsequent peacemaking processes and reconciliations. This cultural experience toured students around Dublin, Belfast and Derry/Londonderry.
For the last several summers, art professor Gwen Walstrand has led students on a trip to Florence, Italy. The courses offered abroad range from drawing, photography and general education options. For more information about the summer 2017 Italy trip, attend one of the info sessions on Oct. 5, Oct. 19, Nov. 14 or Nov. 23, each at 7 p.m. in Brick City, building 1, room 211.
To hear Darian Bengston tell it, the day he auditioned for Missouri State’s acting program was the worst of his life.
Bengston expected to have normal performance jitters going into his one-on-one audition with Missouri State’s acting program coordinator, Dr. Kurt Heinlein. MSU, after all, was his top-choice school.
However, all chance of normal was soon derailed. Minutes before the audition at a hotel, Heinlein broke the news that the scheduled space was unavailable. They would have to go around the corner the kitchen instead.
“I wasn’t going to tell him ‘No,’ so we go into the kitchen and there’s people moving food in and out. I’m so torn inside.”
But Bengston drew a deep breath, took off his glasses and bravely launched into his monologues, despite the bustle of the wait staff preparing food and walking between them.
“It was a fiasco, and I was terrified,” he said. “I did not think I was going to get in.”
‘You belong with our family’
Those fears were nearly confirmed when he returned later to check MSU’s call-back roster, and he wasn’t among the eight people listed.
Then, he noticed a second page. On it, his name stood alone with the note: “Just stop by.”
“I sat down with Kurt and (then-Department Head) Dr. (Chris) Herr thinking they were going to politely let me go. But then Kurt said, ‘We don’t normally do this, but we really think that you belong with our family, and if you want, we’d like to offer you a spot at our school — right here, right now.’”
Bengston unequivocally said “Yes,” and now, more than two years later, it is clear why Heinlein and Herr were so quick to bring him into the competitive program.
Hard work is paying off
Bengston’s staggering talent, impressive work ethic and infectious positivity make him a catch for the university.
By the end of his sophomore year, he had acted in several MSU and student stage productions, including “Hair,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Runaways” and “Topdog/Underdog.” He had also appeared in the student-produced films “Bad Beat,” “Liven” and “Paradox.”
Bengston, now a junior, is part of the theatre-of-the-oppressed group Giving Voice and is the president of MSU’s University Coalition of Young Artists; he works at the university bookstore and interns at Springfield Contemporary Theatre.
He is the recipient of the Joseph Cantlin Memorial Scholarship, the Giving Voice Scholarship and the Theatre Regents Scholarship.
In fall 2016, Bengston will be studying abroad at Theatre Academy London, a program run by Florida State University. There, he will work with some of London’s leading artists and in locations where many theater giants got their starts, like William Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.
Catch his next performance
All these experiences, he said has helped him hone his craft and shape what his future will look like. And surviving every actor’s worst nightmare of an audition has given this Waterloo, Iowa, native a leg up — at least where nerves are concerned.
“I could be auditioning for Steven Spielberg tomorrow, and I would not be as scared as I was that day.”
As for what is next after graduation, Bengston said he’s still figuring that out.
“Up until months ago, I was gung-ho on going to Los Angeles. I wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. But after being here (at Missouri State), working and learning, I’m very divided between stage and film. And now it’s more about the art and about what I want to do with my life, instead of just the generic end goal of making it big.”
Bengston will return from London in time for the theatre and dance department’s spring 2017 production season, when you’ll have a chance to see him on the MSU stage once again.
Brittney Banaei, a senior dance major, recently earned a spot at the Rothberg International School’s DanceJerusalem program. She landed in Israel in late August, and has been documenting her journey on her blog “An American Dancer in Israel.”
This is a preview of her first entry, where we get a peek into the life of a study away student:
Man with AK47 Walks Donkey and Other Travel Highlights
It is Thursday night in Israel, which is like Friday night in the US. Our studies are done for the week and now we are all taking some hard-won downtime.
I’m sitting in my modest (but cute!) dorm room and writing this entry, wondering how in the world I’m going to relay to you the magic that is Jerusalem.
I wanted to tell you all about my first week, academics, dance, new friends, etc., but I think that is too much to read in one sitting. I will tell you that I had my first (language immersion) class today and all feels right with the world.
So here is the story of my journey …
Read more about Brittney’s intriguing two-day journey from the U.S. to Jerusalem, and her first few days in Israel on her blog, “An American Dancer in Israel.”
Dance student studying abroad in Israel blogs about experience
Brittney flew standby and lucked into a first-class seat to Tel-Aviv. Photo submitted.
In her post, Brittney describes her two-hour shuttle bus ride to Jerusalem, which included a man with an AK47 walking a donkey. Photo submitted.
"I arrived at the student village in-tact and un-puked. I got all checked in (thank you housing office for staying open), spilled coffee all over myself, had several incoherent (it’s not you, it’s me) conversations with strangers and unpacked my stuff." Photo submitted.
On her first morning in Jerusalem: "My open window brought in the crisp breeze along with drifting the tones of morning call to prayer and a stunning sunrise view." Photo submitted.
Tragic mine explosions, marriage proposals gone wrong and an angel of redemption for the redemption-less. Revelations is this season’s theme, and the theatre and dance department’s fall 2016 lineup is ready to engage audiences with productions that feature vastly unique voices and storylines, each meant to reveal powerful truths through both devastation and jubilation.
The first show of the season is “Ballad Hunter,” which begins on September 22 at 7:30 p.m. and runs until October 3.
You can purchase tickets for “Ballad Hunter,” “Legally Blonde” and “Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches,” at the campus box office — located in Craig Hall — or online through Missouri State TIX.
‘Ballad Hunter’: Truth through secrecy
“Ballad Hunter” takes place in rural Appalachia during 1937. It’s a journey through love, loneliness and love once more, creating an emotional story about the crucial need for honesty amongst family.
On the day of Lotta’s conception — the day Gussie accepted her lustful desires over a traveling musicologist — her grandfather was killed in a tragic mine explosion. Fifteen years later, three generations of women (Hetty, Gussie and Lotta) continue struggling with the voids of lost love, losing themselves in the process. When an unexpected visitor passes through town with the promise of a wondrous, new-fangled invention called “electricity,” skepticism reaches an all-time high; Lotta finds herself smitten by this visitor’s melodious voice, and Gussie experiences an incredible sense of de ja vu. (Like mother, like daughter.)
Show times: 7:30 p.m. Sep. 22-23, 26-30 & Oct. 3; 2:30 p.m. Sep. 25 & Oct. 2 Location: Craig Hall Balcony Theatre Tickets: $14 Adults; $12 Students/Seniors; $8 in advance with MSU ID
Join the conversation: #MSUBalladHunter
‘Legally Blonde’: Truth through legality
“Legally Blonde” is a production chock-full of charming humor, quick-paced choreography and high-energy musical numbers. The heart-warming tale takes popular stereotypes and reveals them as nothing more than predetermined labels that can be broken — if we have the courage to do so.
Elle Woods dreams of the day her boyfriend, Warner Huntington III, will finally pop the question. Instead, he breaks her heart and leaves for Harvard to pursue a law degree and a girlfriend who isn’t so, well, blonde. Elle is determined to prove her worth by following him on his academic adventure, but Harvard is nothing like her old UCLA campus. Her perky personality and hot pink clothes definitely stand out amongst the crowd — and not in a popular way like before. Nonetheless, Elle dives into her studies, ready to demonstrate her true lawyer-potential despite those who’ve already predetermined her as blonde.
Show times: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13-15 & 17; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 16 Location: Craig Hall Coger Theatre Tickets: $14 Adults; $12 Students/Seniors; $8 in advance with MSU ID
Join the conversation: #MSULegallyBlonde
‘Angels in America’: Truth through controversy
“Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches” is a mature production that exposes serious topics such as AIDS, infidelity, drug-exposure and religion. Despite its heavy themes, this play oozes a dark sense of humor without taking away from the significance of the story.
In the year 1985, and during the “Reagan revolution,” Louis Ironson abandons his relationship after finding out his partner, Prior Walter, has contracted — and is dying of — AIDS. Meanwhile, devout Mormon Joe Pitt is finding complications in his own relationship: his wife is unsupportive of his new job offer and continuously struggles with a Valium addiction. Upon Louis and Joe meeting by chance in the restrooms of a courthouse, Joe begins questioning his sexuality and his very salvation. Meanwhile, as Prior’s condition worsens, an angel materializes before him, reassuring Prior that redemption for this world is definitely obtainable.
Show times: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10-12; 2:30 p.m. Nov. 13 Location: Craig Hall Coger Theatre Tickets: $14 Adults; $12 Students/Seniors; $8 in advance with MSU ID
From standing in the spotlight to setting the stage for a home, she’s learned how to make herself (and others) happy.
When alumna Jennifer Saputo-Peterson graduated from Missouri State in 2006, she wanted to use her bachelor’s degree in theatre to be a working actress in New York City, which she did from 2007-10. But now she helps St. Louisians set the stage for a happy home.
Brunching at a bakery with friends in early 2015, Saputo-Peterson saw a local mobile boutique—basically a food truck, but with clothes rather than eats—parked outside. She was inspired by the concept and thought she could apply her own flair to it.
“I’m not a girl who likes to shop for clothes, but drop me at Home Goods or Pier1 Imports and I’m occupied for a while,” said Saputo-Peterson.
“I figured there must be a mobile boutique for home decor. So I started doing a little research and found that there wasn’t.”
By September 2015, Saputo-Peterson and her husband Mike had officially registered the business, and after months of work on the business plan and truck, they opened Indigo Home on June 18, 2016.
“We’re a completely hands-on operation. I cherry pick every item you find on the truck,” said Saputo-Peterson. “I choose pieces that tell me a story. I find inspiration everywhere I go and bring a bit of that into the truck.”
For instance, Saputo-Peterson painted the ceiling of the truck light blue much like the porch ceilings of homes in Charleston, South Carolina. This color, called “haint blue,” is believed to keep evil spirits away. Indigo Home also carries both local brands—four to be exact—as well as work from various designers around the world.
Keeping things cozy
Saputo-Peterson, who attended Duchesne High in St. Charles, has a passion for making people feel comfortable and at home.
“We believe that it’s the little things that make your house a home, and that’s what we strive to bring you,” said Saputo-Peterson. “It’s that great picture frame holding a precious memory or that comfy blanket you curl up with on the couch at the end of a hard day.”
In a few years, Saputo-Peterson hopes the shop grows to become a brick and mortar store and eventually a lifestyle brand that provides accent pieces, home fragrance and even furniture.