Missouri State University
Theatre and Dance Blog

Clybourne Park

February 23-24, February 26-March 3, March 5-6 2017
Balcony Theatre


Lighting Design: Seth Brown

Scenic Design: Lisa Kudas

Costume Design: Jantzen Bates

Sound Design: Mark Putman

Technical Director: Chris DePriest

Marketing Director: Mark Templeton

Stage Manager: Kelsey Hammontree

Director: Dr. Carol J. Maples



Russ/Dan: John Surgener

Bev/Kathy: Kate Pennington

Francine/Lena: Oliva Jones

Jim/Tom/Kenneth: Bailey Diehl

Albert/Kevin: Darian Bengston

Karl/Steve: Alex Tolar

Betsey/Lindsey: Molly Grotha

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Study Away: Scotland

Explore Scotland’s culture, history and identity during this short-term Study Away experience.

You’ll enjoy the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, and the Edinburgh International Festival along with trips to Glasgow and the storied Scottish Highlands.

Dance faculty Ruth Barnes will lead this trip to Scotland, where she has experience traveling, working and creating art. Opportunities to engage with dance, performance, art and architecture will surround you during this experience.

Duke of Wellington Statue in Edinburgh
Duke of Wellington Statue, Princes Street, Edinburgh

Course credit available

This Study Away experience is offered as one of two courses:

  • IDS 297, which fulfills an arts requirement in the general education curriculum
  • UHC 350, which fulfills a cultural competency requirement in the Honors College

Key details

Learn more

Access the presentation “Study Away Scotland”

Study Away Scotland-2017

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Angels in America, Part 1: The Millennium Approaches

November 10-13

Coger Theatre


Lighting Design: Michael Foster

Scenic Design: Michael Foster

Costume Design: Jennifer Lippert

Sound Design: Kristen Stokes

Technical Director: Chris DePriest

Marketing Director: Mark Templeton

Stage Manager: Abigail Teel

Directed By: Sarah Wiggin



Roy Cohn: Tyler Coleman

Joseph Pitt: Michael Watterson

Harper Pitt: Hannah Finger

Louis Ironson: Colton Williams

Prior Walter: Corey Blake Todd

Hannah Pitt: Samantha Martinez

Belize: Dejuan Boyd

The Angel: Grace Murray

Rabbi Isidor Chemilwitz: Chance Nichols

Mr. Lies: Kendrick Hooks

Henry: Kristian Jett

Emily: Kate Pennington

Martin Hellar: Jordan Woods

Sister Ella Chapter: Khira Auerbach

Prior 1: Alex Tolar

Prior 2: Ricky Mehigh

The Man in the Park/The Eskimo: Matt Huebner

Woman in the Bronx: Leah Koclanes

Ethel Rosenberg: Elizabeth Armstrong

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Showcases ready acting, musical theatre and dance students for the next stage

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.

Camille Clossum performs “You Are the Sunshine of my Life” at the New York City showcase cabaret show. Photo by Nick Coleman.

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.

LA Showcase 2016

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.”

Students pose at New York City's iconic Times Square TKTS pavilion.
Students pose at New York City’s iconic Times Square TKTS pavilion.

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.

Alumnus Mark Albrecht teaches students and alumni tap techniques in a New York workshop.
Alumnus Mark Albrecht teaches students and alumni tap techniques in a New York workshop. Photo by Nick Coleman.

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.

The MSU Jazz Ensemble sent 18 members to New York City in 2016 to provide musical accompaniment during the cabaret performances.
The MSU Jazz Ensemble sent 18 members to New York City in 2016 to provide musical accompaniment during the cabaret performances. Photo by Nick Coleman.

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.”

In the acting showcase, students perform in pairs in front of casting professionals.
Students perform in pairs in front of L.A. casting professionals. Photo by Kelli MacTaggart.

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,

she said.

“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.”

MSU hosts events to give students and faculty a chance to connect with alumni and industry professionals in Los Angeles and New York.
MSU hosts events to give students and faculty a chance to connect with alumni and industry professionals in Los Angeles and New York. Photo by Kelli MacTaggart.

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.

Katie Griffiths, Kristen Bretzke, Molly Haslag and Alex Grossman attended the 2016 American College Dance Association regional conference.
Katie Griffiths, Kristen Bretzke, Molly Haslag and Alex Grossman attended the 2016 American College Dance Association regional conference.

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.”

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Theatre and film professors partner to give students comprehensive film production experiences

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.

Student Becca Thompson works behind the scenes on the set of “Counting to 1000.”

Overlap in theatre and film

Kurt Heinlein
Kurt Heinlein

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.”

‘Demystify the production and acting processes’

Andrew Twibell
Andrew Twibell

One media, journalism and film faculty member with whom Heinlein has partnered is Andrew Twibell, assistant professor in digital film production.

“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.

“The Weight”

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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Legally Blonde: The Musical

October 13-17

Coger Theatre


Costume Design: Jay Hensley

Scenic Design: Robert Little

Lighting Design: Michael Foster

Sound Design: Mark Putman

Hair/Make-Up Design: Chris Compton

Technical Director: Chris DePriest

Marketing Director: Mark Templeton

Stage Manager: Jantzen Bates

Music Director: Heather Chittenden-Luellen



Elle Woods: Natalie Gorman

Margot/Greek Chorus: Haley Rolland

Serena/Greek Chorus: Nora Hennessey

Pilar/Greek Chorus/Prisoner: Olivia Jones

Kate/Greek Chorus/Shop Sweeper: Katie Hopkins

Delta Nu/Spring Breaker/Cheerleader/Greek Chorus/Prisoner: Janae Hammond

Delta Nu/Spring Breaker/Cheerleader/Greek Chorus/Prisoner: Katie Griffiths

Delta Nu/Cheerleader/Greek Chorus/Prisoner: Kadey Copeland

Delta Nu/Cheerleader/Greek Chorus/Prisoner: Allison Meier

Delta Nu/Cheerleader/Greek Chorus/Prisoner: Melanie Sikyta

Brooke Wyndham/Delta Nu: Lindy Jones

Enid/Salesgirl: Grace Minnis

Mom/Delta Nu/Sales Clerk: Tabitha Carroll

Delta Nu/Prisoner/Perfume Girl 2/Stenographer: Johanna Pfaff

Delta Nu/Prisoner: Emma Rathe

Chutney/Delta Nu/Prisoner/Sales Clerk: Logan Schoessel

Delta Nu/Prisoner/Perfume Girl 1: Maggie Shermoen

Paulette: Liv Gallo

Vivienne Kensington: Maria Kelly

Store Manager/Judge/Harvard Student: Helen George

Warner Huntington III: Travis Holt

Nikos/Spring Breaker: Austin Grigg

Dad/Reporter/Harvard Student: Joe Guccione

Grandmaster Chad/Harvard Student/Prisoner Guard: Brock Birkner

Winthrop/Carlos/Harvard Student: Mason Kelso

Emmet Forrest: Noah Jermain

Professor Callahan: Dr. Chris Thompson

Dewey/Kyle/Spring Breaker: Brandon Day

Aaron/Harvard Student: Adam Baker

Padamadan/Kiki: Deon Shotwell

Whitney/Harvard Student/Sales Clerk: Molly

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Ballad Hunter



September 22-23, 25-30 October 2-3
Balcony Theatre



Costume Design — Leslie Branyon

Scenic Design — Robert Little

Lighting Design — Victoria McWilliams

Sound Design — Mark Putman

Technical Director — Chris DePriest

Marketing Director — Mark Templeton

Stage Manager — Lakyn Lewis

Directed By — Melanie Dreyer-Lude


Gussie – Kathleen Higdon

Lotta –Terra Ashe

Cecil – Mason Kirkland

Hetty– Jessika Dahlheimer

Buzzy – John Emery

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Five reasons to choose COAL as your college

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


The Student Exhibition Center, or SEC, is a gallery festooned with student artwork and funded through the Student Activity Fee.

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.
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Terrifying audition turns into rewarding student experience

To hear Darian Bengston tell it, the day he auditioned for Missouri State’s acting program was the worst of his life.

Photo by MSU photo services.
Photo by Jesse Scheve, MSU Photo Services.

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.

Darian Bengston played Francis Flute in MSU's 2015 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Photo by Jesse Scheve, MSU's Photo Services.
Darian Bengston played Francis Flute in MSU’s 2015 production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Photo by Jesse Scheve, MSU’s Photo Services.

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.

Darian Bengston was part of the ensemble for MSU's 2016 production of "Hair." Photo by Jesse Scheve, MSU Photo Services.
Darian Bengston was part of the ensemble for MSU’s 2016 production of “Hair.” Photo by Jesse Scheve, MSU Photo Services.

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.”

Darian Bengston played the lead role in the 2016 student film, "Liven." Photo provided.
Darian Bengston played the lead role in the 2016 student film, “Liven.” Photo provided.

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.

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Dance student studying abroad in Israel blogs about experience

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.”

Brittney Banaei. Photo submitted.

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.”

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