Theater conference provides opportunities for students, hosts workshops

On Oct. 25-18, theater lovers, auditionees, Maryville College students and theater professionals convened in The Clayton Center for the Arts for the Tennessee Theatre Association Conference. The annual event, hosted this year by the Maryville College Theatre, serves as a time when thespians can enroll in workshops, audition in the hopes of moving toward the second round of South Eastern Tennessee Conference (SETC) auditions and, especially for Maryville College students, gain experience helping behind the scenes. In repayment for their help, MC students had the opportunity to partake in a variety of theater events, including both theatre festivals and workshops, for no charge.

Theater majors Sarah Bond, Cameron Hite, Matthew Beard and Chase Condrone wrote a 10-minute play during the 24-Hour Theatre Festival, entitled “Baker’s Dilemma: Doughtnut, Take My Children.” Within 24 hours, the group wrote the play, rehearsed and performed it on Friday evening in the Haslam Family Flex Theatre. Walker Harrison and Caitlin Campbell attended a workshop entitled, “BARK LIKE A DOG! Finding the ‘Theatrical’ in your Monologues for Theatre,” hosted by Herb Parker, the associate professor of theatre at East Tennessee State University. Theater experts from the area also presented workshops.

Lisa Soland, MC’s adjunct theater professor, presented a workshop in playwriting, and David Rasnake, a member of Maryville’s Foothills Community Players, led a workshop for technical theater. Dr. Heather McMahon, associate professor of theater at MC, said that the workshops presented over the weekend allowed MC students to work with other theater artists and expand their own knowledge of all aspects of theater. McMahon said that the workshops that included instruction on dance, musical dance, singing and acting gave Maryville College students a chance to learn from professionals around the region, as well as make contacts for potential future employers.

One of the main functions of the SETC is the screening audition for theater hopefuls, who desire to move on to the prestigious Southeastern Theater Conference auditions. The SETC auditions enable accepted actors or stage managers to audition and apply for jobs in front of a variety of big name theater producers and employers, as well as theater graduate programs. McMahon stressed the importance of these auditions by saying that the conference is “all about jobs.” She explained that the conference is a way to help undergraduates or graduates get into graduate school or become employed with a national theater. Among hundreds of actors of all ages, two MC theater students, freshman Taylor Jackson and senior Walker Harrison, auditioned on Saturday morning for the SETC screening in front of three judges.

There were strict sets of criteria for the SETC auditions. Performed separately, acting and singing auditions were to be exactly 60 seconds long, including a formal introduction. Combined acting and singing auditions were to be precisely 90 seconds long. Not only were those auditioning expected to choose an impressionable monologue or song, but they also were supposed to exhibit both a professional and friendly personality and not exceed the short time limit.

“It’s intimidating,” Harrison said. “You have one minute to show them all you’ve worked on for four years.” He said that there was a “heightened pressure in the atmosphere” during the auditions, due to the fact that everyone in that theater wanted the same thing – to become a professional actor. “Students were able to see what a professional conference looks like,” McMahon said. MC Theater students also worked backstage during the conference.

Jennifer Luck, technical director of the MC theater department, distributed jobs to all students involved in the college’s theater. These jobs ranged from being stage manager, running the light board, time keeping for auditions, ushering and being a tabulator, which included organizing and calculating each auditonee’s individual score during the SETC screenings. Overall, the TTA conference allowed MC students, students from other area institutions and professionals to share their knowledge and mutual love of theater.

McMahon said that she believes that the conference served as preparation for the professional world for MC students. The experience gained through this conference will contribute to the teaching of future students at MC Theatre, emphasizing the hope that, through conferences like the Tennessee Theatre Association Conference, a passion for theater can become a paying, long-lasting career.

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