University of Arkansas Department of Theatre Well Represented at National Theatre Conference

Emily Clarkson and Kiah Kayser, M.F.A. candidates in Theatre and Young Designer's Forum participants.
Photo by Michael J. Riha

Emily Clarkson and Kiah Kayser, M.F.A. candidates in Theatre and Young Designer's Forum participants.

For the second year in a row, the University of Arkansas was recognized as one of the elite theatre training programs at the 2017 United States Institute for Theatre Technology National Conference and Expo held in St. Louis, Missouri, March 8-11.

The conference was attended by over 3,000 members and individuals interested in theatre design and technology. Over the course of the four-day conference, there were hundreds of educational classes, workshops, portfolio reviews and product demonstrations. Professionals, as well as student designers and technicians, participated alongside one another to share their knowledge and love for all things theatre. Annually, the conference is the largest gathering of faculty, professional, and student designers in the world.

One of the most popular events featured at each year's conference is the Young Designer's & Technician's Forum. This juried portfolio presentation solicits nominations from student designers who are completing their education. The event is often populated by students from some of the most prestigious undergraduate and graduate programs from across the country, including Northwestern University, North Carolina School of the Arts, University of Tennessee, and University of Missouri Kansas City to name only a few. Students nominated by their faculty mentors are then reviewed by a team of professional and academic designers with only a select few chosen to have their work displayed at the national conference.

This year, out of the 26 participants, the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and its Department of Theatre was represented by two third-year M.F.A. design candidates. M.F.A. candidate in scene design, Kiah Kayser (faculty mentor, professor and chair Michael J. Riha) and M.F.A. candidate in lighting design, Emily Clarkson (faculty mentor, assistant professor Shawn Irish) were selected to participate in this exclusive event where they engaged in conversations with professional designers and academicians from across the country. Many designers who have participated in this highly competitive event have gone on to develop successful professional as well as academic careers as theatrical designers, technicians, artists, and educators. This is the second year in a row that the University of Arkansas has been chosen to participate in this exclusive event.

Another popular event, Cover the Walls, also had great participation by the University of Arkansas. The Department of Theatre displayed four faculty and five student design posters as part of the over 110 designs. Faculty members, Shawn Irish, Patricia Martin, Michael Riha, and Weston Wilkerson along with M.F.A. candidates, Catie Blencowe, Emily Clarkson, Joey Farley, MJ Hall, and Kiah Kayser, were among those featured in this popular design show.

This non-juried display of faculty, student, and professional designer and technician project or realized work is an every-other-year opportunity for designers of all abilities and skill levels to share their work publicly. This unique event allows for exciting and engaging conversation between novice and expert designer alike where ideas and processes are exchanged. The Department of Theatre is already looking forward to next year's conference, which will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on March 14-17.


Michael J. Riha, chair
Department of Theatre

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