2017 National Helmsley Lighting Design Internship Awarded to U of A M.F.A. Candidate

Emily Clarkson, M.F.A. candidate in theatre lighting design.
Photo by Michael J. Riha

Emily Clarkson, M.F.A. candidate in theatre lighting design.

The University of Arkansas' Department of Theatre in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences has been finding itself among elite company within the theatre industry as of late.

The most recent national accolade goes to Emily Clarkson, third year M.F.A. candidate in the Lighting Design Program, who recenlty was selected for the prestigious 2017 Helmsley Internship Program. After graduating in May, Clarkson will be moving to New York City and will join a list of past internship winners who've gone on to exceptional professional theatre careers.

As the winner of the 2017 Helmsley Internship Program, Clarkson will receive a nine-month, paid internship where she will work in a professional repertory situation alongside resident and guest designers at a number of outstanding professional theatre, opera and dance companies across the United States. This year, the internship will have her working with the Lincoln Center Festival, San Francisco Opera, New York City Ballet, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre with the potential to participate in additional tours and media events.

Clarkson was nominated by her mentor, assistant professor Shawn Irish, and was chosen from hundreds of applicants to be one of only five finalists to participate at the 2017 Helmsley Lighting Portfolio Review held at the Ballet Hispanico Studios on West 89th Street on April 1 and 2 in New York City. As part of this program, Clarkson participated in roundtable discussions and one-on-one interviews with Broadway lighting designers, producers and industry leaders. The focus of the interviews was to review the applicant's portfolio of work and discuss how they can successfully transition from academic life to establish and maintain a life and career in the professional entertainment industry.

"This is not only a wonderful opportunity for Emily but also one for the University of Arkansas," said Michael Riha, chair of the Department of Theatre. "Past winners have trained and studied at some of the most recognizable and dynamic theatre programs across the country." 

The University of Arkansas now joins that list and will be included alongside institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, California Institute of the Arts, Brandeis University, San Diego State University, SUNY Purchase, and Rutgers University to name a few.

Clarkson also joins a list of previous interns who have gone on to outstanding careers in the industry. Former winners John Lasiter (1991), Michael Jarett (2007), Nathan Scheuer (2012), and Kate Bashore (2013) are just a handful of designers who have established themselves as outstanding theatre artists. Perhaps the most decorated former intern is the lighting designer and Tony Award winner, Jeffrey Croiter (1993). Croiter has multiple credits on Broadway to include his work on Falsettos, Holiday Inn, Something Rotten!, Peter and the Starcatcher (Tony Award Winner), and many more.  

Clarkson is the 36th winner of this prestigious internship that was formed in 1984 in honor of the late Gilbert Helmsley J. 1936-1983. Helmsley was an educator (of theatre and life as well) and an outstanding professional lighting designer. He was known for bringing his students (often at his own expense) along with him on design jobs across the country where they could participate in and observe the inner workings of a professional.

Helmsley dedicated his short life to educating and sharing that which is the life of a theatre designer with man, many young students. His gift of this internship program is his way of continuing to share his love of what lighting design can contribute not only to the theatre, but to life itself.

William Elwood, chair of the Theatre Department at University of Wisconsin, said this about Helmsley:

"For Gilbert life was a special event. The care and planning that went into making a gala or an opening night special was the same care that Gilbert took to ensure that each moment was lived to its fullest. Whether it was outfitting the design table with flowers, beanbag ashtrays, and pistachio nuts, doing nine loads of laundry with a bottle of champagne, taking students to work at the Met, or gathering his T.A.s around the family table for a barbeque and a planning session, Gilbert found a way to take advantage of every moment. But the moments he found joy in, he always found by sharing them with others. Gilbert rarely told us one way to live."


MIchael Riha, chair
Department of Theatre
479-575-3612, mriha@uark.edu

Andra Parrish Liwag, director of communications
J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences
479-575-4393, liwag@uark.edu

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