Theatrical Design and Technology majors connect virtually with alumni in the theater industry

Theatrical Design and Technology majors and alumni are using this period of online learning and social distancing to create a virtual community of support for current students.

COVID-19 has forced a number of changes to the day-to-day learning of Elon’s Theatrical Design and Technology students.

“Just because of how theater works with social distancing, we can’t have groups together, which is important for theatrical performances,” said Sydney Dye ’21. Dye is one of several Theatrical Design and Technology majors who work behind the scenes to produce nine main-stage productions at Elon, many of which were canceled this year. Still, the group is finding ways to make the most of their experience outside the theater.

Douglas Del Pizzo ’17 talks to current Theatrical Design and Technology students via WebEx.

Dye and the other students in Assistant Professor of Performing Arts Charles Johnson’s TDT 100: Professional Practices course typically gather once a week for to engage in professional development opportunities, share creative work, perform production critiques and analysis and build community. With the transition to online learning, the group has continued to meet, although virtually and with a few special guests.

After discussing ways to stay engaged while away from campus, students reached out to members of the Theatrical Design and Technology Alumni Facebook page to see if any of them would be willing to share their professional experiences with current students.  Dye says alumni immediately jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s just been great to see the Elon alumni network in action,” Dye said. “To have people who are not only willing to take half an hour to speak to us, but are willing then to talk after and keep building those connections is really, really special.”

In a recent gathering, TDT 100 students and alumni tuned into a WebEx video conference to hear from Heidi Jo Schiemer, costume shop manager, cutter/draper and instructor in the Department of Performing Arts; Douglas Del Pizzo ’17, a freelance lighting designer based in Washington, DC; Matt Leckenbusch ’03, director of theatre at Clemson University; and Katie Leckenbusch, director of development for The Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, South Carolina.

Each industry professional discussed a variety of topics related to theater and theatrical design, including ways for students to find their footing in the industry.

Theatrical Design and Technology students meet via WebEx to hear from Elon alumni in the theater industry.

“When that opportunity does come up, make sure you jump on it because you never know where it’s going to lead,” Matt Leckenbusch said.

The professionals also discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the theater industry, but offered encouragement to students as they prepare to begin their careers.

“Just know that when this is done, there will be companies that are looking for work,” Del Pizzo told students during the video conference.

While these sessions provide students with helpful tips for navigating the theater industry, the Theatrical Design and Technology majors say they’re even more grateful to know they have the support of Elon’s alumni.

“We feel so supported because theaters is kind of a scary industry,” Dye said. “There’s not necessarily a clear path that you’re supposed to follow. So just to know that there are people who I can reach out to and talk to and ask questions to, who aren’t going to roll their eyes and who are willing to take time and help me, it’s really comforting.”