At Utah Valley University (UVU), the USITT student chapter runs on passion, dedication…and snacks.
Current Chair Emma Belnap and founding president Maddy Ashton gave insight on their student chapter at UVU and how they, and the rest of their chapter, enjoy the fruits of their labor. They both agree that with a bit of hard work, the benefits of involvement far outweigh the paperwork.
Tell me about your role in the UVU USITT student chapter
Emma: I was appointed as Chair this year, which has been phenomenal. As Chair, I make sure we are chartered, are having meetings, and that we are prepared for the Annual Conference & Stage Expo in every way possible.
Maddy: I was the founding president for our chapter of USITT and served as the president for two years. This last year I stepped down to pass the baton to Emma.
Why did you decide to join/create the UVU student chapter?
Emma: Our school didn’t have a chapter in the area, and when our professor La Beene approached me and a few other technical theatre students about attending the Conference, we decided to create the chapter literally right then and there.
Maddy: We had talked about starting a chapter at UVU for a while, but it wasn’t until the Conference came to Salt Lake City that we got the fire lit. It was a huge success, and then it became a staple here.
After starting the club, opportunities started to rain down on us. It’s been a great experience, and UVU appreciates the work, opportunities, and services that have come out of our club.
What have you enjoyed most about the Annual Conference & Stage Expo?
Emma: My absolute favorite part of the Conference has been going to see the poster sessions. One of the most exciting things about what I do is that I get to work within design parameters, which is the perfect environment for creativity to thrive. To see how other designers have solved those problems is fascinating and incredibly helpful in how I approach my designs.
Maddy: The connections! It’s so great to sit down with a vendor and talk to them about their product or go to the poster sessions and learn about a new exciting method. The way knowledge is shared and how people connect there is fascinating. It’s also wonderful to see all my friends from around the country at least once a year.
How does a typical UVU student chapter meeting go?
Emma: Typically, we talk about what designers may be coming to town to do things at a local theatre and if we could ask them to come speak to us as well as what fundraisers we want to do. We are always trying to get workshops set up and tours of theatres; it helps to have such a proactive team.
Maddy: We try to keep things short and sweet, just because most of our club has at least one show going on at a time. We make a point to always bring some sort of food or snack because designers work best when fed.
When we first started the club, my president and I talked and decided we never wanted to have a meeting we did not feel was useful to everyone. People know if there is a meeting happening or an event coming up; it’s going to be good.
How much work goes into running a student chapter?
Emma: More than I ever thought, but the rewards are so high. We have to manage money, attend UVU club meetings, fundraise, put on events, and all the while keep people interested in our club.
Maddy: Running a student chapter is easy, running a good one is hard.
We’re all busy people, so we try to concentrate our efforts on just a few events a year. This ensures that they are good and we’re also not overloading our members or our presidency with too much.
Our members have to take time off of work to come to an event, so we make sure that it is something worth taking the time off for. We focus on professional experience and outreach because of this. It appeals to our club, and it is useful. People feel okay asking for a night off rehearsal to come to these events.
Why is being involved in a student chapter important?
Emma: It’s incredibly important to see people who are making it in the field and what kind of work they are doing. The opportunity to see this is very accessible in UVU’s student chapter.
Maddy: Our department has more designers now than before, we win more awards for our work, and they’re working more. It’s easier to get Broadway Programmers to teach a week-long workshop if you have a USITT chapter that shows how many people would be interested, to get tours with Cirque du Soleil, or get funding to go to the Conference.
Being a chapter at USITT has helped us connect with so many local theatres who love to help us, whether it be giving a tour, teaching a workshop, or renting equipment.
The Conference is our crown jewel because it is so good for networking, for finding jobs for the summer, and for learning about something new.
What advice would you give to someone looking to join or even start their own chapter?
Emma: It may seem daunting at first, but trust me, the paperwork will go by so fast. You will be surprised at the number of designers and technicians who will contribute and be so appreciative.
Maddy: Do it. It’s that simple. There is some work to it, but the benefits come fast. Tapping into USITT will help you connect with more people than you could otherwise.
What type of events does the UVU student chapter provide for its members?
Emma: Last year we were fortunate enough to take a road trip to Las Vegas over fall break and were able to see a few Cirque du Soleil shows and go on a backstage tour of The Beatles LOVE! We also like to do a service project at least once a semester. Lately, we’ve really enjoyed going to local high school, middle school, and elementary school theatres to help them out by doing workshops or answering any questions they may have.
Maddy: We try to have a couple of big things to look forward to and a couple smaller events for everyone.
Our members asked about a portfolio class, so we got some local people to come in and talk about what they were looking for in portfolios, and we got some professors to talk about formatting. It was short, sweet, and one of our biggest hits.
What has been the best part of your involvement in the UVU student chapter?
Emma: Getting to know the designers and technicians in other fields besides my own. It’s ridiculous how much closer I’ve become to my fellow students and how many people I have met along the way.
Maddy: The best part of being involved has been seeing the club grow. When we first started, we scraped for six members. Now, we have so many more and we have accomplished so much. It has outgrown the dreams and expectations I had for it, and it only continues to get better.