What brought you to UNT?
Funny enough it was the only school I applied to. One of my brothers was attending here and I came here for math and I originally wanted to do music so I applied with the intention to do music and then towards the end of my senior year in the senior year of high school I hated the politics in music. I felt it was more about showing off than anything and I didn't like that so math was the one thing I could do without trying. So I came here to do math and did three years of it. The only reason I got into theatre was because I emailed psychology, RTVF and theatre, and said look I want to change majors how do I do this and I said the first one to get back to me gets me. And Breeze got back to me that same day and said she could meet with me tomorrow get me enrolled in classes. I had no idea I had a passion for it. Three years in the department and I was doing great.
What was it like to study at UNT?
It's weird because the department works is that you get out what you out in and I know that is a very cliché thing to say but if you want opportunities you actually have to put in the work to get them. So you have to take the classes, you have to talk to the professors so they get to know you on a name biases; on a first name basis. So how it work is I took an assortment of different classes because I didn't know what I wanted to do meet every single professor and all of a sudden Barbra, who wasn't even my teacher, said she wanted to hire me to work in the costume shop. Wilson who I only had for movement wanted me to be his assistant director for Bent. So I made all these connections with professors because I put myself out there and they were all willing to work with me. I was extremely involved as much as I could. There was one semester I was assistant director for bent, I was in it, I was working on the costumes for it and it was the same semester as makeup, musical theatre, and directing. I appreciated the struggle, I learned a lot from it. So I'm really grateful especially because they keep calling me back to do stuff. They still know me and they still tell me they have opportunities for you come back and do it.
What was the biggest lesson you learned while in schooling and in your field of work?
The biggest lesson I learned is I want to be very open and I want people to actually want to work with me and approach me. The biggest lesson I learned is that to get people to continuously get people to work with you and on your craft you have to be somebody they want to work with. I learned how to be that person, I learned how to open up and kind of be kind about things.
What are you currently working on?
I have a meeting with a production company that wants to do Forever and a Day as a full length film. They are very committed to it and we are going over funding and going to talk about everything for the preproduction like finding a location to shoot, and about casting depending on when we are actually going to be able to film. I added a lot of scenes into it and yeah it's going to be a full length film.
What was your career path after graduation?
Honestly I didn't want to do grad school at all I just wasn't the biggest fan of schooling so I just wanted to jump into the world of theatre and just go go go go go, but that's not how it works especially for a play write. Yeah I could get hired onto a company to do house welcoming or something, and yes I have all that experience but that like a cousin to what I want to do. Yes it is theatre but I wouldn't be able to get my work out there so now my projection of what I want to do is to continue self-producing things. I want to build a repertoire for people in the area. I think it is much easier for me to say here is a finished product of script and performances and say this is what I am capable of doing.
How has your training and experience helped with your work?
It's funny because of the way I went through that program I was able to work in a bunch of different areas. I worked in the costume shop, I assistant directed on productions, I sat through a lot of production meets, but I was also a performer in some productions too. It really allowed me to see everything that one production encompasses and everything that goes into it. So as a writer I can sit back and think okay how are they going to be able to pull this off. For Dragon, if it is a proscenium style stage how is she going to enter the audience? How are they going to do that. But they have ways and its crazy what designers can come up with and they have such a huge appreciation for designers because it's not something I can do. But working with a multitude of people really opened up my eyes to the capabilities and wanted to push boundaries as I'm egger to what will be come up with. So my training with everything showed me there is almost no limitations. I want to find those limitations.
What connections if any were made that helped you get to where you are?
The biggest connection I have was with the professors. The fact that all the professors knew me. The fact that they saw I was a student that was willing and wanted to learn. So that after graduation they still called me up and said we have Doug Wright and we want you to come and meet him and learn things. Of course I was going to be there. Not only did I make the connection with the professors but it gave me the opportunity to be invited to do that and now I have Doug Wright in my back pocket.
Is there anyone you go to for advice now?
Barbra Cox. I go to Barbra Cox for everything. Barbra is one of those people, if you have questions and you directly ask her she will answer because that's what she wants to do. She loves students who want to ask questions and get answers and willing to learn. And she has very high standards. She is very quick to point out what is wrong but she got into teaching because she wants to teach. This is what she wants to do. And I know I can go to her for advice for anything theatre related. I go to her for advice because she has done this. She has worked in theatre and film and all sorts of things. She really is rutting for me and its rare to find someone who will route for you.
Do you have any advice for people in the early stages of this career?
If this is what you want to do, do it. For some of use this is a legitimate career it is what we want to do with our lives and they always say its not work if your having fun and its parting true. Whenever I'm working on a project, stressing out, losing my hair I still love it. If they are starting out and they are positive this is what they want to do than do it. Don't hold back. Don't put one toe in the water. Just jump in. There are opportunities at any age. Have fun with it.
What presented itself as the toughest challenge after graduation?
Knowing this career of all the careers is the least stable career in the world. It sucks a lot of people look down on it. But you know what I'm doing what I love. I'm changing people's lives. Even if it is only one I am changing people's lives.
How did you land your first job regarding theatre?
The first thing that happened was costume. My first semester I had twelve hours in the costume shop and it was too much for me. I had never wanted to do it. I had never touched a sewing machine, but I had to for class. Susan had to constantly fix the sewing matching for me, but I liked the environment so I signed up for costume one. And I wanted to see what I could do with it and I was getting better. An d I made a giraffe onsie and I was putting it together and I got to the zipper and that's something you learn in costume II. Nobody was in the costume shop everyone was at lunch but I didn't want to wait 45 minutes so I just tried it and first try I got it in. Susan walked back in and goes who helped you with that. And I was like I did I promise I didn't have help don't fail me. I didn't have help I promise it was all me called in Barbra. Barbra looked at it nodded her head and Copper pulled me aside as asked me if I would like to work there. Barbra saw what you can do, she likes you, and they want to know if you want to work here. The next semester I filled out a form to be hired by the school and I had the job.
Is it different than you expected? And if so, how did you land where you did in the theatre world?
No really. They spend so much time saying this is how the real world is and I was expecting harshness out there and it but I knew I had surrounded myself by a good group of people that we were going to support each other no matter what. We did it in school and out of school; pushing each other encouraging each other. It's not that different.
Is there anything else you can think of not discussed about your experiences that you would like to communicate?
If a student is in this department and they feel like they are not finding a lot of opportunities or they are finding excuses for a lot of opportunities my advice is I went into the theatre and worked really hard I showed up and got work done. I asked questions. I stayed after and talked to professors. I wasn't just expecting things to just be handed to me. At some point it started to, but before that happened I had to go out there and get involved. There are opportunities to take. Take the opportunities because they will lead to things.
Julie Petrasek is a senior at the University of North Texas double majoring in Theatre and English.
On campus Julie is involved in Alpha Psi Omega Theatre Fraternity, the University Players, and Kappa Delta Sorority. She hopes to be an accomplished actor and writer in the Dallas area, but also finds interest in technical aspects of theatre. She is an honor student looking to learn from as many experiences as possible whether it is as an actor, designer, or writer.