What brought you to UNT?
I was really looking for a community as well as an education. I had someone recommend it to me, not necessarily UNT, but Denton in general. So I came in and thought its worth a shot I'll do it. I came on a campus tour and immediately fell in love. It was so cool the energy on campus and everyone I met was super nice, and honestly Denton and the people brought me to UNT. The more I looked into the school the more I liked what they were about and the messages they tried to send with making quality education that is still affordable. Especially with the green energy initiative and stuff like that.
What was it like to study at UNT?
It was definitely a learning curve. Going to any college you have to learn that you have to study and that it is harder than high school. You have to care more. You have to want it. You have to teach yourself how to balance. You have to teach yourself how to deal with professors and kept professional relationships. Especially in the theatre department, it was cool because I worked in the department I had to balance relationships that were not only educational but professional. Those were also the same people you work with and work for. I thought that was really interesting and it puts you on an understanding level. I always really liked the use of students. It was always really hands on. I really like that UNT did that.
What was the biggest lesson you learned while in schooling and in your field of work?
As a life skill in general, it was time management. Job completion. It is so important in artistic degrees. It is so easy to get caught up in ideas and inspiration and art and design. I had to learn to follow through steps A through Z and get to the final project and finish something to the very end. How to work with people and communicate your ideas. Finishing was a big lesson I learned in college. In my degree, I learned you have to fight for stuff. As much as you think your designs are the best, and as much as you think you're talented, it's about your relationships. It's about going for stuff and asking for stuff. Not just waiting to be noticed, but to make yourself noticed.
What are you currently working on?
I am running lighting and sound for Teatro Dallas which actually Dr. Garcia is a board member on. I am lighting, sound and video for them, and I am also painting for Casa Manana Theater in FT. Worth. I was called to paint for their production of Million Dollar Quartet which opens. In general I am freelancing a lot for theatres and TV and film production companies in Dallas.
What was your career path after graduation?
I only graduated six months ago, but my career path has been pretty consistent. It was pretty cool because of the department and the people they introduced you to and the people you meet through college. I had a good foundation after I graduated. By the time I graduated, I was able to take all these jobs I wasn't able to take because I was in school. I keep busy and it is work for sure. You have to keep time managed. It's still fun. I'm still doing the grunt work of our field. I'm still the one cleaning paint buckets and stuff like that. It's still better than being a cashier or working in relating. I get to do something cool and I get a new challenge every day. I get to do problem solving and get dirty.
How has your training and experience helped with your work?
Every ounce of training and experience is helpful. Just the itty bitty stuff you don't think you need that you randomly recall from some obscure textbook that someone made you read, or some picture. It's the little day to day problem solving that you don't realize. Working in the shop helped me so much, just little everyday problems. You can learn how to build a flat but when you get your hands on it you figure out what can go wrong and how to fix that and how to have ideas and bring something to the table. It helps so much. No two days working in the shop are the same. Every day you learn something new. Learning textbook style only goes so far. Hands on is where it is about especially in the theatrical field.
What connections if any were made that helped you get to where you are?
My high school director of fine arts from school district back in Midland worked for two high schools in Denton. She won UIL State for Denton and worked really closely to Dr. Garcia when he was running the department at UNT. She actually cites Barbra Cox as one of her mentors. She got me into the department here pretty heavy so that was awesome. She's a very demanding woman she knows what she wants, she has high standards, she demands excellence, and that was someone who prepared me to work at a professional level. I started giving it my all. Donna has set me up with many jobs not only in the professional world, but with other painters in the city, with other directors in the city. Every person you meet saves your number and introduces you to the next person and you start to get added to more and more people's list. John Macintyre in the shop hooked me up to all his buddies in Dallas in WinStar and I started doing gigs and since then we have set up LEDs at events and thing like that. It's all about networking. It's educational and professional. The fact that I worked with Donna, and I worked with Mario, and I worked with John, with and for them, they can give me a professional recommendation as opposed to I have this really cool student. It became I have this carpenter. I have this painter.
Is there anyone you go to for advice now?
I still go to Donna for advice. She is just awesome and she is super cool. I still go to her for her advice. I have a couple other people I still go to advice for like my old directors, and different confidants. Every new boss I have, I go to them for advice. I ask them what they know, how they got started, what they did. I go to Donna mostly. Also Dr. Wilson. Go to him for anything. Ask Dr. Wilson.
Do you have any advice for people in the early stages of this career?
Ask for it. Go for it. Ask for it. Give your all. Do everything you can do. Want it and make people notice you. Take advantage of every opportunity. I spent a lot of time in the theatre department and in college trying to living the college life. It is important, socially so important, but you get caught in this 'I don't want to be studying. I don't want to work anymore or I'm tired'. You don't join enough clubs, you don't take up enough opportunities, or invest in enough projects and then you leave and realize you had an opportunity to do something. You could have fought harder for that. Take every opportunity. Take pictures of everything. Do not destroy school projects without taking a hundred pictures of it to build your portfolio. I did not take enough pictures of stuff I worked on. Take pictures of everything.
Why would you recommend UNT to future students?
I always recommend UNT to future students. Besides practically reasons like its affordable, it's local, it's close to DFW, you can do whatever you want and you are never bored. I recommend UNT because of Denton. I like the attitude here. It is really supportive of artist and creativity and local artisanship. Music even. It's a really supportive environment. Everyone is willing to be your friend. No one cares where you came from or what you do. It's beautiful.
What presented itself as the toughest challenge after graduation?
Honestly, moving and my transition down to Dallas. It is very, very hard to meet people without school. Up until this point in my life, all of my relationships have been fostered because you have to see the same people seven days a week. And now it's not true anymore, especially with freelancing. That goes with causal relationships like friends and meeting new people when you move to a new town, but it's also professional. You don't meet as many people because you don't have a set schedule. That was the biggest learning curve for me. Just learning how to meet people and how to be nice to people and little stuff. That was the biggest culture shock, just not having school anymore.
How was your career path affected by your degree?
Honestly having a fine arts degree is not always necessary. I have meet people in the field that don't have degrees. How my degree has helped me is with raw experience. I had a job I showed up to every day, I had plays that I did that I saw threw completely from the day we bought lumber to the day we threw everything into the trash can after strike. It's really hard to jump into professional theatre in the community raw. I've been through the design process. I've sat through meetings. I've talked to directors. I know what the stage manager needs to know from me. Now, all those learning mistakes that would have cost me professionally were done in the classroom and fixed. It was more like having dry runs for reality.
How did you land your first job regarding theatre?
I don't remember a time I wasn't in theatre. The first time I got a job in a theatre was because I was the pastors daughter at a church for a musical. The next job I got was because was the only one that knew how to patch a mic. The next job I got was because I was already in theatre and my high school hired me. I have always done it. Theatre is not something I picked because I could see myself doing it forever. It was something I picked because I couldn't see myself not doing it.
Is it different than you expected? And if so, how did you land where you did in the theatre world?
Its' pretty spot on. With my professors and my bosses they have a really realistic view of what is going to happen and how to get jobs and how to meet people. You are going to have to do the manual labor. I haven't climbed many ladders yet, I'm still on the ground floor, but I'm working more than I thought I would. It has been easier to find jobs than I thought. I was very stressed about it. But I just kept getting introduced to the next person and kept tabs and respond to every text message.
What is your next big thing/future projects?
I am going to continue to work with Teatro Dallas. They have asked me to come on for the season to do their sound and video like I am doing now. I am still continuing to work with Casa Manana. I am helping with their upcoming Christmas special. I'm helping them paint. I always work at WinStar. I'm set for gigs to help load in and stuff like that. That is the frustrating thing about freelancing. You have to keep tabs of when you are free.
What is one piece of advice that you'd give to someone considering attending our school or current students?
I always give advice as to not forget why you are in college. Yes you are in college to make friends and memories, but you can't graduate with a 2.5. You have to remember that no one is going to notice if you skip a party to go to study at Willis. They will respect you more for it. You should always get your grunt work done first. I always say to go to class even though everyone says that because it's true. Go you learn.
Is there anything else you can think of not discussed about your experiences that you would like to communicate?
I would suggest, while you are in school to challenge yourself. Especially in tech, I can't speak a lot for the performance side of the university, but challenge yourself. Take the classes like lighting because you like lighting, but also take costume because you have never picked up a needle before. Take classes that challenge you and round you out. I wish I took a costuming class because now costume is my glaring weakness. I can do anything, but I can't even pretend to be a costumer. I can't.
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.