What brought you to UNT?
I actually started off my freshman year as a nursing major at a another school and pretty quickly decided that wasn't my right track and so after that I spent a year at a community college thinking I was going to go into school as a musical theatre major. Then over the course of that year did a lot of theatre education work and decided that was exactly my track. Also that year I came to be more involved in the Dallas theatre community and I loved that community and I decide I wanted to stay invested in that rather than leaving and having to reestablish myself after I finally graduated from school. So all those things are how I ended up at UNT. I wanted theatre education specifically and I want to stay in Dallas.
What was it like to study at UNT?
I really appreciate the varying levels of experiences you get at UNT. Because it is such a large school, even the theatre program, I'm sure is going to be bigger than your average program at another school. Also because we are a non-audition program you get a lot of people from different backgrounds to different experience levels and people who are doing theatre for the first time. I really enjoy that. I also love that almost all the professors at UNT are working, especially in the Dallas community. They are not only experts in their fields, but in the region itself so that's really nice and a huge advantage to their students.
What was the biggest lesson you learned while in schooling and in your field of work?
I think the biggest lesson that I've learn and I always tell people when they are thinking about pursuing a career in theatre is that it is zero percent about talent, which you hear all the time but my own personal philosophy is that it is zero percent about talent. Absolutely no one is going to push you into this field. No one is going to encourage you and get you into theatre unless you do it yourself. It's all about work ethic. As much work as you put into it is what you are going to get out of it. Because there are so many people in this field and there are so many talented people, and there are so many factors that go into casting or getting an internship or whatever, the real thing you can control as an individual is how hard you are going to work at it. If you are just going to relax and take the day off or the week off or the year off or whatever or if you are going to really actively pursue what you want, and in aggressively pursuing it you are going to get the results that you want to see. Definitely the biggest advice that would give is if you are the kind of person that doesn't have a strong work ethic or a strong drive, maybe this isn't the career field for you, even if you do have the talent like a really naturally gifted person.
What are you currently working on?
Currently I am teaching at J.L. Middle school and I am there student teaching every time a normal teacher is there. So eight to four every day and all their extracurricular acivities, rehearsals and all the stuff they have going on. I also teach at Dallas Children's Theater. Starting the week before I graduate in December, I will be doing a show called I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change at Theatre Three. We run for about twelve weeks so I will be working on that as well.
How did you find your career path?
I grew up in Dallas and I participated in a theatre program called Dallas Young Artists as a kid as well as taking classes at Dallas Children's Theater both of which are pretty establish theatre companies here in the area. So, through both of those I grew to know the kind of theatres that I would want to work at and the kind of work that was being presented in the area at an adolescent age while I was in middle school and high school. That was really nice because it gave me a kind of a filter to be able to go through and see which places would be beneficial for me to intern and having the insider knowledge about the community. I think that is another reason why the professors being invested in the community is beneficial. They are going to help their students to be able to make those decisions for them. One of the things that really set my course onto theatre education was working at Dallas Children's Theater and being able to be connected to them and certainly I was able to get my job personally because I had grown up there and the employees there knew me, but there is a student at UNT that is on the same field as me that ended up working with me this summer because she expressed interest in it and I was able to pass her name along. My career path came because I knew the places I want to work and I had some experience and knowledge of the places I wanted to work. And sure I think I might be a special kind of situation, but there are ways out there to make connections in Dallas for those places. Something that might be like talking to professors or getting in touch with actors, coming down to Dallas and seeing shows. It was seeing the names of actors that popped up over and over and over again and getting in touch with them about their career paths. I have all the equity theatres in the area bookmarked on my computer and I'll book mark their audition pages periodically once every week or every couple of weeks. I'll just scroll though really quickly and anything and everything that fits my character description and my type and my ability I go and audition for that. I don't see any reason to wait while I'm in school. I haven't used school as a reason to not be working. I could never rationalize the idea that I couldn't be down in Dallas pursuing an internship or a show just because I was also a student.
How has your training and experience helped with your work?
Obviously really significantly. I am a huge proponent of the advantage that a theatre degree gets you. There are a lot of people that discount a theatre degree, but even the theatre history that I learned, which was not my favorite thing to learn, I find has informed me better. I did a show this summer that was written in the mid-2000s but it is all based on a commedia dell'arte play and I would never have gotten that role or been informed about that had I not studied commedia, and that was not something I would have ever done on my own. As far as training and experience, the training at UNT is really beneficially because you are exposed to lots of different people at UNT which you are going to be exposed to a lot especially during your career. You are going to work with a lot of different people in the industry and that is beneficial. I like that I got to take very specific theatre education courses. My theatre education courses are the ones I use the most often, not only in my education work, but also in my acting work. It's important to know how an audience member, especially a child reacts to your acting style in theatre, and that influences my process in theatre as an actress. As far as experience I got from UNT, I think any experience in theatre is going to widen your horizons and widen you opportunity like emotional recall. I did a show the summer with Ali Lawrence who is an acting professor at UNT and is now doing theatre history there as well. Those experiences are going to propel into the future.
What connections if any were made that helped you get to where you are?
One of the biggest opportunities I got was this last 2015-2016 year, I got to intern at Dallas Theatre Center, which is the highest regional theatre in the area. I got to do so because I was the assistant director to Sally Vahle on Fefu and Her Friends and she is a resident theatre member of Dallas Theatre Centre and she had mentioned there was a position available so I did it because I wanted to work for that theatre. I ended up getting it and made massive connections there and it has got me an acting job, and I could potentially have employment there in the future if I were to pursue that. Having Dallas Theatre Center on my resume in the area as well as when I'm thinking about applying to grad schools and out of state that if I were to take that route, Dallas Theatre Center is such a huge name that it's beneficial, and that's all because Sally threw out a random comment in class. This summer, through connections with Bob Hess, I got to work with the director of musical theatre at Dallas Children's. He had messaged me because Bob Hess had mentions some things about me. Like I said before I ended up being in a show with one of my professors and a lot of the training from her class brought me to being able to book that show and now weirdly in a way we are a student teacher relationship but also peer to peer kind of friendly relationship. So that's really wonderful as well. I find all of those really personal connections with the professors at UNT to be the most beneficial from my experience there.
Is there anyone you go to for advice now?
I go to Dr. Garcia. Dr. Garcia and I email at least a couple of times a semester although I haven't had his class this past year. I ask for advice when I'm having specific trouble. We share stories about children's theatre experience we have. I have a really great relationship with him and I'm grateful for that. That also being said, I would feel comfortably really with any of the professors I had at UNT. It is nice as well to see their faces around when I was interning at DTC. I saw Sally frequently and I would see Bob all the time at openings of shows or up at the Children's Theatre when he would be poking his nose in or things like that. I would feel comfortable going to any of them for advice. Dr. Garcia just happens to be the one who I come to specifically for my field; for theatre education. I think that is really positive and something you are not going to get from necessarily all universities. I can Facebook message my professor and it'll be okay. I can feel comfortable reaching out to them and starting an email back and forth.
Do you have any advice for people in the early stages of this career?
My advice is really understanding the concept of your own personal drive being the thing that is going to push you further in theatre. I also think, and I have mentioned this before but just to drive it home, that waiting until you get out of school to really aggressively pursue opportunities, specifically because there is so much happening in Dallas and the surrounding areas, I think it's kind of doing yourself an disservice. Students can do things like take on jobs that don't necessarily pay or internships that aren't going to get you a pay check, but that are going to get you experience are things to consider while you are in school. There are always ways to make smaller opportunities work if you are a student and working a job. Making the personal connections that you have and working with the professors at UNT go further than just school. Keeping those people in your corner to turn to when you are struggling in your art or in your life or in where to go next, where to turn. Keeping those people in your corner that have similar experiences to you is going to be beneficial. Lastly, understanding that if there are people you don't have a strong working relationship with understand that in the theatre world there are no boundaries between personal and professional. Theatre people are so attracted to each other that we are all each other's best friends. We all have this beautiful passion that we connect with and understand that there is a professional element as well. Really be conscious of how you are relating to people and how you are presenting yourself and then how to fix it if you're not. Own your mistakes. Understand that the personal/professional line is blurred in the theatre community.
Why would you recommend UNT to future students?
One of the biggest things going for it is that it is in close proximity to Dallas. Dallas has so much theatre happening and it is only growing which is great for the young people. There is this thing happening in Dallas where if you want to make something happen in the theatre world make it happen. There is a company that is doing Shakespeare in the Bar. These people have five rehearsals, they get together read through the show a few times, throw out some blocking, and they doing a Shakespeare play with the script in their hands in the middle of a bar. Another movement based theatre company is like a renegade. Whatever theatre space is available they will take over and perform in that space. So there is this whole big movement of making things happen which is really exciting for young people like us who might have a really hard time breaking into the bigger equity houses and pronounced places. So UNT has that going for it as well as the professors that are in the community and working. I think is really rare to have professors working like ours are because a lot of time in college acting or technical theatre professors are not retired and moved onto their easy gig. That's a huge blessing for us to have. Taking the experience that comes from a non-audition program and all the varied students that that brings, and using it to broaden your horizons as an actor.
How did you land your first job regarding theatre?
So my first professional fully equity show where I was enrolled in the actor equity program was this summer at Water Tower Theater in Addison. It was a show called One Man, Two Guvnors and like I said I had all those equity theatres bookmarked and I went out thinking should I, or shouldn't I on going to this audition. I finally picked myself up and thought well what's the worst that could happen? And so I went, and did not feel confident about it at all. I felt that I had kind of made a fool of myself in front of the director. As I was walking out of the room, the director said 'Allison do you have time this afternoon for a callback in a couple hours'. I was shocked and thrilled. They gave me the sides and I drove to a Starbucks a couple minutes way and sat down with the sides. I literally sat and muttered to myself like an imbecile in the middle of Starbucks practicing this really thick accent that I needed and getting the cadence of these lines in because it was a play that stemmed from commedia art from. All of the language is very specific. I came back and went into the call back and knew several people there. I was paired up at the call back with Ali Lawrence, my acting realism professor from UNT. We went into read together and it went really well and [the director] was really responsive to me. I read a couple more time that evening with a couple of other people and he seemed to continue to be very responsive to me. You can always tell when you leave a call back what the director is thinking. I had a good feeling about it, even with the intimidation of having to read with a professor and also having to read with a fair amount of people there that I knew who were actors in the community that I really respected. I would not have considered myself on an equal level with them at all. I guess there was something about it and the director took a chance on me and I will always be incredibly grateful. It was a wonderful experience. The play went up at Water Tower Theatre in two and a half weeks. We had two weeks of rehearsals and four days of tech and then we had an audience. I was a whirlwind of a process and then we had about a 28 show run and it was a really successful run and everything seemed to be really positive. I was working with a high caliber of actors and they were all really warm and welcoming with my first professional acting experience. It was a shock and a blessing.
Is it different than you expected? And if so, how did you land where you did in the theatre world?
I was glad I went into it with some semiprofessional experience. I had done a couple shows with people who had equity contracts so I kind of understood how that system worked but I don't think I quite realized how strict and business like the equity rules are. You are in hour and twenty minute in a rehearsal and you might be in the middle of a sentence and the stage manager is going to stop you and say you need to go on break because that is the equity rules. I don't think I was quite prepared for how very business-like it turned into, but other than that I really felt my training and my experience had prepared me for what was to come. There was never a moment when I was like I can't do this. There were a couple times when I thought I shouldn't be doing this, there are people who can do this better than me, but it was never I am not equipped to do this with my experience.
Is there anything else you can think of not discussed about your experiences that you would like to communicate?
If anybody wants to reach out to me to ask me more about my past or if you have question please feel free to contact me. I really love to be a resource to anyone who wants to know more about the DFW specifically, or about theatre education as a focus but I would love to be contacted and talk more about this. Email: email@example.com
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.